Now, had I consulted Janet, I believe the course of my history would have been different, for she would not then, I may imagine, have been guilty of her fatal slip of the tongue that threw us into heavy seas when we thought ourselves floating on canal waters. A canal barge (an image to me of the most perfect attainable peace), suddenly, on its passage through our long fir-woods, with their scented reeds and flowing rushes, wild balsam and silky cotton-grass beds, sluiced out to sea and storm, would be somewhat in my likeness soon after a single luckless observation had passed at our Riversley breakfast-table one Sunday morning.
My aunt Dorothy and Mr. Peterborough were conversing upon the varieties of Christian sects, and particularly such as approached nearest to Anglicanism, together with the strange, saddening fact that the Christian religion appeared to be more divided than, Peterborough regretted to say, the forms of idolatry established by the Buddha, Mahomet, and other impostors. He claimed the audacious merit for us, that we did not discard the reason of man we admitted man's finite reason to our school of faith, and it was found refractory. Hence our many divisions.
'The Roman Catholics admit reason?' said Janet, who had too strong a turn for showing her keenness in little encounters with Peterborough.
'No,' said he; 'the Protestants.' And, anxious to elude her, he pressed on to enchain my aunt Dorothy's attention. Janet plagued him meanwhile; and I helped her. We ran him and his schoolboy, the finite refractory, up and down, until Peterborough was glad to abandon him, and Janet said, 'Did you preach to the Germans much?' He had officiated in Prince Ernest's private chapel: not, he added in his egregious modesty, not that he personally wished to officiate.
'It was Harry's wish?' Janet said, smiling.
'My post of tutor,' Peterborough hastened to explain, 'was almost entirely supernumerary. The circumstances being so, I the more readily acquiesced in the title of private chaplain, prepared to fulfil such duties as devolved upon me in that capacity, and acting thereon I proffered my occasional services. Lutheranism and Anglicanism are not, doubtless you are aware, divided on the broader bases. We are common Protestants. The Papacy, I can assure you, finds as little favour with one as with the other. Yes, I held forth, as you would say, from time to time. My assumption of the title of private chaplain, it was thought, improved the family dignity—that is, on our side.'
'Thought by Harry?' said Janet; and my aunt Dorothy said, 'You and Harry had a consultation about it?'
'Wanted to appear as grand as they could,' quoth the squire.
Peterborough signified an assent, designed to modify the implication. 'Not beyond due bounds, I trust, sir.'
'Oh! now I understand,' Janet broke out in the falsetto notes of a puzzle solved in the mind. 'It was his father! Harry proclaiming his private chaplain!'
'Mr. Harry's father did first suggest—' said Peterborough, but her quickly-altered features caused him to draw in his breath, as she had done after one short laugh.
My grandfather turned a round side-eye on me, hard as a cock's.
Janet immediately started topics to fill Peterborough's mouth: the weather, the walk to church, the probable preacher. 'And, grandada,' said she to the squire, who was muttering ominously with a grim under-jaw, 'His private chaplain!' and for this once would not hear her, 'Grandada, I shall drive you over to see papa this afternoon.' She talked as if nothing had gone wrong. Peterborough, criminal red, attacked a jam-pot for a diversion. 'Such sweets are rare indeed on the Continent,' he observed to my aunt Dorothy. 'Our homemade dainties are matchless.'
'Private chaplain!' the squire growled again.
'It's you that preach this afternoon,' Janet said to Peterborough. 'Do you give us an extempore sermon?'
'You remind me, Miss Ilchester, I must look to it; I have a little trimming to do.'
Peterborough thought he might escape, but the squire arrested him. 'You'll give me five minutes before you're out of the house, please. D' ye smoke on Sundays?'
'Not on Sundays, sir,' said Peterborough, openly and cordially, as to signify that they were of one mind regarding the perniciousness of Sunday smoking.
'See you don't set fire to my ricks with your foreign chaplain's tricks. I spied you puffing behind one t' other day. There,' the squire dispersed Peterborough's unnecessary air of abstruse recollection, 'don't look as though you were trying to hit on a pin's head in a bushel of oats. Don't set my ricks on fire—that 's all.'
'Mr. Peterborough,' my aunt Dorothy interposed her voice to soften this rough treatment of him with the offer of some hot-house flowers for his sitting-room.
'Oh, I thank you!' I heard the garlanded victim lowing as I left him to the squire's mercy.
Janet followed me out. 'It was my fault, Harry. You won't blame him, I know. But will he fib? I don't think he's capable of it, and I'm sure he can't run and double. Grandada will have him fast before a minute is over.'
I told her to lose no time in going and extracting the squire's promise that Peterborough should have his living,—so much it seemed possible to save.
She flew back, and in Peterborough's momentary absence, did her work. Nothing could save the unhappy gentleman from a distracting scene and much archaic English. The squire's power of vituperation was notorious: he could be more than a match for roadside navvies and predatory tramps in cogency of epithet. Peterborough came to me drenched, and wailing that he had never heard such language,—never dreamed of it. And to find himself the object of it!—and, worse, to be unable to conscientiously defend himself! The pain to him was in the conscience,—which is, like the spleen, a function whose uses are only to be understood in its derangement. He had eased his conscience to every question right out, and he rejoiced to me at the immense relief it gave him. Conscientiously, he could not deny that he knew the squire's objection to my being in my father's society; and he had connived at it 'for reasons, my dearest Harry, I can justify to God and man, but not—I had to confess as much—not, I grieve to say, to your grandfather. I attempted to do justice to the amiable qualities of the absent. In a moment I was assailed with epithets that . . . and not a word is to be got in when he is so violent. One has to make up one's mind to act Andromeda, and let him be the sea-monster, as somebody has said; I forget the exact origin of the remark.'
The squire certainly had a whole ocean at command. I strung myself to pass through the same performance. To my astonishment I went unchallenged. Janet vehemently asserted that she had mollified the angry old man, who, however, was dark of visage, though his tongue kept silence. He was gruff over his wine-glass the blandishments of his favourite did not brighten him. From his point of view he had been treated vilely, and he was apparently inclined to nurse his rancour and keep my fortunes trembling in the balance. Under these circumstances it was impossible for me to despatch a letter to Ottilia, though I found that I could write one now, and I sat in my room writing all day,—most eloquent stuff it was. The shadow of misfortune restored the sense of my heroical situation, which my father had extinguished, and this unlocked the powers of speech. I wrote so admirably that my wretchedness could enjoy the fine millinery I decorated it in. Then to tear the noble composition to pieces was a bitter gratification. Ottilia's station repelled and attracted me mysteriously. I could not separate her from it, nor keep my love of her from the contentions into which it threw me. In vain I raved, 'What is rank?' There was a magnet in it that could at least set me quivering and twisting, behaving like a man spellbound, as madly as any hero of the ballads under a wizard's charm.
At last the squire relieved us. He fixed that side-cast cock's eye of his on me, and said, 'Where 's your bankers' book, sir?'
I presumed that it was with my bankers, but did not suggest the possibility that my father might have it in his custody; for he had a cheque-book of his own, and regulated our accounts. Why not? I thought, and flushed somewhat defiantly. The money was mine.
'Any objection to my seeing that book?' said the squire.
'None whatever, sir.'
He nodded. I made it a point of honour to write for the book to be sent down to me immediately.
The book arrived, and the squire handed it to me to break the cover, insisting, 'You're sure you wouldn't rather not have me look at it?'
'Quite,' I replied. The question of money was to me perfectly unimportant. I did not see a glimpse of danger in his perusing the list of my expenses.
''Cause I give you my word I know nothing about it now,' he said.
I complimented him on his frank method of dealing, and told him to look at the book if he pleased, but with prudence sufficiently awake to check the declaration that I had not once looked at it myself.
He opened it. We had just assembled in the hall, where breakfast was laid during Winter, before a huge wood fire. Janet had her teeth on her lower lip, watching the old man's face. I did not condescend to be curious; but when I turned my head to him he was puffing through thin lips, and then his mouth crumpled in a knob. He had seen sights.
'By George, I must have breakfast 'fore I go into this!' he exclaimed, and stared as if he had come out of an oven.
Dorothy Beltham reminded him that Prayers had not been read.
'Prayers!' He was about to objurgate, but affirmatived her motion to ring the bell for the servants, and addressed Peterborough: 'You read 'em abroad every morning?'
Peterborough's conscience started off on its inevitable jog-trot at a touch of the whip. 'A-yes; that is—oh, it was my office.' He had to recollect with exactitude:
'I should specify exceptions; there were intervals . . .'
'Please, open your Bible,' the squire cut him short; 'I don't want a damned fine edge on everything.'
Partly for an admonition to him, or in pure nervousness, Peterborough blew his nose monstrously: an unlucky note; nothing went well after it. 'A slight cold,' he murmured and resumed the note, and threw himself maniacally into it. The unexpected figure of Captain Bulsted on tiptoe, wearing the ceremonial depressed air of intruders on these occasions, distracted our attention for a moment.
'Fresh from ship, William?' the squire called out.
The captain ejaculated a big word, to judge of it from the aperture, but it was mute as his footing on the carpet, and he sat and gazed devoutly toward Peterborough, who had waited to see him take his seat, and must now, in his hurry to perform his duty, sweep the peccant little redbound book to the floor. 'Here, I'll have that,' said the squire. 'Allow me, sir,' said Peterborough; and they sprang into a collision.
'Would you jump out of your pulpit to pick up an old woman's umbrella?' the squire asked him in wrath, and muttered of requiring none of his clerical legerdemain with books of business. Tears were in Peterborough's eyes. My aunt Dorothy's eyes dwelt kindly on him to encourage him, but the man's irritable nose was again his enemy.
Captain Bulsted chanced to say in the musical voice of inquiry: 'Prayers are not yet over, are they?'
