I saw the Baronne talking to him seriously while we were having "five o'clock;" and just as we were starting, she came up and said low to Heloise, who was beside me, "J'espere que tout va bien, Adele l'a remplace, et ne veut plus de lui! Oh! la bonne fille!" So whoever "Adele" is, I suppose she has done Victorine a good turn. I asked Heloise on our way home if "Adele" was a relation of the Marquis's, and she went into fits of laughter and said, "Oui, une tres proche," but I can't see anything to laugh at, can you, Mamma?
[Sidenote: A Country Dinner Party]
In the evening there was a ghastly dinner party at Croixmare. Three sets of provincial families. They are really awful these entertainments, and so different to English ones! Nobody bothers about even numbers. You feel obliged to ask the X's, the Y's, and the Z's from duty, and so you do. It doesn't in the least matter if they are mostly females; you have to ask the family, because if the daughters are grown up they can't be left at home alone—they would be getting into mischief. This is the kind of assortment that arrives: Papa X, Mamma X, and two girl X'es; Papa Y, Mamma Y, and Master and Miss Y; Papa Z, Mamma Z, Aunt Z, and Mdlle. Z—such a party!
Godmamma just revels in these frumps; they make Heloise furious, and the airs of Victorine, her coyness and giggling, nearly drove me wild. I sat next to Monsieur Y, and although he is a Baron of very old family he ate like a pig. The food was extraordinarily good, but the proof of good service here is to get the whole dinner—of I don't know how many courses—over under the hour. So one has no sooner swallowed a mouthful, when one's plate is snatched away, and one begins to devour something else. But with this awful man gobbling at my side, and those foolish girls giggling beyond, even the forty minutes seemed ages.
Afterwards in the salon the "jeunes filles" were sent to talk at the other side of the room, supervised by "the Tug," who did not dine, but was in waiting. If you had heard their conversation, Mamma! It was worse than the day the two came to breakfast. Just one endless string of questions to Victorine about the Marquis, with giggles over possibilities of their own fiancailles! It is so extraordinary that they can ever turn into witty, fascinating women like Heloise and the Marquise. Of course, these are just provincial nobodies, whom Heloise would not dream of knowing in Paris; perhaps the girls there are better.
[Sidenote: A Cure for a Fit]
Victorine told them the Marquis was "Beau comme l'Archange Michel," and had for her "une brulante devotion!" What will she say if after all he refuses to come to the scratch! Jean is to accompany Agnes and me up to Paris to-morrow to see us safely off to Dieppe. I hope he won't have another fit in the train, I shall tell Agnes to take plenty of salts and brandy in her bag, and a bottle of soda water, because I have always heard that a sudden shock is best for people in fits, and one could pop the soda water over him if the worst came to the worst.—Now, good-night, dear Mamma, your affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
P.S.—An awful wind is blowing. I hope I shan't be drowned crossing the Channel.—E.
Chateau de Croixmare,
[Sidenote: The Emotion of the Marquis]
Dearest Mamma,—I hope you got the telegram all right to-day saying I would not leave. The storm became really so fearful they would not hear of my starting, and as it has turned out I am very glad, for to-night we dined at Tournelle to celebrate the Baronne's birthday, and we had such an amusing time. All the usual lot were there, as well as those two officers who came to the Foire with us, and about three or four more people from Paris, so we were quite a large party. Everybody gave the Baronne a present, and such baskets of flowers as she had in the salon! "Assez pour tourner la tete," as Hippolyte said.
The Baronne was dressed in pale mauve and looked lovely, only such a funny thing happened at dinner. The Vicomte, who sat next to her, made her laugh dreadfully, just as she was eating her soup, and she choked, and suddenly one cheek quite fell in, while the other stuck out as if a potato was in it. One could not think what had happened; but it appears that she wears "plumpers," of a kind of red guttapercha, to keep her face nice and round, and in choking the right cheek's one got jerked across into the left cheek, and that is how she got the toothachy look. Mustn't it be a bother, Mamma, to have to do all that? but the Baronne is such a dear that one did not even laugh.
The Marquis had to sit by Victorine, and I saw him looking at the pink rosebuds in her hair with a cautious eye; and he sat up as straight as anything in case she should get caught in him again.
But it is all right, he means to go through with it—the Baronne told Heloise directly we got there. So I thought, as it was finally settled, there would be no harm in talking to him a little. He looked at me at dinner, I smiled, and it was so quaint, Mamma, his whole face seemed to flush until his forehead was even pink, with the veins showing at the side. He lifted his champagne glass and kissed the edge of it, and bowed to me, and no one saw but the Comte, and he went into a chuckle of laughter, as he whispered to me that if Victorine had seen she would certainly tear my eyes out on the way home.
[Sidenote: Elizabeth Sandwiched]
Afterwards, in the salon, the Vicomte managed to stand behind me while I was talking to the old Baron, and he said in a low voice: Why had I come back? He was at peace waiting till his day came, and here I had upset everything, and he should have to go through endless more restless nights! I said that I was sorry the storm had prevented my starting, especially as I was unwelcome. So he threw prudence to the winds, and said out loud before the Baron that I knew it was not that, and he looked so devoted and distressed that the dear old Baron patted him on the back, and turning away said, "Mon brave Gaston, moi aussi j'etais jeune une fois." And he left us alone by the window, while he stood a sort of sentry in front.
The Vicomte did whisper a lot of things; he said just for one evening I might make him happy and pretend I loved him, and let him call me "cherie." So I said "all right;" I did not think it could matter, as I am coming home to-morrow, Mamma, and shall probably never see him again, and you said one ought always to be kind-hearted and do little things for people. When I said "all right," his forehead got pink, and the veins showed just like the Marquis's had done at dinner, and he said, "Cherie—ma cherie, ma bien-aimee" in such a voice! It made me feel quite as if I wanted to listen to some more, only, unfortunately at that moment, Godmamma came up; she brushed the Baron aside, and said I should certainly catch cold by the window, and must come with her, while she annihilated the Vicomte with a look.
There I was, taken off to a sofa at the other side of the room, and stuffed down between Godmamma and the Marquis's mother. You can think I was cross. However, I paid her out, for I just looked at the Marquis, who was seated by his Victorine almost silent and like a dummy (they are allowed to talk together now, as long as they are not alone in the room). It made him fidget so, he could not attend to what she was saying. And when finally he got up and came over to us and said, had I seen the new "Nattier" the Comte had just bought, which was in the other salon, and would I come and look at it?—I think Godmamma wished she had left me safe with the Vicomte. She could not say anything, as half the party had already gone to look at the picture, so I got up at once and went with him. His mother is years older than the Baronne, and not a bit gay like her. I saw them—her and Godmamma—nodding their heads anxiously as we left; no doubt they were deploring the bad bringing-up of the English.
[Sidenote: The Fiances Together]
The Marquis said it was awful what he was going through; and when the dancing began presently would I give him the first valse? I said Certainly, and by that time we were in the other salon, and beside the Marquise. She smiled her dear little smile, which always seems to mock at everything, and put her tongue into her gap and whispered: "Quelle comedie! c'est bien petite espiegle, amusez-vous!" And so I did! I can't tell you what fun it was, Mamma. I was in wild spirits, and the Marquis answered back, and we were as gay as larks, until I overheard the Marquis's mother, who had followed us, say to him, in an acid voice, that he seemed to have forgotten that it was arranged for him to give Victorine the engagement ring that evening and say a few appropriate words to her, and he must take her to see the flowers in the conservatory, and get it over there. So off he had to go, looking black and peevish, and supervised by the two mothers—who stood at the risk of catching their deaths of cold by the door—he and Victorine went arm-in-arm into the conservatory, and disappeared behind some pots of palms.