'No, nor never will be with a parson blowing his horn at this rate,' the squire rejoined. 'And mind you,' he said to Peterborough, after dismissing the servants, to whom my aunt Dorothy read the morning lessons apart, 'I'd not have had this happen, sir, for money in lumps. I've always known I should hang the day when my house wasn't blessed in the morning by prayer. So did my father, and his before him. Fiddle! sir, you can't expect young people to wear decent faces when the parson's hopping over the floor like a flea, and trumpeting as if the organ-pipe wouldn't have the sermon at any price. You tried to juggle me out of this book here.'
'On my!—indeed, sir, no!' Peterborough proclaimed his innocence, and it was unlikely that the squire should have suspected him.
Captain Bulsted had come to us for his wife, whom he had not found at home on his arrival last midnight.
'God bless my soul,' said the squire, 'you don't mean to tell me she's gone off, William?'
'Oh! dear, no, sir,' said the captain, 'she's only cruising.'
The squire recommended a draught of old ale. The captain accepted it. His comportment was cheerful in a sober fashion, notwithstanding the transparent perturbation of his spirit. He answered my aunt Dorothy's questions relating to Julia simply and manfully, as became a gallant seaman, cordially excusing his wife for not having been at home to welcome him, with the singular plea, based on his knowledge of the sex, that the nearer she knew him to be the less able was she to sit on her chair waiting like Patience. He drank his ale from the hands of Sillabin, our impassive new butler, who had succeeded Sewis, the squire told him, like a Whig Ministry the Tory; proof that things were not improving.
'I thought, sir, things were getting better,' said the captain.
'The damnedest mistake ever made, William. How about the Fall of Man, then? eh? You talk like a heathen Radical. It's Scripture says we're going from better to worse, and that's Tory doctrine. And stick to the good as long as you can! Why, William, you were a jolly bachelor once.'
'Sir, and ma'am,' the captain bowed to Dorothy Beltham, 'I have, thanks to you, never known happiness but in marriage, and all I want is my wife.'
The squire fretted for Janet to depart. 'I 'm going, grandada,' she said. 'You'll oblige me by not attending to any matter of business to-day. Give me that book of Harry's to keep for you.'
'How d' ye mean, my dear?'
'It 's bad work done on a Sunday, you know.'
'So it is. I'll lock up the book.'
'I have your word for that, grandada,' said Janet.
The ladies retired, taking Peterborough with them.
'Good-bye to the frocks! and now, William, out with your troubles,' said the squire.
The captain's eyes were turned to the door my aunt Dorothy had passed through.
'You remember the old custom, sir!'
'Ay, do I, William. Sorry for you then; infernally sorry for you now, that I am! But you've run your head into the halter.'
'I love her, sir; I love her to distraction. Let any man on earth say she's not an angel, I flatten him dead as his lie. By the way, sir, I am bound in duty to inform you I am speaking of my wife.'
'To be sure you are, William, and a trim schooner-yacht she is.'
'She 's off, sir; she's off!'
I thought it time to throw in a word. 'Captain Bulsted, I should hold any man but you accountable to me for hinting such things of my friend.'
'Harry, your hand,' he cried, sparkling.
'Hum; his hand!' growled the squire. 'His hand's been pretty lively on the Continent, William. Here, look at this book, William, and the bundle o' cheques! No, I promised my girl. We'll go into it to-morrow, he and I, early. The fellow has shot away thousands and thousands—been gallivanting among his foreign duchesses and countesses. There 's a petticoat in that bank-book of his; and more than one, I wager. Now he's for marrying a foreign princess—got himself in a tangle there, it seems.'
'Mightily well done, Harry!' Captain Bulsted struck a terrific encomium on my shoulder, groaning, 'May she be true to you, my lad!'
The squire asked him if he was going to church that morning.
'I go to my post, sir, by my fireside,' the captain replied; nor could he be induced to leave his post vacant by the squire's promise to him of a sermon that would pickle his temper for a whole week's wear and tear. He regretted extremely that he could not enjoy so excellent a trial of his patience, but he felt himself bound to go to his post and wait.
I walked over to Bulsted with him, and heard on the way that it was Heriot who had called for her and driven her off. 'The man had been, I supposed,' Captain Bulsted said, 'deputed by some of you to fetch her over to Riversley. My servants mentioned his name. I thought it adviseable not to trouble the ladies with it to-day.' He meditated. 'I hoped I should find her at the Grange in the morning, Harry. I slept on it, rather than startle the poor lamb in the night.'
I offered him to accompany him at once to Heriot's quarters.
'What! and let my wife know I doubted her fidelity. My girl shall never accuse me of that.'
As it turned out, Julia had been taken by Heriot on a visit to Lady Maria Higginson, the wife of the intrusive millionaire, who particularly desired to know her more intimately. Thoughtless Julia, accepting the impudent invitation without scruple, had allowed herself to be driven away without stating the place of her destination. She and Heriot were in the Higginsons' pew at church. Hearing from Janet of her husband's arrival, she rushed home, and there, instead of having to beg forgiveness, was summoned to grant pardon. Captain Bulsted had drawn largely on Squire Gregory's cellar to assist him in keeping his post.
The pair appeared before us fondling ineffably next day, neither one of them capable of seeing that our domestic peace at the Grange was unseated. 'We 're the two wretchedest creatures alive; haven't any of ye to spare a bit of sympathy for us?' Julia began. 'We 're like on a pitchfork. There's William's duty to his country, and there 's his affection for me, and they won't go together, because Government, which is that horrid Admiralty, fears pitching and tossing for post-captains' wives. And William away, I 'm distracted, and the Admiralty's hair's on end if he stops. And, 'deed, Miss Beltham, I'm not more than married to just half a husband.'
The captain echoed her, 'Half! but happy enough for twenty whole ones, if you'll be satisfied, my duck.'
Julia piteously entreated me, for my future wife's sake, not to take service under Government. As for the Admiralty, she said, it had no characteristic but the abominable one, that it hated a woman. The squire laid two or three moderately coarse traps for the voluble frank creature, which she evaded with surprising neatness, showing herself more awake than one would have imagined her. Janet and I fancied she must have come with the intention to act uxorious husband and Irish wife for the distinct purpose of diverting the squire's wrath from me, for he greatly delighted in the sight of merry wedded pairs. But they were as simple as possible in their display of happiness.
It chanced that they came opportunely. My bankers' book had been the theme all the morning, and an astonishing one to me equally with my grandfather: Since our arrival in England, my father had drawn nine thousand pounds. The sums expended during our absence on the Continent reached the perplexing figures of forty-eight thousand. I knew it too likely, besides, that all debts were not paid. Self—self—self drew for thousands at a time; sometimes, as the squire's convulsive forefinger indicated, for many thousands within a week. It was incomprehensible to him until I, driven at bay by questions and insults, and perceiving that concealment could not long be practised, made a virtue of the situation by telling him (what he in fact must have seen) that my father possessed a cheque-book as well as I, and likewise drew upon the account. We had required the money; it was mine, and I had sold out Bank Stock and Consols,—which gave very poor interest, I remarked cursorily-and had kept the money at my bankers', to draw upon according to our necessities. I pitied the old man while speaking. His face was livid; language died from his lips. He asked to have little things explained to him—the two cheque-books, for instance,—and what I thought of doing when this money was all gone: for he supposed I did not expect the same amount to hand every two years; unless, he added, I had given him no more than a couple of years' lease of life when I started for my tour. 'Then the money's gone!' he summed up; and this was the signal for redemanding explanations. Had he not treated me fairly and frankly in handing over my own to me on the day of my majority? Yes.
'And like a fool, you think—eh?'
'I have no such thought in my head, sir.'
'You have been keeping that fellow in his profligacy, and you 're keeping him now. Why, you 're all but a beggar! . . . Comes to my house, talks of his birth, carries off my daughter, makes her mad, lets her child grow up to lay hold of her money, and then grips him fast and pecks him, fleeces him! . . . You 're beggared—d 'ye know that? He's had the two years of you, and sucked you dry. What were you about? What were you doing? Did you have your head on? You shared cheque-books? good! . . . The devil in hell never found such a fool as you! You had your house full of your foreign bonyrobers—eh? Out with it! How did you pass your time? Drunk and dancing?'
By such degrees my grandfather worked himself up to the pitch for his style of eloquence. I have given a faint specimen of it. When I took the liberty to consider that I had heard enough, he followed me out of the library into the hall, where Janet stood. In her presence, he charged the princess and her family with being a pack of greedy adventurers, conspirators with 'that fellow' to plunder me; and for a proof of it, he quoted my words, that my father's time had been spent in superintending the opening of a coal-mine on Prince Ernest's estate. 'That fellow pretending to manage a coal-mine!' Could not a girl see it was a shuffle to hoodwink a greenhorn? And now he remembered it was Colonel Goodwin and his daughter who had told him of having seen 'the fellow' engaged in playing Court-buffoon to a petty German prince, and performing his antics, cutting capers like a clown at a fair.
'Shame!' said Janet.
'Hear her!' The squire turned to me.
But she cried: 'Oh! grandada, hear yourself! or don't, be silent. If Harry has offended you, speak like one gentleman to another. Don't rob me of my love for you: I haven't much besides that.'
'No, because of a scoundrel and his young idiot!'
Janet frowned in earnest, and said: 'I don't permit you to change the meaning of the words I speak.'
He muttered a proverb of the stables. Reduced to behave temperately, he began the whole history of my bankers' book anew—the same queries, the same explosions and imprecations.
'Come for a walk with me, dear Harry,' said Janet.
I declined to be protected in such a manner, absurdly on my dignity; and the refusal, together possibly with some air of contemptuous independence in the tone of it, brought the squire to a climax. 'You won't go out and walk with her? You shall go down on your knees to her and beg her to give you her arm for a walk. By God! you shall, now, here, on the spot, or off you go to your German princess, with your butler's legacy, and nothing more from me but good-bye and the door bolted. Now, down with you!'
He expected me to descend.
'And if he did, he would never have my arm.' Janet's eyes glittered hard on the squire.
'Before that rascal dies, my dear, he shall whine like a beggar out in the cold for the tips of your fingers!'
'Not if he asks me first,' said Janet.