It appears Mme. de Vermandoise and the Comte were in there too, and saw what happened, and she told Heloise and me afterwards. The fiances came and stood quite close to them, with only a bank of flowers between; and they said the palms were pretty and were growing very tall, and the Marquis coughed, and Victorine began scrabbling with her toes on the marble floor in that irritating way she has, and they neither of them spoke. At last the Marquis dashed at it, and said, as she already knew, their parents had arranged they should marry, and he hoped he would make her happy. At that moment the piano struck up very loud in the salon, and prevented Victorine from quite catching what he said; he got very red and repeated it again, but he mumbled so she still was not sure, and had to say "Pardon?" for the second time. That upset the Marquis to such a point that he said "Damn," which is the only English word he knows, and when Victorine looked horribly surprised, he dived into his waistcoat pocket and fished out the ring. Then he took her hand, pulled off her glove backwards, and pushed it on to the first finger he came to, which happened to be the middle one! He just said he hoped she would wear it for his sake; and when she exclaimed, "Mais, monsieur! ce n'est pas sur ce doigt que vous devez mettre la bague!" he hardly waited to apologise or put it right before he dragged her back to the salon and deposited her with the anxious mothers!
[Sidenote: The Baronne's Diplomacy]
Mme. de Vermandoise said she and the Comte nearly had a fit to keep themselves from laughing out loud. Wasn't it too comic, Mamma? How I should hate to be betrothed like that! However, Victorine seems to think half a loaf is better than no bread, for she kept her glove off all the rest of the evening, and looked at her ring with conscious pride. It is a very nice one, a ruby and a pearl heart connected by a diamond Marquis's coronet. They ought to have added a money-bag representing the dot, and then the symbol would have been complete.
We had begun to dance when they got back, and, as the Marquis had not been there to claim me, I was valsing with Jean. The Baronne kept the Vicomte close to her side all the rest of the evening—she told me, as she kissed me in saying good-bye, that she had done it for peace sake, as she knew he and the Marquis would have had a quarrel otherwise, they were both so madly in love with me. "Petite embrouillante d'heureuses familles va!" she said—"Mais je t'aime bien quand meme!"—She is a darling, the Baronne! The Marquis stood there glowering, and never offered to dance with Victorine; she must have been cross!
We had another farewell all round when the valse was over—Godmamma would not stay for another, and even "Antoine" seemed sorry to say "Adieu." "Depechez-vous de vous marier," he said, "et ensuite revenez aupres de nous. J'ai envie de vous faire la cour, mais vous etes beaucoup trop dangereuse pour le moment."
"Ca, c'est vrai!" said the Comte and Jean together, and every one laughed.
Now that the betrothal ring is really on Victorine's finger, and Heloise knows she will be got off, she does not mind a bit about the Marquis looking at me. She kept laughing to herself over it all the way home; she really detests Victorine. Godmamma and the bride-elect hardly spoke a word, and I am sure if a perfect hurricane blows to-morrow, they won't suggest my waiting another day, so I shall be glad to be off.
Good-night, dear Mamma; you will see me almost as soon as you get this, as I shall only sleep the night in London at Aunt Mary's.—With love from your affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
[Sidenote: Lady Theodosia's Pets]
Dearest Mamma,—You might have prepared me for what Lady Theodosia looks like, because when I arrived yesterday and was shown into her boudoir, and found her lying on the sofa, covered with dogs and cats, I as nearly as possible laughed out loud, and it would have been so rude. She had evidently been asleep, and it looked like a mountain having an earthquake when she got up, and animals rolled off her in all directions. A poodle, two fox terriers, a toy Spitz, and a cat and kitten, had all been sleeping in the nooks her outline makes. They all barked in different keys, and between saying, "Down, Hector!" "Quiet, Fluff!" "Hush, hush, Fanny!" "Did um know it was a stranger?" etc., etc., she got in that she was glad to see me, and hoped you were better. When she stands up she is colossal! Her body dressed in the last fashion, and then the queerest face with no neck, and lemon-coloured hair parted down the middle, and not matching a bit with the chignon of thick plaits at the back. It looks as if it were strapped on with a black velvet band that comes across her forehead, like in the pictures on the nursery screen at home that the Great-aunts made when they were children. She seems as kind as possible, and has the fattest wheezy voice.
[Sidenote: "Clever Darlings"]
Her room is appalling; it is full of Early Victorian furniture, and horrid alabaster statuette things, under glass cases, and then a few modern armchairs covered in gorgeous brocade, but it is all clawed by the cats, and soiled by the dogs' muddy feet, and you are unable to make up your mind where it will be safe to sit. When tea came in, which it did immediately, you can't think what it was like! A St. Bernard and another poodle joined the party, and while we were trying to get something to eat and drink, they all begged or barked or pushed their noses under the muffin dish lid, or took cakes from the side table; and Lady Theodosia kept saying, "Clever darlings; see, they know where their favourite bits are." It is impossible to have a connected conversation with her, because between every few words she puts in ejaculations about the dogs. I was obliged to simply bolt my crumpet like a Frenchman, to keep it from being snatched from me. Just as we were finishing tea, Mr. Doran and three men came in. He is a teeny-weeny man with a big head and rather weak eyes, and he and she do look odd together. What could it have been like when they trotted down the aisle after getting married!
It is a mercy Lady Theodosia is only your second cousin, and that her shape has not descended to our branch of the family. All the "children"—as she calls the animals—barked again when the men came in. There was only a miserable tea left, and, when Mr. Doran ventured to say the dogs had made things rather messy, Lady Theodosia annihilated him. It was as if he had insulted her nearest and dearest! But one of the men got quietly to the bell, and when the footmen came they grasped the situation and brought some clean things, so tea finished better than it had begun. Just before they went to dress Lady Theodosia remembered to introduce them. The only young one is Mr. Roper, the great shot, and the other two are Sir Augustus Grant and Captain Fieldin; they are oldish.
When they had gone, Lady Theodosia said to me that men were a great nuisance as a rule, but that she had a pet friend, a "dear docile creature, so useful with the dogs," and he was coming back by the 6.30 train. You would have laughed, if you could have seen him when he did arrive! A fair humble thing, with a squeaky voice and obsequious manners. He had been up to town to get the dogs new muzzles, as the muzzling order has just been put in force in this county. It appears Lady Theodosia has him always here, and he attends to the dogs for a home, but I would rather be a stable—boy, wouldn't you, Mamma? His name is Frederick Harrington, and Lady Theodosia calls him "Frederick" when she is pleased, and "Harrington" if anything puts her out. And as she says it, "Harrington" sounds the fattest word you ever heard. I was glad to get to my room!
Most of the house that I have yet seen, which was not refurnished when she married in 1870, is really fine, with beautiful old furniture and china; only everything within reach is scratched and spoilt by the "children." It must make the family portraits turn in their frames to see Fluff eating one of their tapestry footstools, or the cats clawing the Venetian velvet chairs.
[Sidenote: Feeding the Aborigines]
There was a dinner party in the evening. As we went upstairs to dress, Lady Theodosia told me about it. She said she was obliged to entertain all the Aborigines twice a year, and that most people gave them garden parties; but she found that too fatiguing, so she had two dinners in the shooting season, and two at Easter, to which she asked every one. She just puts all their names in a bag, and counts out twelve couples for each party, and then she makes up the number to thirty-six with odd creatures, daughters and old maids, and sons and curates, &c., and she finds it a capital plan. She said, "I give 'em plenty to eat and drink, and they draw for partners, and all go home as happy as possible feeling there has been no favouritism!"