This set him off again. He realized her prospective generosity, and contrasted it with my actual obtuseness. Janet changed her tactics. She assumed indifference. But she wanted experience, and a Heriot to help her in playing a part. She did it badly—overdid it; so that the old man, now imagining both of us to be against his scheme for uniting us, counted my iniquity as twofold. Her phrase, 'Harry and I will always be friends,' roused the loudest of his denunciations upon me, as though there never had been question of the princess, so inveterate was his mind's grasp of its original designs. Friends! Would our being friends give him heirs by law to his estate and name? And so forth. My aunt Dorothy came to moderate his invectives. In her room the heavily-burdened little book of figures was produced, and the items read aloud; and her task was to hear them without astonishment, but with a business-like desire to comprehend them accurately, a method that softened the squire's outbursts by degrees. She threw out hasty running commentaries: 'Yes, that was for a yacht'; and 'They were living at the Court of a prince'; such and such a sum was 'large, but Harry knew his grandfather did not wish him to make a poor appearance.'
'Why, do you mean to swear to me, on your oath, Dorothy Beltham,' said the squire, amazed at the small amazement he created 'you think these two fellows have been spending within the right margin? What'll be women's ideas next!'
'No,' she answered demurely. 'I think Harry has been extravagant, and has had his lesson. And surely it is better now than later? But you are, not making allowances for his situation as the betrothed of a princess.'
'That 's what turns your head,' said he; and she allowed him to have the notion, and sneer at herself and her sex.
'How about this money drawn since he came home?' the squire persisted.
My aunt Dorothy reddened. He struck his finger on the line marking the sum, repeating his demand; and at this moment Captain Bulsted and Julia arrived. The ladies manoeuvred so that the captain and the squire were left alone together. Some time afterward the captain sent out word that he begged his wife's permission to stay to dinner at the Grange, and requested me to favour him by conducting his wife to Bulsted: proof, as Julia said, that the two were engaged in a pretty hot tussle. She was sure her William would not be the one to be beaten.
I led her away, rather depressed by the automaton performance assigned to me; from which condition I awoke with a touch of horror to find myself paying her very warm compliments; for she had been coquettish and charming to cheer me, and her voice was sweet. We reached a point in our conversation I know not where, but I must have spoken with some warmth. 'Then guess,' said she, 'what William is suffering for your sake now, Harry'; that is, 'suffering in remaining away from me on your account'; and thus, in an instant, with a skill so intuitive as to be almost unconscious, she twirled me round to a right sense of my position, and set me reflecting, whether a love that clad me in such imperfect armour as to leave me penetrable to these feminine graces—a plump figure, swinging skirts, dewy dark eyelids, laughing red lips—could indeed be absolute love. And if it was not love of the immortal kind, what was I? I looked back on the thought like the ship on its furrow through the waters, and saw every mortal perplexity, and death under. My love of Ottilia delusion? Then life was delusion! I contemplated Julia in alarm, somewhat in the light fair witches were looked on when the faggots were piled for them. The sense of her unholy attractions abased and mortified me: and it set me thinking on the strangeness of my disregard of Mdlle. Jenny Chassediane when in Germany, who was far sprightlier, if not prettier, and, as I remembered, had done me the favour to make discreet play with her eyelids in our encounters, and long eyes in passing. I caught myself regretting my coldness of that period; for which regrets I could have swung the scourge upon my miserable flesh. Ottilia's features seemed dying out of my mind. 'Poor darling Harry!' Julia sighed. 'And d' ye know, the sight of a young man far gone in love gives me the trembles?' I rallied her concerning the ladder scene in my old schooldays, and the tender things she had uttered to Heriot. She answered, 'Oh, I think I got them out of poets and chapters about lovemaking, or I felt it very much. And that's what I miss in William; he can't talk soft nice nonsense. I believe him, he would if he could, but he 's like a lion of the desert—it 's a roar!'
I rejoiced when we heard the roar. Captain Bulsted returned to take command of his ship, not sooner than I wanted him, and told us of a fierce tussle with the squire. He had stuck to him all day, and up to 11 P.M. 'By George! Harry, he had to make humble excuses to dodge out of eyeshot a minute. Conquered him over the fourth bottle! And now all's right. He'll see your dad. "In a barn?" says the squire. "Here 's to your better health, sir," I bowed to him; "gentlemen don't meet in barns; none but mice and traps make appointments there." To shorten my story, my lad, I have arranged for the squire and your excellent progenitor to meet at Bulsted: we may end by bringing them over a bottle of old Greg's best. "See the boy's father," I kept on insisting. The point is, that this confounded book must be off your shoulders, my lad. A dirty dog may wash in a duck-pond. You see, Harry, the dear old squire may set up your account twenty times over, but he has a right to know how you twirl the coin. He says you don't supply the information. I suggest to him that your father can, and will. So we get them into a room together. I'll be answerable for the rest. And now top your boom, and to bed here: off in the morning and tug the big vessel into port here! And, Harry, three cheers, and another bottle to crown the victory, if you 're the man for it?'
Julia interposed a decided negative to the proposal; an ordinarily unlucky thing to do with bibulous husbands, and the captain looked uncomfortably checked; but when he seemed to be collecting to assert himself, the humour of her remark, 'Now, no bravado, William,' disarmed him.
'Bravado, my sweet chuck?'
'Won't another bottle be like flashing your sword after you've won the day?' said she.
He slung his arm round her, and sent a tremendous whisper into my ear—'A perfect angel!'
I started for London next day, more troubled aesthetically regarding the effect produced on me by this order of perfect angels than practically anxious about material affairs, though it is true that when I came into proximity with my father, the thought of his all but purely mechanical power of making money spin, fly, and vanish, like sparks from a fire-engine, awakened a serious disposition in me to bring our monetary partnership to some definite settlement. He was living in splendour, next door but one to the grand establishment he had driven me to from Dipwell in the old days, with Mrs. Waddy for his housekeeper once more, Alphonse for his cook. Not living on the same scale, however, the troubled woman said. She signified that it was now the whirlwind. I could not help smiling to see how proud she was of him, nevertheless, as a god-like charioteer—in pace, at least.
'Opera to-night,' she answered my inquiries for him, admonishing me by her tone that I ought not to be behindhand in knowing his regal rules and habits. Praising his generosity, she informed me that he had spent one hundred pounds, and offered a reward of five times the sum, for the discovery of Mabel Sweetwinter. 'Your papa never does things by halves, Mr. Harry!' Soon after she was whimpering, 'Oh, will it last?' I was shown into the room called 'The princess's room,' a miracle of furniture, not likely to be occupied by her, I thought, the very magnificence of the apartment striking down hope in my heart like cold on a nerve. Your papa says the whole house is to be for you, Mr. Harry, when the happy day comes.' Could it possibly be that he had talked of the princess? I took a hasty meal and fortified myself with claret to have matters clear with him before the night was over.
I SEE MY FATHER TAKING THE TIDE AND AM CARRIED ON IT MYSELF
My father stood in the lobby of the Opera, holding a sort of open court, it appeared to me, for a cluster of gentlemen hung round him; and I had presently to bow to greetings which were rather of a kind to flatter me, leading me to presume that he was respected as well as marvelled at. The names of Mr. Serjeant Wedderburn, Mr. Jennings, Lord Alton, Sir Weeton Slater, Mr. Monterez Williams, Admiral Loftus, the Earl of Witlington, were among those which struck my ear, and struck me as good ones. I could not perceive anything of the air of cynical satellites in these gentlemen—on the contrary, they were cordially deferential. I felt that he was encompassed by undoubted gentlemen, and my warmer feelings to my father returned when I became sensible of the pleasant sway he held over the circle, both in speaking and listening. His sympathetic smile and semi-droop of attention; his readiness, when occasion demanded it, to hit the key of the subject and help it on with the right word; his air of unobtrusive appreciation; his sensibility to the moment when the run of conversation depended upon him—showed inimitable art coming of natural genius; and he did not lose a shade of his superior manner the while. Mr. Serjeant Wedderburn, professionally voluble, a lively talker, brimming with anecdote, but too sparkling, too prompt, too full of personal relish of his point, threw my father's urbane supremacy into marked relief; and so in another fashion did the Earl of Witlington, 'a youth in the season of guffaws,' as Jorian DeWitt described him, whom a jest would seize by the throat, shaking his sapling frame. Jorian strolled up to us goutily. No efforts of my father's would induce him to illustrate his fame for repartee, so it remained established. 'Very pretty waxwork,' he said to me of our English beauties swimming by. 'Now, those women, young Richmond, if they were inflammable to the fiftieth degree, that is, if they had the fiftieth part of a Frenchwoman in them, would have canvassed society on the great man's account long before this, and sent him to the top like a bubble. He wastes his time on them. That fat woman he's bowing to is Viscountess Sedley, a porcine empress, widow of three, with a soupcon of bigamy to flavour them. She mounted from a grocer's shop, I am told. Constitution has done everything for that woman. So it will everywhere—it beats the world! Now he's on all-fours to Lady Rachel Stokes, our pure aristocracy; she walks as if she were going through a doorway, and couldn't risk an eyelid. I 'd like to see her tempting St. Anthony. That's little Wreckham's wife: she's had as many adventures as Gil Blas before he entered the Duke of Lerma's service.' He reviewed several ladies, certainly not very witty when malignant, as I remembered my father to have said of him. 'The style of your Englishwoman is to keep the nose exactly at one elevation, to show you're born to it. They daren't run a gamut, these women. These Englishwomen are a fiction! The model of them is the nursery-miss, but they're like the names of true lovers cut on the bark of a tree—awfully stiff and longitudinal with the advance of time. We've our Lady Jezebels, my boy! They're in the pay of the bishops, or the police, to make vice hideous. The rest do the same for virtue, and get their pay for it somewhere, I don't doubt; perhaps from the newspapers, to keep up the fiction. I tell you, these Englishwomen have either no life at all in them, or they're nothing but animal life. 'Gad, how they dizen themselves! They've no other use for their fingers. The wealth of this country's frightful!'