She explained that the lawyers and doctors enjoyed having their food with the earls and baronets much more than just prancing about lawns. And when I asked her how the earls and baronets liked it, she said there were only three or four, and they had to put up with it or stay at home; she had done it now for thirty years, and they were accustomed to it; besides, she had the best chef in England, and anyway it was a nice change for people not knowing who they were going to be put next to. It took her such a long time to tell me all this, and to see me to my room, that I was almost late, and she did not get into the state drawing-room until all the guests had arrived.
You never saw anything so funny as it was, Mamma. Mr. Doran was trying to be polite to the odd collection, evidently not quite knowing which was which. Old Lord and Lady Devnant were glaring at the rest of the company from the hearth-rug, with a look of "You invade this mat at your peril!" Sir Christopher Harford paying extravagant compliments to the parson's wife (I knew which they were because I heard them announced), and the "Squire" and Mrs. de Lacy—who came over with the Conqueror—standing apart with their skinny daughters, all holding their noses in the air. Everybody seemed to be in their best clothes, and most of the women had flowers and tulle or little black feathers sticking up in their hair, and bare red arms, and skirts inches off the ground in front; you know the look. But everything seemed to be going beautifully after Lady Theodosia rolled in (she does not walk, like ordinary people)!
[Sidenote: Drawing for Partners]
Mr. Doran did the handing round of the drawing-papers, and they were "Marshall and Snelgrove," and "Lewis and Allenby," and "Debenham and Freebody," &c., and if you drew "Lewis" you went in with whoever drew "Allenby," and so on; it was a capital plan, only for one incident. I was near Lady Theodosia when Mr. Harrington rushed from the other end of the room, and whispered to her in an agitated voice that the "Dickens" of Lady Devnant's "Jones" was Dr. Pluffield. She was not on speaking terms with him, having quarrelled with him for sending her teething powders by mistake, when it ought to have been something for her nerves. All Lady Theodosia said was—
"Harrington, you're a fool. What are their little differences to me? I give 'em the best dinner in England, and they must settle the rest themselves!"
So poor Mr. Harrington had to go back and smooth down Lady Devnant as best he could; and presently we all started for the banqueting-hall. There were several really decent county people there, of course, but they all looked much the same as the others, except that they had diamonds on. Old Admiral Brudnell, who has a crimson face, was taking in the younger Miss de Lacy, and just in front of him were Dr. Pluffield and Lady Devnant, whom the Admiral hates. I heard him say, getting purple like a gobbler, "Come on, come on, I don't mean to let that old catamaran get in front of me!" And he dragged Miss de Lacy through the doorway, bumping the others to get past; and she told me afterwards her funny-bone had got such a knock that she could hardly hold her soup spoon!
[Sidenote: Marshall and Snelgrove]
It was quainter even than the frumps' dinner that Godmamma gave. I had a very nervous young man with red hair and glasses to take me in; I drew "Snelgrove," so he was "Marshall." He evidently had not understood a bit about the drawing, and kept calling me "Miss Snelgrove," until I was obliged to say to him, "But my name is not Snelgrove any more than yours is Marshall."
"But my name is Marshall," he said, "and I was told to find a lady of the name of 'Snelgrove,' and I wondered at the strange coincidence."
He looked so dreadfully distressed that I had to explain to him; and he got so nervous at his mistake that he hardly spoke for the rest of dinner.
The dishes were exquisite, and Lady Theodosia enjoyed them all, in spite of "Fanny" (that is the Spitz) constantly falling off her lap, and having to be fished for by her own footman, who always stands behind her chair, ready for these emergencies. I call it very plucky of the dog to go on trying; for what lap Lady Theodosia has is so steep it must be like trying to sleep on the dome of St. Paul's. Mr. Roper sat at my other side, and after a while he talked to me; he said he came every year to shoot partridges, and it was always the same. On the night he arrived there was always this dinner party, and some years the most absurd things had happened, but Lady Theodosia did not care a button. He thought there were a good many advantages in being a Duke's daughter; they don't dare to offend her, he said, although they are ready to tear one another's eyes out when they are put with the wrong people. Lady Theodosia puffed a good deal as dinner went on, I could hear her from where I sat. She is in slight mourning, so below her diamond necklace—which is magnificent, but has not been cleaned for years—she had a set of five lockets, on a chain all made of bog oak, and afterwards I found each locket had a portrait of some pet animal who is dead in it, and a piece of its hair. You would never guess that she is Lady Cecilia's sister, except for the bulgy eyes. Towards the end of dinner Mr. Doran got so gay, he talked and laughed so you would not have recognised him, as ordinarily he is a timid little thing.
[Sidenote: After Dinner]
When we returned to the great drawing-room, it was really comic. Lady Theodosia did not make any pretence of talking to the people. Her whole attention was with the "children," who had just been let loose from her boudoir, where her maid had been keeping them company while we dined. They were as jealous as possible of Fanny, who never leaves any part of Lady Theodosia she can stick on to. She is so small that she gets lots of nice rides asleep on the folds of her velvet train. Most of the company were terrified at this avalanche of dogs, and kept saying, when they came and sniffed and barked at them, "poor doggie," "nice doggie," "good doggie," etc., in different keys of nervousness. I felt glad Agnes had insisted that I should not put on one of my best dresses. She highly disapproves of this place. As well spend the time in the Jardin des Plantes with the cage doors undone, she says!
Now and then, when Lady Theodosia could bring herself to remember she had a party, she would make a dash at some one, and as likely as not call them by a wrong name. Lady Devnant and Mrs. de Lacy and the few more county people made a little ring with her by themselves, and gradually the doctors', and parsons', and lawyers' families got together, and so things settled down, and we were getting on quite nicely when the men came in. It did all seem queer after the extreme ceremony and politeness in France. When she had fed them, Lady Theodosia seemed to think her duty to her guests had ended.
Mr. Doran was still as gay as possible, and insisted upon Mrs. Pluffield singing; it was a love-and-tombstone kind of song, and sounded so silly and old-fashioned. And after that lots of people had to sing, and I felt so sorry for them; but soon their carriages came, and they were able to go home; if I were they nothing would induce me to come again.
I got up early to write this as the post goes at an unearthly hour, so now I must go down to breakfast.—Good-bye, dear Mamma, your affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
[Sidenote: Settling Down]
Dearest Mamma,—I was surprised yesterday when I got down to breakfast to find Lady Theodosia already there. She is awfully active, and puffs about everywhere like a steam-engine. She will pour out the tea and coffee herself, and there is just the one long table, not a lot of little ones like at Nazeby; but our party is quite small, the four other guns were to come from the neighbourhood. Lady Theodosia asks you if you take sugar and cream, and then perhaps a dog takes off her attention, and as likely as not, when she remembers the pouring out, you get just what you have said you don't take. I wonder she does not leave it to the servants.
Mr. Doran was as quiet as a mouse, and said he had a bad headache. The three other men had enormous breakfasts, and did not speak much, except that Captain Fieldin asked if we were not coming out to lunch; and Lady Theodosia said of course we were—she intended to drive me in her pony carriage. When they had all started, she took me back to the boudoir, as it was a Wednesday, and the state apartments were on show, and she hates meeting the tourists from Bradford. I think it must be dreadful having to let everybody look through your home, just because you have fine pictures, and it is historical, and a prince got murdered there a hundred years ago. Mr. Doran inherited it through his mother, I think you said, as there are no Lord Retbys left.
[Sidenote: A Show Place]
I went to get the photograph of you I always have on my dressing-table, to show it to Lady Theodosia, and I met quite a troop of tourists on the stairs, and all the place railed off with fat red cords, and everything being explained to them by a guide who has the appearance of a very haughty butler, and lives here just to do this, and look after the things. The tourists stared at me because I was inside the rope, just as if I had been a Royalty, and whispered and nudged one another, and one said, "Is that Lady Theodosia?" and I felt inclined to call out "No, not by twelve stone." It was funny seeing them. The housekeeper hates it; she says it takes six housemaids the rest of the day removing their traces, and getting rid of the smell. And as for the Bank Holiday ones, they have no respect for the house at all. Lady Theodosia told me the housekeeper came to her nearly weeping after the last one. "Oh, my lady," she said, "they treats us as if we was ruins."
Mr. Harrington had not been allowed to shoot, because the St. Bernard and Fluff hated their muzzles so, when they were tried on, that he had to go in to the local harness-maker and have them altered under his own eye. He got back just as we were starting for lunch, and Lady Theodosia made him come with us, and sent the groom on with the lunch carts. She drives one of those old-fashioned, very low pony-shays, with a seat up behind for the groom, and two such ducks of ponies. There hardly seemed room for me beside her, and the springs seemed dreadfully down on her side. She generally sits in the middle when alone, Mr. Harrington told me afterwards. She noticed about the springs herself, and said, "Frederick, you must lean all your weight on the other side." We must have looked odd going along; I squashed in beside her with a poodle and Fanny at my feet, and poor Mr. Harrington clinging to one side like grim death, so as to try and get the balance more level. It seemed quite a long drive, and lunch was laid out on a trestle table in a farmhouse garden, and was a splendid repast, with hot entrees, and Lady Theodosia had some of them all.
[Sidenote: Mr. Doran's Philanthropy]
It appears Captain Fieldin and Sir Augustus Grant are constantly staying here; they help to ride Mr. Doran's horses and shoot his birds. They are all old friends, and rather hard up, so Mr. Doran just keeps them. He—Mr. Doran—seems different after meals; from being as quiet as a lamb, he gets quite coarse and blunt. The rest of the party were just the kind of neighbours that always come to shoot. Mr. Roper told me they never have smart parties, with only the best shots, and heaps of beautiful ladies. Mr. Doran asks just any one he likes, or he happens to meet, and the shooting is some of the best in England, and awfully well preserved.
Lady Theodosia had a very short tweed skirt on, a black velvet jacket with bugles, and a boat-shaped hat and cocks' feathers; but she always wears the black velvet band round her forehead. Her ankles seemed to be falling over the tops of her boots, and as she only walked from the carriage to the lunch table, I don't think her skirt need have been so short; do you, Mamma? But although she was got up like an old gipsy you could not help seeing through it all that she really is well-bred; I don't think even Agnes would dare to be uppish with her. They live here at Retby all the year round. The town house is only opened for three days, when Lady Theodosia comes up for the Drawing-room. And they seem to have a lot of these rather dull, oldish men friends who make long visits.
Going home after lunch Lady Theodosia took several of the pies and joints to poor people in the cottages near, and she was so nice to them, and so friendly; she knows them all and all their affairs, and never makes mistakes with their names, or is rude and discourteous as she was to the people at the dinner party. They all adore her. She hates the middle classes, she says, she would like to live in Russia, where there are only the upper and lower.
[Sidenote: Croquet under Difficulties]
When we got back, Lord and Lady Tyneville had arrived with their two daughters. They are about my age, and quite nice and pretty; but their mother dresses them so queerly, they look rather guys. I am glad, Mamma, that you have none of those silly ideas, and that I have not got to have my hair in a large bun with ribbons twisted in it for dinner. They seem quite accustomed to stay here, and know all the dogs and their ways. They are much nicer than French girls, but not so attractive as Miss La Touche. We had an early tea in the hall, and after tea we played croquet until it got dark, though one could not get on very well as the dogs constantly carried off the balls in their mouths, and one had to guess where to put them back, and in that way Lady Theodosia, who was my partner, managed to get through three hoops she wouldn't have otherwise. It isn't much fun playing so late in the year, as it gets so cold.
I think the elder Miss Everleigh is in love with Mr. Roper, because she blushed, just as they do in books, when he came in, and from being quiet and nice, got rather gigglish. I hope I shan't do that when I am in love.
We had quite a gay dinner; Lady Tyneville talks all the time, and says such funny things.
I am really enjoying myself very much in spite of there being no excitements, like the Marquis and the Vicomte. To-day we are going to make an excursion into Hernminster to see the Cathedral, and to-morrow they shoot again.—Good-bye, dear Mamma, with love from your affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
Dearest Mamma,—I don't think I care about looking at churches much. They don't smell here as they do in France, but on the other hand they look deserted, and as if no one cared a pin, and there are generally repairs going on or monuments piled up at the side waiting to be put back or something that doesn't look tidy—in the big ones I mean, like York and Hernminster that we saw yesterday. Mr. Doran drove us in on the coach, and Lady Theodosia sat on the box beside him. It was too wonderful to see her climbing up, and from the near side she completely hid Mr. Doran; the reins looked as if they were staying up by themselves, you could not see even his hands, her mountainous outline blocked all the space. Miss Everleigh and Mr. Roper and I and Sir Augustus sat in the seat behind the box seat, and the other Everleigh sat with her father in the back, while Mr. Harrington had to go inside with Lady Tyneville as she was afraid of the cold wind. They must have had a nice time, for both poodles were in there too, and one terrier, and we could hear them barking constantly. Fanny, who has a wonderful sense of balance, was poised somewhere on Lady Theodosia. The horses are beauties and we went at a splendid pace.
[Sidenote: An Agreeable Drive]
Sir Augustus doesn't seem so old when he is sitting by you; he said a lot of nice things to me. We went straight to the "Red Lion" and had lunch, and it was a horrid meal, everything over or underdone, and messy and nasty. The dinner at a teeny place like Caudebec in France was delicious. I wonder why food at country hotels in England is so bad? At Retby Lady Theodosia won't touch anything unless it is absolutely perfect. She sent a dish away yesterday just because a whiff of some flavouring she does not like came to her, but at the "Red Lion" she did not grumble at all; it must be for the same reason that wetting their feet doesn't give French people cold if it is at a national sport, that made her put up with the lunch because it was English and had always been the same.
I was glad to have a nice piece of cheese. All the time I was with Godmamma I was not allowed to, as it isn't considered proper for girls there, and when I asked Victorine why one day, she told me it gave ideas, and was too exciting, whatever that could mean. So at the "Red Lion" I just had two helpings to see, as this is the first chance I have had, as you don't care for cheese at home. But nothing happened, I did not feel at all excited, so it must be because they are French. Mustn't it?
[Sidenote: Country Shopping]
First we went to a curiosity shop before going to the Cathedral, and there was such an odd man owned it. "My good Griggson," Lady Theodosia called him; he seemed quite pleased—although we none of us bought anything—and so friendly with Lady Theodosia. When we had finished trotting about looking at the old streets and the Cathedral, we went to buy some mauve silk to line a cushion that Lady Tyneville has embroidered as a present to Lady Theodosia. It is so funny in these country shops, they always bring you what you don't want. Lady Tyneville said she wanted mauve, and showed her pattern, and after some time the girl who served her came back and said, "Oh! we are out of mauve, but green is being very much worn."
We went back to the "Red Lion" and Mr. Doran and Captain Fieldin joined us. They had been at the Club all the time, and were full of local news about the cub hunting, &c. On the way back to Retby Sir Augustus told me he was struck with me the moment he came into Lady Theodosia's boudoir, and he tried to take hold of my hand. I call it very queer, don't you? I suppose it is because they think I am young and want encouraging, but I simply detest it, and I told him so. I said, "Why should you want to hold my hand?" and when he looked foolish and mumbled some answer, I just said, "Because if you are afraid of falling, and it is to hold on, there is the outside rail of the coach for you; I hate being pawed." He said I was a disagreeable little thing, and would never get on in life. But you can see, Mamma, how everything has changed since you were young.