Jorian seemed annoyed that he could not excite me to defend my countrywomen; but I had begun to see that there was no necessity for the sanguine to encounter the bilious on their behalf, and was myself inclined to be critical. Besides I was engaged in watching my father, whose bearing toward the ladies he accosted did not dissatisfy my critical taste, though I had repeated fears of seeing him overdo it. He summoned me to an introduction to the Countess Szezedy, a merry little Hungarian dame.
'So,' said she at once, speaking German, 'you are to marry the romantic head, the Princess Ottilia of Eppenwelzen! I know her well. I have met her in Vienna. Schone Seele, and bas bleu! It's just those that are won with a duel. I know Prince Otto too.' She prattled away, and asked me whether the marriage was to take place in the Summer. I was too astounded to answer.
'No date is yet fixed,' my father struck in.
'It's the talk of London,' she said.
Before I could demand explanations of my father with regard to this terrible rumour involving Ottilia, I found myself in the box of the City widow, Lady Sampleman, a grievous person, of the complexion of the autumnal bramble-leaf, whose first words were: 'Ah! the young suitor! And how is our German princess?' I had to reply that the theme was more of German princes than princesses in England. 'Oh! but,' said she, 'you are having a—shall I call it—national revenge on them? "I will take one of your princesses," says you; and as soon as said done! I'm dying for a sight of her portrait. Captain DeWitt declares her heavenly—I mean, he says she is fair and nice, quite a lady-that of course! And never mind her not being rich. You can do the decoration to the match. H'm,' she perused my features; 'pale! Lovelorn? Excuse an old friend of your father's. One of his very oldest, I'd say, if it didn't impugn. As such, proud of your alliance. I am. I speak of it everywhere—everywhere.'
Here she dramatized the circulation of the gossip. 'Have you heard the news? No, what? Fitz-George's son marries a princess of the German realm. Indeed! True as gospel. And how soon? In a month; and now you will see the dear, neglected man command the Court . . . .'
I looked at my father: I felt stifling with confusion and rage. He leant over to her, imparting some ecstatic news about a great lady having determined to call on her to regulate the affairs of an approaching grand Ball, and under cover of this we escaped.
'If it were not,' said he, 'for the Chassediane—you are aware, Richie, poor Jorian is lost to her?—he has fallen at her quicksilver feet. She is now in London. Half the poor fellow's income expended in bouquets! Her portrait, in the character of the widow Lefourbe, has become a part of his dressing apparatus; he shaves fronting her playbill. His first real affaire de coeur, and he is forty-five! So he is taken in the stomach. That is why love is such a dangerous malady for middle age. As I said, but for Jenny Chassediane, our Sampleman would be the fortune for Jorian. I have hinted it on both sides. Women, Richie, are cleverer than the illustrious Lord Nelson in not seeing what their inclinations decline to see, and Jorian would do me any service in the world except that one. You are restless, my son?'
I begged permission to quit the house, and wait for him outside. He, in return, begged me most urgently to allow myself to be introduced to Lady Edbury, the stepmother of Lord Destrier, now Marquis of Edbury; and, using conversational pressure, he adjured me not to slight this lady, adding, with more significance than the words conveyed, 'I am taking the tide, Richie.' The tide took me, and I bowed to a lady of impressive languor, pale and young, with pleasant manners, showing her character in outline, like a glove on the hand, but little of its quality. She accused my father of coming direct from 'that person's' box. He replied that he never forsook old friends. 'You should,' was her rejoinder. It suggested to me an image of one of the sister Fates cutting a thread.
My heart sank when, from Lady Edbury too, I heard the allusion to Germany and its princess. 'Some one told me she was dark?'
'Blonde,' my father corrected the report.
Lady Edbury 'thought it singular for a German woman of the Blood to be a brunette. They had not much dark mixture among them, particularly in the North. Her name? She had forgotten the name of the princess.'
My father repeated: 'The Princess Ottilia, Princess of Eppenwelzen-Sarkeld.'
'Brunette, you say?'
'The purest blonde.'
'A complexion to dazzle the righteous!'
Lady Edbury threw a flying glance in a mirror: 'The unrighteous you leave to us then?'
They bandied the weariful shuttlecock of gallantry. I bowed and fled. My excuse was that I had seen Anna Penrhys in an upper tier of boxes, and I made my way to her, doubting how I should be welcomed. 'The happy woman is a German princess, we hear!' she set me shivering. Her welcome was perfectly unreserved and friendly.
She asked the name of the lady whose box I had quitted, and after bending her opera-glass on it for a moment, said, with a certain air of satisfaction, 'She is young'; which led me to guess that Lady Edbury was reputed to be Anna's successor; but why the latter should be flattered by the former's youth was one of the mysteries for me then. Her aunt was awakened from sleep by the mention of my name. 'Is the man here?' she exclaimed, starting. Anna smiled, and talked to me of my father, saying, that she was glad to see me at his right hand, for he had a hard battle to fight. She spoke of him with affectionate interest in his fortunes; no better proof of his generosity as well as hers could have been given me. I promised her heartily I would not be guilty of letting our intimacy drop, and handed the ladies down to the crush-room, where I saw my father leading Lady Edbury to her carriage, much observed. Destrier, the young marquis, coming in to meet the procession from other haunts, linked his arm to his friend Witlington's, and said something in my hearing of old 'Duke Fitz,' which provoked, I fancied, signs of amusement equivalent to tittering in a small ring of the select assembly. Lady Sampleman's carriage was called. 'Another victim,' said a voice. Anna Penrhys walked straight out to find her footman and carriage for herself.
I stood alone in the street, wondering, fretting, filled with a variety of ugly sensations, when my father joined me humming an air of the opera. 'I was looking for Jorian, Richie. He had our Sampleman under his charge. He is off to the Chassediane. Well! And well, Richie, you could not bear the absence from your dada? You find me in full sail on the tide. I am at home, if our fortunes demand it, in a little German principality, but there is,' he threw out his chest, 'a breadth in London; nowhere else do I breathe with absolute freedom—so largely: and this is my battlefield. By the way, Lady Edbury accounts you complete; which is no more to say than that she is a woman of taste. The instance: she positively would not notice that you wear a dress-coat of a foreign cut. Correct it to-morrow; my tailor shall wait on you. I meant to point out to you that when a London woman has not taken note of that, the face and the man have made the right impression on her. Richie, dear boy, how shall I speak the delight I have in seeing you! My arm in yours, old Richie! strolling home from the Fashion: this seems to me what I dreamt of! All in sound health at the Grange? She too, the best of women?'
'I have come on very particular business,' I interposed briefly.
He replied, 'I am alive to you, Richie; speak.'
'The squire has seen my bankers' book. He thinks I've been drawing rather wildly: no doubt he's right. He wants some sort of explanation. He consents to an interview with you. I have come to ask you to go down to him, sir.'
'To-morrow morning, without an hour's delay, my dear boy. Very agreeable will be the sight of old Riversley. And in the daylight!'
'He prefers to meet you at Bulsted. Captain Bulsted offers his house for the purpose. I have to warn you, sir, that we stand in a very exceptional position. The squire insists upon having a full account of the money rendered to him.'
'I invite him to London, Richie. I refer him to Dettermain and Newson. I request him to compute the value of a princess.'
'You are aware that he will not come to your invitation.'
'Tell me, then, how is he to understand what I have established by the expenditure, my son? I refer him to Dettermain and Newson.'
'But you must know that he sets his face against legal proceedings involving exposure.'
'But surely, Richie, exposure is the very thing we court. The innocent, the unjustly treated, court it. We would be talked about; you shall hear of us! And into the bargain an hereditary princess. Upon my faith, Mr. Beltham, I think you have mighty little to complain of.'
My temper was beginning to chafe at the curb. 'As regards any feeling about the money, personally, sir, you know I have none. But I must speak of one thing. I have heard to-night, I confess with as much astonishment as grief, the name . . . I could not have guessed that I should hear the princess's name associated with mine, and quite openly.'
'As a matter of course.' He nodded, and struck out a hand in wavy motion.
'Well, sir, if you can't feel for her or her family, be good enough to think of me, and remember that I object to it.'
'For you all,' said he, buoyantly; 'I feel for you all, and I will act for you all. I bring the princess to your arms, my dear boy. You have written me word that the squire gives her a royal dowry—have you not? My combinations permit of no escape to any one of you. Nay, 'tis done. I think for you—I feel for you—I act for you. By heaven, you shall be happy! Sigh, Richie, sigh; your destiny is now entrusted to me!'
'I daresay I'm wasting my breath, sir, but I protest against false pretences. You know well that you have made use of the princess's name for your own purposes.'
'Most indubitably, Richie, I have; and are they not yours? I must have social authority to succeed in our main enterprise. Possibly the princess's name serves for a temporary chandelier to cast light on us. She belongs to us. For her sake, we are bringing the house she enters into order. Thus, Richie, I could tell Mr. Beltham: you and he supply the money, the princess the name, and I the energy, the skilfulness, and the estimable cause. I pay the princess for the use of her name with the dowry, which is royal; I pay you with the princess, who is royal too; and I, Richie, am paid by your happiness most royally. Together, it is past contest that we win.—Here, my little one,' he said to a woman, and dropped a piece of gold into her hand, 'on condition that you go straight home.' The woman thanked him and promised. 'As I was observing, we are in the very tide of success. Curious! I have a slight inclination to melancholy. Success, quotha? Why, hundreds before us have paced the identical way homeward at night under these lamps between the mansions and the park. The bare thought makes them resemble a double line of undertakers. The tomb is down there at the end of them—costly or not. At the age of four, on my birthday, I was informed that my mother lay dead in her bed. I remember to this day my astonishment at her not moving. "Her heart is broken," my old nurse said. To me she appeared intact. Her sister took possession of me, and of her papers, and the wedding-ring—now in the custody of Dettermain and Newson—together with the portraits of both my parents; and she, poor soul, to sustain me, as I verily believe—she had a great idea of my never asking unprofitably for anything in life—bartered the most corroborative of the testificatory documents, which would now make the establishment of my case a comparatively light task. Have I never spoken to you of my boyhood? My maternal uncle was a singing-master and master of elocution. I am indebted to him for the cultivation of my voice. He taught me an effective delivery of my sentences. The English of a book of his called The Speaker is still to my mind a model of elegance. Remittances of money came to him from an unknown quarter; and, with a break or two, have come ever since up to this period. My old nurse-heaven bless her—resumed the occupation of washing. I have stood by her tub, Richie, blowing bubbles and listening to her prophecies of my exalted fortune for hours. On my honour, I doubt, I seriously doubt, if I have ever been happier. I depend just now—I have to avow it to you—slightly upon stimulants . . . of a perfectly innocuous character. Mrs. Waddy will allow me a pint of champagne. The truth is, Richie—you see these two or three poor pensioners of mine, honi soit qui mal y pense—my mother has had hard names thrown at her. The stones of these streets cry out to me to have her vindicated. I am not tired; but I want my wine.'