[Sidenote: Mr. Harrington's Fault]
Lady Theodosia put on such a splendid purple brocade tea-gown for tea, but Fluff would jump up at the tray, and succeeded at last in upsetting a whole jug of cream over her. She was sitting in a very low chair that it is difficult to get out of, and she looked quite piteous with billows of cream rolling off her; it got into Fanny's nose and made her sneeze, and that annoyed the other dogs, and they all began to fight, and the St. Bernard joined in, and in his excitement he overturned the whole table and tray. You never saw such a catastrophe! The dogs got quite wild with joy, and left off fighting to gobble cakes, and when Mr. Harrington, who had been away writing letters, rushed in to see what the commotion was, he did catch it! We extricated Lady Theodosia from masses of broken china and dribbles of jam, in the most awful rage. She said it was entirely Mr. Harrington's fault for not being there to look after the dogs. Considering she had sent him to write about their muzzles, I do call it hard, don't you? Mr. Doran came in, and when he saw the best Crown Derby smashed on the floor, and the teapot all bent, he became quite transformed, and swore dreadfully. He said such rude words, Mamma, that I cannot even write them, and it ended up with,
"If you keep a d——d puppy to look after your other d——d puppies, why the devil don't you see he does it!"
I hope you aren't awfully shocked, Mamma, at me writing that; I was obliged to, to show you what awful creatures men really are underneath, even if their outsides look as meek as Mr. Doran's. Lady Theodosia burst into tears, and it was altogether a fearful scene if it had not been so funny to look at. We none of us got any tea, for by the time Lady Theodosia had been got to dry her eyes, and things were cleared up, we were all only too glad to disperse. I am sure a lot of children could not be so naughty as these dogs are.
[Sidenote: A prudent Retirement]
Dinner began by being rather strained, but gradually got quite gay. Mr. Doran would have up three different brands of champagne for every one to try, and the men seemed to like them very much. By dessert everything was lively again, and dinner ended by Mr. Doran singing "The hounds of the Meynell," with one foot on the table as gay as a lark. But wasn't it tiresome, Mamma? when we got into the drawing-room, Lady Theodosia said we had had a long day, and must be tired, and she packed the two Everleighs and me off to bed before the men came in, and so here I am writing to you, because it is ridiculous to suppose I am going to sleep at this hour. Agnes and I leave by the early train on Saturday morning, so good-bye till then, dear Mamma; love from your affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
[Sidenote: Carriston Towers]
Dearest Mamma,—I shall never again arrive at a place at three o'clock in the afternoon; it is perfectly ghastly! As we drove up to the door—it was pouring with rain—I felt that I should not like anything here. It does look such a large grey pile: and how cold and draughty that immense stone hall must be in winter! There were no nice big sofas about, or palms, or lots of papers and books; nothing but suits of armour and great marble tables, looking like monuments. I was taken down endless passages to the library, and there left such a long time that I had got down an old Punch and was looking at it, and trying to warm my feet, when Lady Carriston came in with Adeline. I remember how I hated playing with her years ago; she always patronised me, being three years older, and she is just the same now, only both their backs have got longer and their noses more arched, and they are the image of each other. Adeline seems very suppressed; Lady Carriston does not—her face is carved out of stone. They look very well bred and respectable, and badly dressed; nothing rustled nicely when they walked, and they had not their nails polished, or scent on, or anything like that; but Lady Carriston had a splendid row of pearls round her throat, on the top of her rough tweed dress and linen collar.
They pronounce their words very distinctly, in an elevated kind of way, and you feel as if icicles were trickling down your back, and you can't think of a thing to say. When we had got to the end of your neuralgia and my journey, there was such a pause! and I suppose they thought I was an idiot, and were only too glad to get me off to my room, where Adeline took me, and left me, hoping I had everything I wanted, and saying tea was at five in the blue drawing-room. And there I had to stay while Agnes unpacked. It was dull! It is a big room, and the fire had only just been lit. The furniture is colourless and ugly, and, although it is all comfortable and correct, there are no books about, except "Romola" and "Middlemarch" and some Carlyle and John Stuart Mill, and I did not feel that I could do with any of that just then. So there I sat twiddling my thumbs for more than an hour, and Agnes did make such a noise, opening and shutting drawers, but at last I remembered a box of caramels in my dressing-bag, and it was better after that.
[Sidenote: A Dull Hour]
Agnes had put out my white cashmere for tea, and at five I started to find my way to the blue drawing-room. The bannisters are so broad and slippery—the very things for sliding on. I feel as if I should start down them one day, just to astonish Adeline, only I promised you I would be good. Well, when I got to the drawing-room, the party—about twelve—had assembled. The old Earl had been wheeled in from his rooms: he wears a black velvet skull-cap and a stock but he has a splendid and distinguished old face. If I were he, I would not have such a dull daughter-in-law to live with me as Lady Carriston is, even if my son was dead. The boy, Charlie Carriston, was there too; he does look a goose. He is like those pictures in the Punch that I was looking at, where the family is so old that their chins and foreheads have gone. He is awfully afraid of his mother. There were two or three elderly pepper-and-salt men, and that Trench cousin, who is a very High Church curate (you know Aunt Mary told us about him), and there are a Sir Samuel and Lady Garnons, with an old maid daughter, and Adeline's German governess, who has stayed on as companion, and helped to pour out the tea.
[Sidenote: A Modern Grandison]
The conversation was subdued; about politics and Cabinet Ministers, and pheasants and foxes, and things of that kind, and no one said anything that meant anything else, as they did at Nazeby, or were witty like they were at Tournelle, and the German governess said "Ach" to everything, and Lady Garnons and Miss Garnons knitted all the time, which gave their voices the sound of "one-two-three" when they spoke, although they did not really count. No one had on tea-gowns—just a Sunday sort of clothes. I don't know how we should have got through tea if the coffee-cream cakes had not been so good. The old Earl called me to him when he had finished, and talked so beautifully to me; he paid me some such grand old-fashioned compliments, and his voice sounds as if he had learnt elocution in his youth. There is not a word of slang or anything modern; one quite understands how he was able to wake up the House of Lords before his legs gave way. It seems sad that such a ninny as Charlie should succeed him. I feel proud of being related to him, but I shall never think of Lady Carriston except as a distant cousin. Both Charlie and Adeline are so afraid of her that they hardly speak.
I shan't waste any of my best frocks here, so I made Agnes put me on the old blue silk for the evening. She was disgusted. At dinner I sat between Charlie and one of the pepper-and-salts—he is a M.P. They are going to shoot partridges to-morrow; and I don't know what we shall do, as there has been no suggestion of our going out to lunch.
After dinner we sat in the yellow drawing-room; Lady Carriston and Lady Garnons talked in quite an animated way together about using their personal influence to suppress all signs of Romanism in the services of the Church. They seemed to think they would have no difficulty in stopping it. They are both Low Church, Miss Garnons told me, but she herself held quite different views. Then she asked me if I did not think the Reverend Ernest Trench had a "soulful face," so pure and abstracted that merely looking at him gave thoughts of a higher life. I said No; he reminded me of a white ferret we had once, and I hated curates. She looked perfectly sick at me and did not take the trouble to talk any more, but joined Adeline, who had been winding silk with Fraeulein Schlarbaum for a tie she is knitting. So I tried to read the Contemporary Review, but I could not help hearing Lady Carriston telling Lady Garnons that she had always brought up Adeline and Charlie so carefully that she knew their inmost thoughts. (She did not mention Cyril, who is still at Eton.)
"Yes, I assure you, Georgina," she said, "my dear children have never had a secret from me in their innocent lives."
[Sidenote: The Duke's Shirt]
When the men came in from the dining-room, one of the old fellows came and talked to me, and I discovered he is the Duke of Lancashire. He is ordinary looking, and his shirts fit so badly—that nasty sticking-out look at the sides, and not enough starch. I would not have shirts that did not fit if I were a Duke, would you? They are all staying here for the Conservative meeting to-morrow evening at Barchurch. These three pepper-and-salts are shining lights in this county, I have gathered. Lady Carriston seems very well informed on every subject. It does not matter if she is talking to Mr. Haselton or Sir Andrew Merton, (the two M.P.'s), or the Duke, who is the M.F.H., or the curate; she seems to know much more about politics, and hunting, and religion than they do. It is no wonder she can see her children's thoughts!
At half-past ten we all said good-night. The dear old Earl does not come in from the dining-room; he is wheeled straight to his rooms, so I did not see him. Miss Garnons and Adeline both looked as if they could hardly bear to part with their curate, and finally we got upstairs, and now I must go to bed.—Best love, from your affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
P.S.—Everything is kept up with great state here; there seems to be a footman behind every one's chair at dinner.
[Sidenote: Charlie's Dissimulation]
Dearest Mamma,—I was so afraid of being late for breakfast this morning that I was down quite ten minutes too soon, and when I got into the breakfast-room I found Charlie alone, mixing himself a brandy cocktail. He wanted to kiss me, because he said we were cousins, but I did not like the smell of the brandy, so I would not let him. He made me promise that I would come out with him after breakfast, before they started to shoot, to look at his horses; then we heard some one coming, and he whisked the cocktail glass out of sight in the neatest way possible. At breakfast he just nibbled a bit of toast, and drank a glass of milk, and Lady Carriston kept saying to him, "My dear, dear boy, you have no appetite," and he said, "No, having to read so hard as he did at night took it away."
The Duke seemed a little annoyed that there was not a particular chutney in his curried kidneys, which I thought very rude in another person's house; and, as it was Friday, the Reverend Mr. Trench refused every dish in a loud voice, and then helped himself to a whole sole at the side-table.
The food was lovely. Miss Garnons did not eat a thing, and Lady Garnons was not down nor, of course, the old Earl.
After breakfast we meandered into the hall. Smoking is not allowed anywhere except in the billiard-room, which is down yards and yards of passages, so as not to let the smell get into the house. We seemed to be standing about doing nothing, so I said I would go up and get my boots on, or probably there would not be time to go with Charlie to see his horses before they started.
You should have seen the family's three faces! Charlie's silly jaw dropped, Adeline's eyebrows ran up to her hair almost, while Lady Carriston said in an icy voice: "We had not thought of visiting the stables so early."
Did you ever hear of anything so ridiculous, Mamma? Just as though I had said something improper! I was furious with Charlie, he had not even the pluck to say he had asked me to go; but I paid him out. I just said, "I concluded you had consulted Lady Carriston before asking me to go with you, or naturally I should not have suggested going to get ready." He did look a stupid thing, and bolted at once; but Lady Carriston saw I was not going to be snubbed, so she became more polite, and presently asked me to come and see the aviary with her.
[Sidenote: The Slip of Paper]
As we walked down the armour gallery she met a servant with a telegram, and while she stopped to read it I looked out of one of the windows. The wall is so thick they are all in recesses, and Charlie passed underneath, his head just level with the open part. The moment he saw me he fished out a scrap of paper from his pocket and pressed it into my hand, and said, "Don't be a mug this time," and was gone before I could do anything. I did not know what to do with the paper, so I had to slip it up my sleeve, as with these skirts one hasn't a pocket, and I did feel so mad at having done a thing in that underhand way.
The aviary is such a wonderful place, there seem to be birds of every kind, and the parrakeets do make such a noise. There are lots of palms here and seats, but it is not just an ideal place to stay and talk in, as every creature screams so that you can hardly hear yourself speak. However, Miss Garnons and Mr. Trench did not seem to think so, as, while Lady Carriston stopped to say, "Didysy, woodsie, poppsie, dicksie," to some canaries, I turned a corner to see some owls, and there found them holding hands and kissing (the White Ferret and Miss Garnons I mean, of course, not the owls).
[Sidenote: The Mysteries of Religion]
They must have come in at the other door, and the parrots' noises had prevented them from hearing us coming. You never saw two people so taken aback. They simply jumped away from one another. Mr. Trench got crimson up to his white eyelashes, and coughed in a nervous way, while poor Miss Garnons at once talked nineteen to the dozen about the "darling little owlies," and never let go my arm until she had got me aside, when she at once began explaining that she hoped I would not misinterpret anything I had seen; that of course it might look odd to one who did not understand the higher life, but there were mysteries connected with her religion, and she hoped I would say nothing about it. I said she need not worry herself. She is quite twenty-eight, you know, Mamma, so I suppose she knows best; but I should hate a religion that obliged me to kiss White Ferret curates in a parrot-house, shouldn't you?
Lady Carriston detests Mr. Trench, but as he is a cousin she has to be fairly civil to him, and they always get on to ecclesiastical subjects and argue when they speak; it is the greatest fun to hear them. They walked on ahead and left me with Miss Garnons until we got back to the hall.
By this time the guns had all started, so we saw no more of them. Then Adeline suggested that she and I should bicycle in the Park, which has miles of lovely road (she is not allowed out of the gates by herself), so at last I got up to my room, and there, as I was ringing the bell for Agnes, Charlie's piece of paper fell out on the floor. I had forgotten all about it. Wasn't it a mercy it did not drop while I was with Lady Carriston? This was all it was: "Come down to tea half-an-hour earlier; shall sham a hurt wrist to be back from shooting in time. Charlie."
I could not help laughing, although I was cross at his impertinence—in taking for granted that I would be quite ready to do whatever he wished. I threw it in the fire, and, of course, I shan't go down a moment before five. Adeline has just been in to see why I am so long getting ready.—Good-bye, dear Mamma, love from your affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
[Sidenote: An Anchor in Life]
Dear Mamma,—Oh! what a long day this has been! But I always get so muddled if I don't go straight on, that I had better finish telling you about Friday first. Well, while Adeline and I were bicycling, she told me she thought I should grow quite pretty if only my hair was arranged more like hers—she has a jug-handle chignon—and if I had less of that French look. But she supposed I could not help it, having had to spend so much time abroad. She said I should find life was full of temptations, if I had not an anchor. I asked her what that was, and she said it was something on which to cast one's soul. I don't see how that could be an anchor—do you, Mamma? because it is the anchor that gets cast, isn't it? However, she assured me that it was, so I asked her if she had one herself, and she said she had, and it was her great reverence for Mr. Trench, and they were secretly engaged! and she hoped I would not mention it to anybody; and presently, when he joined us, would I mind riding on, as she had so few chances to talk to him? That she would not for the world deceive her mother, but there were mysteries connected with her religion which Lady Carriston could not understand, being only Low Church. But when they saw a prospect of getting married they would tell her about it; if they did it now, she would persuade the Duke not to give Mr. Trench the Bellestoke living, which he has half promised him, and so make it impossible for them to marry.
I asked her if Mr. Trench was Miss Garnons' anchor too? and she seemed quite annoyed, so I suppose their religion has heaps of different mysteries; but I don't see what all that has got to do with telling her mother, do you? And I should rather turn Low Church than have to kiss Mr. Trench, anyway. He came from a side path and joined us, and as soon as I could I left them; but they picked me up again by the inner gate, just as I was going in to lunch, after having had a beautiful ride. The Park is magnificent.