He repeated several times before he reached his housedoor, that he wanted his wine, in a manner to be almost alarming. His unwonted effort of memory, the singular pictures of him which it had flashed before me, and a sort of impatient compassion, made me forget my wrath. I saw him take his restorative at one draught. He lay down on a sofa, and his valet drew his boots off and threw a cloak over him. Lying there, he wished me gaily good-night. Mrs. Waddy told me that he had adopted this system of sleeping for the last month. 'Bless you, as many people call on him at night now as in the day,' she said; and I was induced to suppose he had some connection with the Press. She had implicit faith in his powers of constitution, and would affirm, that he had been the death of dozens whom the attraction had duped to imitate his habits. 'He is now a Field-Marshal on his campaign.' She betrayed a twinkle of humour. He must himself have favoured her with that remark. The report of the house-door frequently shutting in the night suggested the passage of his aides-de-camp.
Early in the morning, I found him pacing through the open doors of the dining-room and the library dictating to a secretary at a desk, now and then tossing a word to Dettermain and Newson's chief clerk. The floor was strewn with journals. He wore Hessian boots; a voluminous black cloak hung loosely from his shoulders.
'I am just settling the evening papers,' he said after greeting me, with a show of formality in his warmth; and immediately added, 'That will do, Mr. Jopson. Put in a note—"Mr. Harry Lepel Richmond of Riversley and Twn-y-glas, my son, takes no step to official distinction in his native land save through the ordinary Parliamentary channels." Your pardon, Richie; presently. I am replying to a morning paper.'
'What's this? Why print my name?' I cried.
'Merely the correction of an error. I have to insist, my dear boy, that you claim no privileges: you are apart from them. Mr. Jopson, I beseech you, not a minute's delay in delivering that. Fetch me from the printer's my pamphlet this afternoon. Mr. Jacobs, my compliments to Dettermain and Newson: I request them to open proceedings instanter, and let the world know of it. Good-morning, gentlemen.'
And now, turning to me, my father fenced me with the whole weight of his sententious volubility, which was the force of a river. Why did my name appear in the papers? Because I was his son. But he assured me that he carefully separated me from public companionship with his fortunes, and placed me on the side of my grandfather, as a plain gentleman of England, the heir of the most colossal wealth possible in the country.
'I dis-sociate you from me, Richie, do you see? I cause it to be declared that you need, on no account, lean on me. Jopson will bring you my pamphlet—my Declaration of Rights—to peruse. In the Press, in Literature, at Law, and on social ground, I meet the enemy, and I claim my own; by heaven, I do! And I will down to the squire for a distraction, if you esteem it necessary, certainly. Half-a-dozen words to him. Why, do you maintain him to be insensible to a title for you? No, no. And ask my friends. I refer him to any dozen of my friends to convince him I have the prize almost in my possession. Why, dear boy, I have witnesses, living witnesses, to the ceremony. Am I, tell me, to be deprived of money now, once again, for the eleventh time? Oh! And put aside my duty to you, I protest I am bound in duty to her who bore me—you have seen her miniature: how lovely that dear woman was! how gentle!—bound in duty to her to clear her good name. This does not affect you . . . '
'Oh, but it does,' he allowed me to plead.
'Ay, through your love for your dada.'
He shook me by both hands. I was touched with pity, and at the same time in doubt whether it was not an actor that swayed me; for I was discontented, and could not speak my discontent; I was overborne, overflowed. His evasion of the matter of my objections relating to the princess I felt to be a palpable piece of artfulness, but I had to acknowledge to myself that I knew what his argument would be, and how overwhelmingly his defence of it would spring forth. My cowardice shrank from provoking a recurrence to the theme. In fact, I submitted consciously to his masterful fluency and emotional power, and so I was carried on the tide with him, remaining in London several days to witness that I was not the only one. My father, admitting that money served him in his conquest of society, and defying any other man to do as much with it as he did, replied to a desperate insinuation of mine, 'This money I spend I am actually putting out to interest as much as, or more than, your grandad.' He murmured confidentially, 'I have alarmed the Government. Indeed, I have warrant for saying I am in communication with its agents. They are bribing me; they are positively bribing me, Richie. I receive my stipend annually. They are mighty discreet. So am I. But I push them hard. I take what they offer: I renounce none of my claims.'
Janet wrote that it would be prudent for me to return.
'I am prepared,' my father said. 'I have only to meet Mr. Beltham in a room—I stipulate that it shall be between square walls—to win him. The squire to back us, Richie, we have command of the entire world. His wealth, and my good cause, and your illustrious union—by the way, it is announced definitely in this morning's paper.'
Dismayed, I asked what was announced.
'Read,' said he. 'This will be something to hand to Mr. Beltham at our meeting. I might trace it to one of the embassies, Imperial or Royal. No matter—there it is.'
I read a paragraph in which Ottilia's name and titles were set down; then followed mine and my wealthy heirship, and—woe was me in the perusing of it!—a roundabout vindication of me as one not likely to be ranked as the first of English commoners who had gained the hand of an hereditary foreign princess, though it was undoubtedly in the light of a commoner that I was most open to the congratulations of my countrymen upon my unparalleled felicity. A display of historical erudition cited the noble inferiors by birth who had caught princesses to their arms—Charles, Humphrey, William, John. Under this list, a later Harry!
The paragraph closed by fixing the nuptials to take place before the end of the Season.
I looked at my father to try a struggle with him. The whole man was efflorescent.
'Can't it be stopped?' I implored him.
He signified the impossibility in a burst of gesticulations, motions of the mouth, smiling frowns; various patterns of an absolute negative beating down opposition.
'Things printed can never be stopped, Richie. Our Jorian compares them to babies baptized. They have a soul from that moment, and go on for ever!—an admirable word of Jorian's. And a word to you, Richie. Will you swear to me by the veracity of your lover's heart, that paragraph affords you no satisfaction? He cannot swear it!' my father exclaimed, seeing me swing my shoulder round, and he made me feel that it would have been a false oath if I had sworn it. But I could have sworn, that I had rather we two were at the bottom of the sea than that it should come under the princess's eyes. I read it again. It was in print. It looked like reality. It was at least the realization of my dream. But this played traitor and accused me of being crowned with no more than a dream. The sole practical thing I could do was to insist on our starting for Riversley immediately, to make sure of my own position. 'Name your hour, Richie,' my father said confidently: and we waited.
A rather plainer view of my father's position, as I inclined to think, was afforded to me one morning at his breakfast-table, by a conversation between him and Jorian DeWitt, who brought me a twisted pink note from Mdlle. Chassediane, the which he delivered with the air of a dog made to disgorge a bone, and he was very cool to me indeed. The cutlets of Alphonse were subject to snappish criticism. 'I assume,' he said, 'the fellow knew I was coming?'
'He saw it in my handwriting of yesterday,' replied my father. 'But be just to him, acknowledge that he is one of the few that perform their daily duties with a tender conscience.'
'This English climate has bedevilled the fellow! He peppers his dishes like a mongrel Indian reared on mangoes.'
'Ring him up, ring him up, Jorian. All I beg of you is not to disgust him with life, for he quits any service in the world to come to me, and, in fact, he suits me.'
'Exactly so: you spoil him.'
My father shrugged. 'The state of the case is, that your stomach is growing delicate, friend Jorian.'
'The actual state of the case being, that my palate was never keener, and consequently my stomach knows its business.'
'You should have tried the cold turbot with oil and capers.'
'Your man had better stick to buttered eggs, in my opinion.'
'No, I'll be hanged if I think he's equal to a bowl of porridge.'
'Careme might have confessed to the same!'
'With this difference,' cried Jorian in a heat, 'that he would never have allowed the thought of any of your barbarous messes to occur to a man at table. Let me tell you, Roy, you astonish me: up till now I have never known you guilty of the bad taste of defending a bad dish on your own board.'
'Then you will the more readily pardon me, Jorian.'
'Oh, I pardon you,' Jorian sneered, tripped to the carpet by such ignoble mildness. 'A breakfast is no great loss.'
My father assured him he would have a serious conversation with Alphonse, for whom he apologized by saying that Alphonse had not, to his knowledge, served as hospital cook anywhere, and was therefore quite possibly not sufficiently solicitous for appetites and digestions of invalids.
Jorian threw back his head as though to discharge a spiteful sarcasm with good aim; but turning to me, said, 'Harry, the thing must be done; your father must marry. Notoriety is the season for a pick and choice of the wealthiest and the loveliest. I refuse to act the part of warming-pan any longer; I refuse point blank. It's not a personal feeling on my part; my advice is that of a disinterested friend, and I tell you candidly, Roy, set aside the absurd exhibition of my dancing attendance on that last rose of Guildhall,—egad, the alderman went like Summer, and left us the very picture of a fruity Autumn,—I say you can't keep her hanging on the tree of fond expectation for ever. She'll drop.'
'Catch her, Jorian; you are on guard.'