[Sidenote: Putting on the Clock]
At lunch I sat by the old Earl. He said my hair was a sunbeam's home, and that my nose was fit for a cameo; he is perfectly charming. Afterwards we went en bloc to the library, and the Garnons began to knit again. Nobody says a word about clothes; they talked about the Girls' Friendly Society, and the Idiot Asylum, and the Flannel Union, and Higher Education, and whenever Lady Garnons mentions any one that Lady Carriston does not know all about, she always says, "Oh! and who was she?" And then, after thoroughly sifting it, if she finds that the person in question does not belong to any of the branches of the family that she is acquainted with, she says "Society is getting very mixed now." Presently about six more people arrived. There seems to be nothing but these ghastly three o'clock trains here. All the new lot were affected by it, just as I was. There were endless pauses.
I would much rather scream at Aunt Maria for a whole afternoon than have to spend it with Lady Carriston. I am sure she and Godmamma would be the greatest friends if they could meet. When I got up to my room I was astonished to find it was so late. I had not even scrambled into my clothes when the clock struck five. I had forgotten all about Charlie and his scrap of paper, but when I got into the blue drawing-room, there he was, with his wrist bandaged up, and no signs of tea about. What do you think the horrid boy had done, Mamma? Actually had the big gold clock in my room put on! There were ten chances to one, he said, against my looking at my watch, and he knew I would not come down unless I thought it was five. I was so cross that I wanted to go upstairs again, but he would not let me; he stood in front of the door, and there was no good making a fuss, so I sat down by the fire.
He said he had seen last night how struck his Grandfather had been with me, and he did want me to get round him, as he had got into an awful mess, and had not an idea how he was going to get out of it, unless I helped him. I said I was sorry, but I really did not see how I could do anything, and that he had better tell his Mother, as she adored him.
[Sidenote: Cora's Necklace]
He simply jumped with horror at the idea of telling his Mother. "Good Lord!" he said, "the old girl would murder me," which I did not think very respectful of him. Then he fidgeted, and humm'd and haw'd for such a time that tea had begun to come in before I could understand the least bit what the mess was; but it was something about a Cora de la Haye, who dances at the Empire, and a diamond necklace, and how he was madly in love with her, and intended to marry her, but he had lost such a lot of money at Goodwood, that no one knew about, as he was supposed not to have been there, that he could not pay for the necklace unless his grandfather gave him a lump sum to pay his debts at Oxford with, and that what he wanted was for me to get round the old Earl to give him this money, and then he could pay for Cora de la Haye's necklace.
He showed me her photo, which he keeps in his pocket. It is just like the ones in the shops in the Rue de Rivoli that Mademoiselle never would let me stop and look at in Paris. I am sure Lady Carriston can't have been having second sight into her children's thoughts lately!
Just then Lady Garnons and some of the new people came in, and he was obliged to stop. We had a kind of high tea, as the Conservative meeting was to be at eight, and it is three-quarters of an hour's drive into Barchurch, and there was to be a big supper after. Lady Carriston did make such a fuss over Charlie's wrist. She wanted to know was it badly sprained, and did it ache much, and was it swollen, and he had the impudence to let her almost cry over him, and pretended to wince when she touched it! As we were driving in to the meeting he sat next me in the omnibus, and kept squeezing my arm all the time under the rug, which did annoy me so, that at last I gave his ankle a nasty kick, and then he left off for a little. He has not the ways of a gentleman, and I think he had better marry his Cora, and settle down into a class more suited to him than ours; but I shan't help him with his Grandfather.
[Sidenote: Politics and Principle]
Have you ever been to a political meeting, dear Mamma? It is funny! All these old gentlemen sit up on a platform and talk such a lot. The Duke put in "buts" and "ifs" and "thats" over and over again when he could not think of a word, and you weren't a bit the wiser when he had finished, except that it was awfully wrong to put up barbed wire; but I can't see what that has to do with politics, can you? One of the pepper-and-salts did speak nicely, and so did one of the new people—quite a youngish person; but they all had such a lot of words, when it would have done just as well if they had simply said that of course our side was the right one—because trade was good when we were in, and that there are much better people Conservatives than Radicals. Anyway, no one stays a Radical when he gets to be his own father, as it would be absurd to cut off one's nose to spite one's face—don't you think so, Mamma? So it is nonsense talking so much.
One or two rude people in the back called out things, but no one paid any attention; and at last, after lots of cheering, we got into the omnibus again. I was hungry. At supper we sat more or less anyhow, and I happened to be next the youngish person who spoke. I don't know his name, but I know he wasn't any one very grand, as Lady Carriston said, before they arrived in the afternoon, that things were changing dreadfully; that even the Conservative party was being invaded by people of no family; and she gave him two fingers when she said "How d'ye do?" But if he is nobody, I call it very nice of him to be a Conservative, and then he won't have to change afterwards when he gets high up. The old Earl asked me what I thought of it all, so I told him; and he said that it was a great pity they could not have me at the head of affairs, and then things would be arranged on a really simple and satisfactory basis.
After breakfast this morning most of the new people went, and the Duke and the pepper-and-salts; Lady Carriston drove Lady Garnons over to see her Idiot Asylum. They were to lunch near there, so we had our food in peace without them, and you would not believe the difference there was! Everyone woke up: Old Sir Samuel Garnons, who had not spoken once that I heard since I came, joked with Fraeulein Schlarbaum. Charlie had two brandies-and-sodas instead of his usual glass of milk, and Adeline and Miss Garnons were able to gaze at their anchor without fear.
This afternoon I have been for a ride with Charlie, and do you know, Mamma, I believe he is trying to make love to me, but it is all in such horrid slang that I am not quite sure. I must stop now.—With love, from your affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
[Sidenote: A Good Protestant]
P.S.—Sunday. I missed the post last night. We did spend a boring evening doing nothing, not even dummy whist, like at Aunt Maria's, and I was so tired hearing the two old ladies talking over the idiots they had seen at the Asylum, that I was thankful when half-past ten came. As for to-day, I am glad it is the last one I shall spend here. There is a settled gloom over everything, a sort of Sunday feeling that makes one eat too much lunch. Mr. Trench had been allowed to conduct the service in the chapel this morning, and Lady Carriston kept tapping her foot all the time with annoyance at all his little tricks, and once or twice, when he was extra go-ahead, I heard her murmuring to herself "Ridiculous!" and "Scandalous!" What will she do when he is her son-in-law?
Adeline and Miss Garnons knelt whenever they could, and as long as they could, and took off their gloves and folded their hands. I think Adeline hates Miss Garnons, because she is allowed to cross herself; and of course Adeline daren't, with her mother there.
After tea Charlie managed to get up quite close to me in a corner, and he said in a low voice that I was "a stunner," and that if I would just "give him the tip," he'd "chuck Cora to-morrow;" that I "could give her fits!" And if that is an English proposal, Mamma, I would much rather have the Vicomte's or the Marquis's.
We are coming by the evening train to-morrow; so till then good-bye.—Your affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
[Sidenote: Chevenix Castle]
Dearest Mamma,—I am sure I shall enjoy myself here. The train was so late, and only two other people were coming by it besides me, so we all drove up in the omnibus together. One was a man, and the other a woman, and she glared at me, and fussed her maid so about her dressing-bag, and it was such a gorgeous affair, and they had such quantities of luggage, and the only thing they said on the drive up was how cold it was, and they wondered when we should get there. And when we did arrive, there was only just time to rush up and dress for dinner; all the other people had come by an earlier train. I left them both in the care of the groom of the chambers, as even Cousin Octavia had gone upstairs, and there was not a soul about, but she had left a message for me; and while Agnes was clawing the things out of the trunks, I went to her room.