'Upwards of three hundred thousand, if a penny, Roy Richmond! Who? I? I am not a fortune-hunter.'
'Nor am I, friend Jorian.'
'No, it 's because you're not thorough: you 'll fall between the stools.'
My father remarked that he should visit this upon Mr. Alphonse.
'You shook off that fine Welsh girl, and she was in your hand—the act of a madman!' Jorian continued. 'You're getting older: the day will come when you're a flat excitement. You know the first Lady Edbury spoilt one of your best chances when you had the market. Now you're trifling with the second. She's the head of the Light Brigade, but you might fix her down, if she's not too much in debt. You 're not at the end of your run, I dare say. Only, my good Roy, let me tell you, in life you mustn't wait for the prize of the race till you touch the goal—if you prefer metaphor. You generally come forward about every seven years or so. Add on another seven, and women'll begin to think. You can't beat Time, mon Roy.'
'So,' said my father, 'I touch the goal, and women begin to think, and I can't beat time to them. Jorian, your mind is in a state of confusion. I do not marry.'
'Then, Roy Richmond, hear what a friend says . . .'
'I do not marry, Jorian, and you know my reasons.'
'They are a part of my life.'
'Just as I remarked, you are not thorough. You have genius and courage out of proportion, and you are a dead failure, Roy; because, no sooner have you got all Covent Garden before you for the fourth or fifth time, than in go your hands into your pockets, and you say—No, there's an apple I can't have, so I'll none of these; and, by the way, the apple must be tolerably withered by this time. And you know perfectly well (for you don't lack common sense at a shaking, Roy Richmond), that you're guilty of simple madness in refusing to make the best of your situation. You haven't to be taught what money means. With money—and a wife to take care of it, mind you—you are pre-eminently the man for which you want to be recognized. Without it—Harry 'll excuse me, I must speak plainly—you're a sort of a spectacle of a bob-cherry, down on your luck, up on your luck, and getting dead stale and never bitten; a familiar curiosity'
Jorian added, 'Oh, by Jove! it's not nice to think of.' My father said: 'Harry, I am sure, will excuse you for talking, in your extreme friendliness, of matters that he and I have not—and they interest us deeply—yet thought fit to discuss. And you may take my word for it, Jorian, that I will give Alphonse his medical dose. I am quite of your opinion that the kings of cooks require it occasionally. Harry will inform us of Mdlle. Chassediane's commands.'
The contents of the letter permitted me to read it aloud. She desired to know how she could be amused on the Sunday.
'We will undertake it,' said my father. 'I depute the arrangements to you, Jorian. Respect the prejudices, and avoid collisions, that is all.'
Captain DeWitt became by convenient stages cheerful, after the pink slip of paper had been made common property, and from a seriously-advising friend, in his state of spite, relapsed to the idle and shadow-like associate, when pleased. I had to thank him for the gift of fresh perceptions. Surely it would be as well if my father could get a woman of fortune to take care of him!
We had at my request a consultation with Dettermain and Newson on the eve of the journey to Riversley, Temple and Jorian DeWitt assisting. Strange documentary evidence was unfolded and compared with the date of a royal decree: affidavits of persons now dead; a ring, the ring; fans, and lace, and handkerchiefs with notable initials; jewelry stamped 'To the Divine Anastasia' from an adoring Christian name: old brown letters that shrieked 'wife' when 'charmer' seemed to have palled; oaths of fidelity ran through them like bass notes. Jorian held up the discoloured sheets of ancient paper saying:
'Here you behold the mummy of the villain Love.' Such love as it was—the love of the privileged butcher for the lamb. The burden of the letters, put in epigram, was rattlesnake and bird. A narrative of Anastasia's sister, Elizabeth, signed and sealed, with names of witnesses appended, related in brief bald English the history of the events which had killed her. It warmed pathetically when dwelling on the writer's necessity to part with letters and papers of greater moment, that she might be enabled to sustain and educate her sister's child. She named the certificate; she swore to the tampering with witnesses. The number and exact indication of the house where the ceremony took place was stated—a house in Soho;—the date was given, and the incident on that night of the rape of the beautiful Miss Armett by mad Lord Beaumaris at the theatre doors, aided by masked ruffians, after Anastasia's performance of Zamira.
'There are witnesses I know to be still living, Mr. Temple,' my father said, seeing the young student-at-law silent and observant. 'One of them I have under my hand; I feed him. Listen to this.'
He read two or three insufferable sentences from one of the love-epistles, and broke down. I was ushered aside by a member of the firm to inspect an instrument prepared to bind me as surety for the costs of the appeal. I signed it. We quitted the attorney's office convinced (I speak of Temple and myself) that we had seen the shadow of something.
MY FATHER'S MEETING WITH MY GRANDFATHER
My father's pleasure on the day of our journey to Bulsted was to drive me out of London on a lofty open chariot, with which he made the circuit of the fashionable districts, and caused innumerable heads to turn. I would have preferred to go the way of other men, to be unnoticed, but I was subject to an occasional glowing of undefined satisfaction in the observance of the universally acknowledged harmony existing between his pretensions, his tastes and habits, and his person. He contrived by I know not what persuasiveness and simplicity of manner and speech to banish from me the idea that he was engaged in playing a high stake; and though I knew it, and he more than once admitted it, there was an ease and mastery about him that afforded me some degree of positive comfort still. I was still most securely attached to his fortunes. Supposing the ghost of dead Hector to have hung over his body when the inflamed son of Peleus whirled him at his chariot wheels round Troy, he would, with his natural passions sobered by Erebus, have had some of my reflections upon force and fate, and my partial sense of exhilaration in the tremendous speed of the course during the whole of the period my father termed his Grand Parade. I showed just such acquiescence or resistance as were superinduced by the variations of the ground. Otherwise I was spell-bound; and beyond interdicting any further public mention of my name or the princess's, I did nothing to thwart him. It would have been no light matter.
We struck a station at a point half-way down to Bulsted, and found little Kiomi there, thunder in her brows, carrying a bundle, and purchasing a railway-ticket, not to travel in our direction. She gave me the singular answer that she could not tell me where her people were; nor would she tell me whither she was going, alone, and by rail. I chanced to speak of Heriot. One of her sheet-lightning flashes shot out. 'He won't be at Bulsted,' she said, as if that had a significance. I let her know we were invited to Bulsted. 'Oh, she 's at home'; Kiomi blinked, and her features twitched like whip-cord. I saw that she was possessed by one of her furies. That girl's face had the art of making me forget beautiful women, and what beauty was by comparison.
It happened that the squire came across us as we were rounding the slope of larch and fir plantation near a part of the Riversley hollows, leading to the upper heath-land, where, behind a semicircle of birches, Bulsted lay. He was on horseback, and called hoarsely to the captain's coachman, who was driving us, to pull up. 'Here, Harry,' he sang out to me, in the same rough voice, 'I don't see why we should bother Captain William. It's a bit of business, not pleasure. I've got the book in my pocket. You ask—is it convenient to step into my bailiff's cottage hard by, and run through it? Ten minutes 'll tell me all I want to know. I want it done with. Ask.'
My father stood up and bowed, bareheaded.
My grandfather struck his hat and bobbed.
'Mr. Beltham, I trust I see you well.'
'Better, sir, when I've got rid of a damned unpleasant bit o' business.'
'I offer you my hearty assistance.'
'Do you? Then step down and come into my bailiff's.'
'I come, sir.'
My father alighted from the carriage. The squire cast his gouty leg to be quit of his horse, but not in time to check my father's advances and ejaculations of condolence.
'Gout, Mr. Beltham, is a little too much a proof to us of a long line of ancestry.'
His hand and arm were raised in the form of a splint to support the squire, who glared back over his cheekbone, horrified that he could not escape the contact, and in too great pain from arthritic throes to protest: he resembled a burglar surprised by justice. 'What infernal nonsense . . , fellow talking now?' I heard him mutter between his hoppings and dancings, with one foot in the stirrup and a toe to earth, the enemy at his heel, and his inclination half bent upon swinging to the saddle again.
I went to relieve him. 'Damn! . . . Oh, it's you,' said he.
The squire directed Uberly, acting as his groom, to walk his horse up and down the turf fronting young Tom Eckerthy's cottage, and me to remain where I was; then hobbled up to the door, followed at a leisurely march by my father. The door opened. My father swept the old man in before him, with a bow and flourish that admitted of no contradiction, and the door closed on them. I caught a glimpse of Uberly screwing his wrinkles in a queer grimace, while he worked his left eye and thumb expressively at the cottage, by way of communicating his mind to Samuel, Captain Bulsted's coachman; and I became quite of his opinion as to the nature of the meeting, that it was comical and not likely to lead to much. I thought of the princess and of my hope of her depending upon such an interview as this. From that hour when I stepped on the sands of the Continent to the day of my quitting them, I had been folded in a dream: I had stretched my hands to the highest things of earth, and here now was the retributive material money-question, like a keen scythe-blade!
The cottage-door continued shut. The heaths were darkening. I heard a noise of wheels, and presently the unmistakable voice of Janet saying, 'That must be Harry.' She was driving my aunt Dorothy. Both of them hushed at hearing that the momentous duel was in progress. Janet's first thought was of the squire. 'I won't have him ride home in the dark,' she said, and ordered Uberly to walk the horse home. The ladies had a ladies' altercation before Janet would permit my aunt to yield her place and proceed on foot, accompanied by me. Naturally the best driver of the two kept the whip. I told Samuel to go on to Bulsted, with word that we were coming: and Janet, nodding bluntly, agreed to direct my father as to where he might expect to find me on the Riversley road. My aunt Dorothy and I went ahead slowly: at her request I struck a pathway to avoid the pony-carriage, which was soon audible; and when Janet, chattering to the squire, had gone by, we turned back to intercept my father. He was speechless at the sight of Dorothy Beltham. At his solicitation, she consented to meet him next day; his account of the result of the interview was unintelligible to her as well as to me. Even after leaving her at the park-gates, I could get nothing definite from him, save that all was well, and that the squire was eminently practical; but he believed he had done an excellent evening's work. 'Yes,' said he, rubbing his hands, 'excellent! making due allowances for the emphatically commoner's mind we have to deal with.' And then to change the subject he dilated on that strange story of the man who, an enormous number of years back in the date of the world's history, carried his little son on his shoulders one night when the winds were not so boisterous, though we were deeper in Winter, along the identical road we traversed, between the gorsemounds, across the heaths, with yonder remembered fir-tree clump in sight and the waste-water visible to footfarers rounding under the firs. At night-time he vowed, that as far as nature permitted it, he had satisfied the squire—'completely satisfied him, I mean,' he said, to give me sound sleep. 'No doubt of it; no doubt of it, Richie.'
He won Julia's heart straight off, and Captain Bulsted's profound admiration. 'Now I know the man I've always been adoring since you were so high, Harry,' said she. Captain Bulsted sighed: 'Your husband bows to your high good taste, my dear.' They relished him sincerely, and between them and him I suffered myself to be dandled once more into a state of credulity, until I saw my aunt Dorothy in the afternoon subsequent to the appointed meeting. His deep respect and esteem for her had stayed him from answering any of her questions falsely. To that extent he had been veracious. It appeared, that driven hard by the squire, who would have no waving of flags and lighting of fireworks in a matter of business, and whose 'commoner's mind' chafed sturdily at a hint of the necessity for lavish outlays where there was a princess to win, he had rallied on the fiction that many of the cheques, standing for the bulk of the sums expended, were moneys borrowed by him of me, which he designed to repay, and was prepared to repay instantly—could in fact, the squire demanding it, repay, as it were, on the spot; for behold, these borrowed moneys were not spent; they were moneys invested in undertakings, put out to high rates of interest; moneys that perhaps it would not be adviseable to call in without a season of delay; still, if Mr. Beltham, acting for his grandson and heir, insisted, it should be done. The moneys had been borrowed purely to invest them with profit on my behalf: a gentleman's word of honour was pledged to it.
The squire grimly gave him a couple of months to make it good.
Dorothy Beltham and my father were together for about an hour at Eckerthy's farm. She let my father kiss her hand when he was bending to take his farewell of her, but held her face away. He was in manifest distress, hardly master of his voice, begged me to come to him soon, and bowing, with 'God bless you, madam, my friend on earth!' turned his heel, bearing his elastic frame lamentably. A sad or a culprit air did not befit him: one reckoned up his foibles and errors when seeing him under a partly beaten aspect. At least, I did; not my dear aunt, who was compassionate of him, however thoroughly she condemned his ruinous extravagance, and the shifts and evasions it put him to. She feared, that instead of mending the difficulty, he had postponed merely to exaggerate it in the squire's mind; and she was now of opinion that the bringing him down to meet the squire was very bad policy, likely to result in danger to my happiness; for, if the money should not be forthcoming on the date named, all my father's faults would be transferred to me as his accomplice, both in the original wastefulness and the subterfuges invented to conceal it. I recollected that a sum of money had really been sunk in Prince Ernest's coal-mine. My aunt said she hoped for the best.
Mounting the heaths, we looked back on the long yellow road, where the carriage conveying my father to the railway-station was visible, and talked of him, and of the elements of antique tragedy in his history, which were at that period, let me say, precisely what my incessant mental efforts were strained to expel from the idea of our human life. The individual's freedom was my tenet of faith; but pity pleaded for him that he was well-nigh irresponsible, was shamefully sinned against at his birth, one who could charge the Gods with vindictiveness, and complain of the persecution of natal Furies. My aunt Dorothy advised me to take him under my charge, and sell his house and furniture, make him live in bachelor chambers with his faithful waiting-woman and a single manservant.
'He will want money even to do that,' I remarked.
She murmured, 'Is there not some annual income paid to him?'
Her quick delicacy made her redden in alluding so closely to his personal affairs, and I loved her for the nice feeling. 'It was not much,' I said. The miserable attempt to repair the wrongs done to him with this small annuity angered me—and I remembered, little pleased, the foolish expectations he founded on this secret acknowledgement of the justice of his claims. 'We won't talk of it,' I pursued. 'I wish he had never touched it. I shall interdict him.'
'You would let him pay his debts with it, Harry?'
'I am not sure, aunty, that he does not incur a greater debt by accepting it.'
'One's wish would be, that he might not ever be in need of it.'
'Ay, or never be caring to find the key of it.'
'That must be waste of time,' she said.
I meant something else, but it was useless to tell her so.
COMMENCEMENT OF THE SPLENDOURS AND PERPLEXITIES OF MY FATHER'S GRAND PARADE
Janet, in reply to our inquiries as to the condition of the squire's temper, pointed out in the newspaper a notification of a grand public Ball to be given by my father, the first of a series of three, and said that the squire had seen it and shrugged. She thought there was no positive cause for alarm, even though my father should fail of his word; but expressed her view decidedly, that it was an unfortunate move to bring him between the squire and me, and so she blamed Captain Bulsted. This was partly for the reason that the captain and his wife, charmed by my father, were for advocating his merits at the squire's table: our ingenuity was ludicrously taxed to mystify him on the subject of their extravagant eulogies. They told him they had been invited, and were going to the great London Balls.
'Subscription Balls?' asked the squire.
'No, sir,' rejoined the captain.
'Tradesmen's Balls, d' ye call 'em, then?'
'No, sir; they are Balls given by a distinguished gentleman.'
'Take care it's not another name for tradesmen's Balls, William.'
'I do not attend tradesmen's Balls, sir.'
'Take care o' that, William.'
The captain was very angry. 'What,' said he, turning to us, 'what does the squire mean by telling an officer of the Royal Navy that he is conducting his wife to a tradesmen's Ball?'
Julia threatened malicious doings for the insult. She and the squire had a controversy upon the explication of the word gentleman, she describing my father's appearance and manners to the life. 'Now listen to me, squire. A gentleman, I say, is one you'd say, if he wasn't born a duke, he ought to have been, and more shame to the title! He turns the key of a lady's heart with a twinkle of his eye. He 's never mean—what he has is yours. He's a true friend; and if he doesn't keep his word, you know in a jiffy it's the fault of affairs; and stands about five feet eleven: he's a full-blown man': and so forth.
The squire listened, and perspired at finding the object of his abhorrence crowned thus in the unassailable realms of the abstract. Julia might have done it more elegantly; but her husband was rapturous over her skill in portraiture, and he added: 'That's a gentleman, squire; and that 's a man pretty sure to be abused by half the world.'
'Three-quarters, William,' said the squire; 'there's about the computation for your gentleman's creditors, I suspect.'
'Ay, sir; well,' returned the captain, to whom this kind of fencing in the dark was an affliction, 'we make it up in quality—in quality.'
'I 'll be bound you do,' said the squire; 'and so you will so long as you 're only asked to dance to the other poor devils' fiddling.'
Captain Bulsted bowed. 'The last word to you, squire.'
The squire nodded. 'I 'll hand it to your wife, William.'
Julia took it graciously. 'A perfect gentleman! perfect! confound his enemies!'
'Why, ma'am, you might keep from swearing,' the squire bawled.
'La! squire,' said she, 'why, don't you know the National Anthem?'
'National Anthem, ma'am! and a fellow, a velvet-tongued—confound him, if you like.'
'And where's my last word, if you please?' Julia jumped up, and dropped a provoking curtsey.
'You silly old grandada!' said Janet, going round to him; 'don't you see the cunning woman wants to dress you in our garments, and means to boast of it to us while you're finishing your wine?'
The old man fondled her. I could have done the same, she bent over him with such homely sweetness. 'One comfort, you won't go to these gingerbread Balls,' he said.
'I'm not invited,' she moaned comically.
'No; nor shan't be, while I can keep you out of bad company.'
'But, grandada, I do like dancing.
'Dance away, my dear; I've no objection.'
'But where's the music?'
'Oh, you can always have music.'
'But where are my partners?'
The squire pointed at me.
'You don't want more than one at a time, eh?' He corrected his error: 'No, the fellow's engaged in another quadrille. Mind you, Miss Janet, he shall dance to your tune yet. D' ye hear, sir?' The irritation excited by Captain Bulsted and Julia broke out in fury. 'Who's that fellow danced when Rome was burning?'
'The Emperor Nero,' said Janet. 'He killed Harry's friend Seneca in the eighty-somethingth year of his age; an old man, and—hush, grandada!' She could not check him.
'Hark you, Mr. Harry; dance your hardest up in town with your rips and reps, and the lot of ye; all very fine while the burning goes on: you won't see the fun of dancing on the ashes. A nice king of Rome Nero was next morning! By the Lord, if I couldn't swear you'll be down on your knees to an innocent fresh-hearted girl 's worth five hundred of the crew you're for partnering now while you've a penny for the piper.'
Janet shut his mouth, kissed him, and held his wine up. He drank, and thumped the table. 'We 'll have parties here, too. The girl shall have her choice of partners: she shan't be kept in the background by a young donkey. Take any six of your own age, and six sensible men, to try you by your chances. By George, the whole dozen 'd bring you in non-compos. You've only got the women on your side because of a smart face and figure.'
Janet exclaimed indignantly, 'Grandada, I'm offended with you'; and walked out on a high step.
'Come, if he has the women on his side,' said Captain Bulsted, mildly.
'He'll be able to go partnering and gallopading as long as his banker 'll let him, William—like your gentleman! That's true. We shall soon see.'
'I leave my character in your hands, sir,' said I, rising. 'If you would scold me in private, I should prefer it, on behalf of your guests; but I am bound to submit to your pleasure, and under any circumstances I remember, what you appear to forget, that you are my grandfather.'
So saying, I followed the ladies. It was not the wisest of speeches, and happened, Captain Bulsted informed me, to be delivered in my father's manner, for the squire pronounced emphatically that he saw very little Beltham in me. The right course would have been for me to ask him then and there whether I had his consent to start for Germany. But I was the sport of resentments and apprehensions; and, indeed, I should not have gone. I could not go without some title beyond that of the heir of great riches.
Janet kept out of my sight. I found myself strangely anxious to console her: less sympathetic, perhaps, than desirous to pour out my sympathy in her ear, which was of a very pretty shape, with a soft unpierced lobe. We danced together at the Riversley Ball, given by the squire on the night of my father's Ball in London. Janet complimented me upon having attained wisdom. 'Now we get on well,' she said. 'Grandada only wants to see us friendly, and feel that I am not neglected.'
The old man, a martyr to what he considered due to his favourite, endured the horror of the Ball until suppertime, and kept his eyes on us two. He forgot, or pretended to forget, my foreign engagement altogether, though the announcement in the newspapers was spoken of by Sir Roderick and Lady Echester and others.
'How do you like that?' he remarked to me, seeing her twirled away by one of the young Rubreys.
'She seems to like it, sir,' I replied.
'Like it!' said he. 'In my day you wouldn't have caught me letting the bloom be taken off the girl I cared for by a parcel o' scampish young dogs. Right in their arms! Look at her build. She's strong; she's healthy; she goes round like a tower. If you want a girl to look like a princess!'
His eulogies were not undeserved. But she danced as lightly and happily with Mr. Fred Rubrey as with Harry Richmond. I congratulated myself on her lack of sentiment. Later, when in London, where Mlle. Jenny Chassediane challenged me to perilous sarabandes, I wished that Janet had ever so small a grain of sentiment, for a preservative to me. Ottilia glowed high and distant; she sent me no message; her image did not step between me and disorder. The whole structure of my idea of my superior nature seemed to be crumbling to fragments; and beginning to feel in despair that I was wretchedly like other men, I lost by degrees the sense of my hold on her. It struck me that my worst fears of the effect produced on the princess's mind by that last scene in the lake-palace must be true, and I abandoned hope. Temple thought she tried me too cruelly. Under these circumstances I became less and less resolutely disposed to renew the forlorn conflict with my father concerning his prodigal way of living. 'Let it last as long as I have a penny to support him!' I exclaimed. He said that Dettermain and Newson were now urging on his case with the utmost despatch in order to keep pace with him, but that the case relied for its life on his preserving a great appearance. He handed me his division of our twin cheque-books, telling me he preferred to depend on his son for supplies, and I was in the mood to think this a partial security.
'But you can take what there is,' I said.
'On the contrary, I will accept nothing but minor sums—so to speak, the fractional shillings; though I confess I am always bewildered by silver,' said he.
I questioned him upon his means of carrying on his expenditure. His answer was to refer to the pavement of the city of London. By paving here and there he had, he informed me, made a concrete for the wheels to roll on. He calculated that he now had credit for the space of three new years—ample time for him to fight his fight and win his victory.
'My tradesmen are not like the tradesmen of other persons,' he broke out with a curious neigh of supreme satisfaction in that retinue. 'They believe in me. I have de facto harnessed them to my fortunes; and if you doubt me on the point of success, I refer you to Dettermain and Newson. All I stipulate for is to maintain my position in society to throw a lustre on my Case. So much I must do. My failures hitherto have been entirely owing to the fact that I had not my son to stand by me.'
'Then you must have money, sir.'
'Then what can you mean by refusing mine?'
'I admit the necessity for it, my son. Say you hand me a cheque for a temporary thousand. Your credit and mine in conjunction can replace it before the expiration of the two months. Or,' he meditated, 'it might be better to give a bond or so to a professional lender, and preserve the account at your bankers intact. The truth is, I have, in my interview with the squire, drawn in advance upon the, material success I have a perfect justification to anticipate, and I cannot allow the old gentleman to suppose that I retrench for the purpose of giving a large array of figures to your bankers' book. It would be sheer madness. I cannot do it. I cannot afford to do it. When you are on a runaway horse, I prefer to say a racehorse,—Richie, you must ride him. You dare not throw up the reins. Only last night Wedderburn, appealing to Loftus, a practical sailor, was approved when he offered—I forget the subject-matter—the illustration of a ship on a lee-shore; you are lost if you do not spread every inch of canvas to the gale. Retrenchment at this particular moment is perdition. Count our gains, Richie. We have won a princess . . .'
I called to him not to name her.
He persisted: 'Half a minute. She is won; she is ours. And let me, in passing,—bear with me one second—counsel you to write to Prince Ernest instanter, proposing formally for his daughter, and, in your grandfather's name, state her dowry at fifty thousand per annum.'
'Oh, you forget!' I interjected.
'No, Richie, I do not forget that you are off a leeshore; you are mounted on a skittish racehorse, with, if you like, a New Forest fly operating within an inch of his belly-girths. Our situation is so far ticklish, and prompts invention and audacity.'
'You must forget, sir, that in the present state of the squire's mind, I should be simply lying in writing to the prince that he offers a dowry.'
'No, for your grandfather has yielded consent.'
'By implication, you know he withdraws it.'
'But if I satisfy him that you have not been extravagant?'
'I must wait till he is satisfied.'
'The thing is done, Richie, done. I see it in advance—it is done! Whatever befalls me, you, my dear boy, in the space of two months, may grasp—your fortune. Besides, here is my hand. I swear by it, my son, that I shall satisfy the squire. I go farther; I say I shall have the means to refund to you—the means, the money. The marriage is announced in our prints for the Summer—say early June. And I undertake that you, the husband of the princess, shall be the first gentleman in England—that is, Europe. Oh! not ruling a coterie: not dazzling the world with entertainments.' He thought himself in earnest when he said, 'I attach no mighty importance to these things, though there is no harm I can perceive in leading the fashion—none that I see in having a consummate style. I know your taste, and hers, Richie, the noble lady's. She shall govern the intellectual world—your poets, your painters, your men of science. They reflect a beautiful sovereign mistress more exquisitely than almost aristocracy does. But you head our aristocracy also. You are a centre of the political world. So I scheme it. Between you, I defy the Court to rival you. This I call distinction. It is no mean aim, by heaven! I protest, it is an aim with the mark in sight, and not out of range.'
He whipped himself up to one of his oratorical frenzies, of which a cheque was the common fruit. The power of his persuasiveness in speech, backed by the spectacle of his social accomplishments, continued to subdue me, and I protested only inwardly even when I knew that he was gambling with fortune. I wrote out many cheques, and still it appeared to me that they were barely sufficient to meet the current expenses of his household. Temple and I calculated that his Grand Parade would try the income of a duke, and could but be a matter of months. Mention of it reached Riversley from various quarters, from Lady Maria Higginson, from Captain Bulsted and his wife, and from Sir Roderick Ilchester, who said to me, with fine accentuation, 'I have met your father.' Sir Roderick, an Englishman reputed of good breeding, informed the son that he had actually met the father in lofty society, at Viscountess Sedley's, at Lady Dolchester's, at Bramham DeWitt's, and heard of him as a frequenter of the Prussian and Austrian Embassy entertainments; and also that he was admitted to the exclusive dinner-parties of the Countess de Strode, 'which are,' he observed, in the moderated tone of an astonishment devoting itself to propagation, 'the cream of society.' Indubitably, then, my father was an impostor: more Society proved it. The squire listened like one pelted by a storm, sure of his day to come at the close of the two months. I gained his commendation by shunning the metropolitan Balls, nor did my father press me to appear at them. It was tacitly understood between us that I should now and then support him at his dinner-table, and pass bowing among the most select of his great ladies. And this I did, and I felt at home with them, though I had to bear with roughnesses from one or two of the more venerable dames, which were not quite proper to good breeding. Old Lady Kane, great-aunt of the Marquis of Edbury, was particularly my tormentor, through her plain-spoken comments on my father's legal suit; for I had to listen to her without wincing, and agree in her general contempt of the Georges, and foil her queries coolly, when I should have liked to perform Jorian DeWitt's expressed wish to 'squeeze the acid out of her in one grip, and toss her to the Gods that collect exhausted lemons.' She took extraordinary liberties with me.
'Why not marry an Englishwoman? Rich young men ought to choose wives from their own people, out of their own sets. Foreign women never get on well in this country, unless they join the hounds to hunt the husband.'
She cited naturalized ladies famous for the pastime. Her world and its outskirts she knew thoroughly, even to the fact of my grandfather's desire that I should marry Janet Ilchester. She named a duke's daughter, an earl's. Of course I should have to stop the scandal: otherwise the choice I had was unrestricted. My father she evidently disliked, but she just as much disliked an encounter with his invincible bonhomie and dexterous tongue. She hinted at family reasons for being shy of him, assuring me that I was not implicated in them.
'The Guelph pattern was never much to my taste,' she said, and it consoled me with the thought that he was not ranked as an adventurer in the houses he entered. I learned that he was supposed to depend chiefly on my vast resources. Edbury acted the part of informant to the inquisitive harridan: 'Her poor dear good-for-nothing Edbury! whose only cure would be a nice, well-conducted girl, an heiress.' She had cast her eye on Anna Penrhys, but considered her antecedents doubtful. Spotless innocence was the sole receipt for Edbury's malady. My father, in a fit of bold irony, proposed Lady Kane for President of his Tattle and Scandal Club,—a club of ladies dotted with select gentlemen, the idea of which Jorian DeWitt claimed the merit of starting, and my father surrendered it to him, with the reservation, that Jorian intended an association of backbiters pledged to reveal all they knew, whereas the Club, in its present form, was an engine of morality and decency, and a social safeguard, as well as an amusement. It comprised a Committee of Investigation, and a Court of Appeal; its object was to arraign slander. Lady Kane declined the honour. 'I am not a washerwoman,' she said to me, and spoke of where dirty linen should be washed, and was distressingly broad in her innuendoes concerning Edbury's stepmother. This Club sat and became a terror for a month, adding something to my father's reputation. His inexhaustible conversational art and humour gave it such vitality as it had. Ladies of any age might apply for admission when well seconded: gentlemen under forty-five years were rigidly excluded, and the seniors must also have passed through the marriage ceremony.