She was just having her hair done, but she did not mind a bit, and was awfully glad to see me. She is a dear. Her hair is as dark as anything underneath, but all the outside is a bright red. She says it is much more attractive like that, but it does look odd before the front thing is on, and that is a fuzzy bit in a net, like what Royalties have. And then she has lots of twist-things round at the back, and although it doesn't look at all bad when the diamond stick-ups are in and she is all arranged. She went on talking all the time while her maid was fixing it, just as if we were alone in the room. She told me I had grown six inches since she was with us at Arcachon three years ago, and that I was quite good-looking. She said they had a huge party for the balls, some rather nice people, and Lady Doraine and one or two others she hated. I said why did she have people she hated—that I would not if I were a Countess like her; so she said those were often the very ones one was obliged to have, because the nice men wouldn't come without them.
[Sidenote: The Test of a Gentleman]
She hoped I had some decent clothes, as she had got a tame millionaire for me. So I said if it was Mr. Wertz she need not bother because I knew him; and, besides, I only intended to marry a gentleman, unless, of course, I should get past twenty and passe, and then, goodness knows what I might take. She laughed, and said it was ridiculous to be so particular, but that anyway that would be no difficulty, as every one was a gentleman now who paid for things.
Then she sent me off to dress, just as she began to put some red stuff on her lips. It is wonderful how nice she looks when everything is done, even though she has quite a different coloured chest to the top bit that shows above her pearl collar, which is brickish-red from hunting. So is her face, but she is such a dear that one admires even her great big nose and little black eyes, which one would think hideous in other people. I met Tom just going into her room as I came out; he said he had come to borrow some scent from her. He looks younger than she does, but they were the same age when they got married, weren't they?
He kissed me and said I was a dear little cousin, and had I been boxing any one's ears lately. Before I could box his for talking so, Octavia called out to him to let me go, or I should be late, and had I not to scurry just? Agnes fortunately had everything ready, but I fussed so that my face was crimson when I got downstairs, and every one was already there.
There seemed to be dozens of people. You will see in the list in the Morning Post to-morrow what a number of the Nazeby set there are here.
Lord Valmond is here, but he did not see me until we were at dinner. I went in with Mr. Hodgkinson, who is contesting this Division; he is quite young and wears an eyeglass, which he keeps dropping. He really looks silly, but they say he says some clever things if you give him time, and that he will be a great acquisition to the party he has joined now, as it is much easier to get made a peer by the Radicals; and that is what he wants, as his father made a huge fortune in bones and glue.
He did not talk to me at all, but eat his dinner at first, and then said: "I don't believe in talking before the fish, do you?"
So I said: "No, nor till after the ices, unless one has something to say."
He was so surprised that his eyeglass dropped, and he had to fumble to find it, so by that time I had begun to talk to old Colonel Blake, who was at the other side of me.
[Sidenote: The Game of Bridge]
Lady Doraine was looking so pretty; her hair has grown much fairer and nicer than it was at Nazeby. Lord Doraine is here too; his eyes are so close together! He plays a game called "Bridge" with Mr. Wertz and Mr. Hodgkinson and Tom all the time—I mean in the afternoon before dinner—so Mr. Hodgkinson told me when we got to dessert. I suppose it was the first thing he had found to say! I asked him if it was a kind of leapfrog; because don't you remember we called it "Bridge" when you had to jump two? He said No; that it was a game of cards, and much more profitable if one had the luck of Lord Doraine, who had won heaps of money from Mr. Wertz. Afterwards, in the drawing-room, Lady Doraine came up to me and asked me where I had been hiding since the Nazeby visit, and when she heard I had been in France, she talked a lot about the fashions. She has such a splendid new rope of pearls, and such lovely clothes. The Rooses are here too, and Jane has a cold in her head. She says she heard by this evening's post that Miss La Touche is going to be married to old Lord Kidminster, and that he is "too deaf to have heard everything, so it is just as well." I can't see why, as Miss La Touche is so nice, and never talks rubbish; so I think it a pity he can't hear all she says, don't you?
Lady Doraine calls Octavia "darling!" She stood fiddling with her diamond chain and purring over her frock, so I suppose she is fond of her in spite of Octavia hating her.
[Sidenote: An Englishman's Views]
After dinner Lord Valmond came up to me at once. I felt in such a good temper, it was hard to be very stiff, he seemed so awfully glad to see me. He said I might have let him know what day it was that I crossed over to France after leaving Hazeldene Court—he would have taken such care of me. I said I was quite able to take care of myself. Then he asked me if the people were nice in France? and when I said perfectly charming, he said some Frenchwomen weren't bad but the men were monkeys. I said it showed how little he knew about them, I had found them delightful, always polite and respectful and amusing, quite a contrast to some English people one was obliged to meet.
His eyes blazed like two bits of blue fire, and when he looked like that, it made my heart beat, Mamma, I don't know why. He is so nice-looking, of course no Frenchman could compare to him, but I was obliged to go on praising them because it annoyed him so. He said I must have stayed there ages, he had been wondering and wondering when he was to see me again. He said Mr. Hodgkinson was an ass, and he had been watching us at dinner.
Then Lord Doraine came up and Lady Doraine introduced him to me, and he said a number of nice things, and he has a charming voice; and Mr. Wertz came up too, and spoke to me; and then Lady Doraine called Lord Valmond to come and sit on the little sofa by her, and she looked at him so fondly that I thought perhaps Lord Doraine might not like it. He tried not to see, but Mr. Wertz did, and I think he must have a kind heart, because he fidgeted so, and almost at once went and joined them to break up the tete-a-tete, so that Lord Doraine might not be teased any more, I suppose. And every one went to bed rather early, because of the ball and shoot to-morrow, and I must jump in too, as I am sleepy, so good-night, dearest Mamma.—Your affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
[Sidenote: The Peers' Sad Case]
Dearest Mamma,—Such a lot to tell you, and no time, as I must go down to tea. We passed rather a boring morning after the men had started for their shoot. Only a few people were down for breakfast, and none of the men who weren't guns. I suppose they were asleep. But Lady Grace Fenton was as cross as a bear because she wanted to go and shoot too. She is just like a man, and does look so odd and almost improper in the evening in female dress. And Tom won't have women out shooting, except for lunch. Lady Doraine and Lady Greswold talked by the fire while they smoked, and Lady Greswold said she really did not know where the peers were to turn to now to make an honest penny, their names being no more good in the City, and that it was abominably hard that now, she had heard, they would have to understand business and work just like ordinary Stock Exchange people if they wanted to get on, and she did not know what things were coming to.
At lunch, in the chalet in the wood, it was rather fun. Mr. Hodgkinson and Lord Doraine sat on either side of me. Lord Valmond came up with the last guns, rather late, and he looked round the table and frowned. He seems quite grumpy now, not half so good-tempered as he used to be. I expect it is because Mrs. Smith isn't here.
Mr. Wertz was so beautifully turned out in the newest clothes and the loveliest stockings, and he had two loaders and three guns, and Lord Doraine told me that he had killed three pheasants, but the ground was knee-deep in cartridges round him, and Tom was furious, as he likes an enormous bag. So I asked why, if Mr. Wertz was not a sportsman, had he taken the huge Quickham shoot in Norfolk? Then Mr. Hodgkinson chimed in: "Oh! to entertain Royalty and the husbands of his charming lady friends!" and he fixed his eyeglass and looked round the corner of it at Lord Doraine, who drank a glass of peach brandy.
After lunch the men had to start quickly, as we had dawdled so, and so we turned to go back to the house.
Octavia put her arm through mine, and we were walking on, when Lady Doraine joined us, with the woman who had glared at me in the omnibus. She looked as if she hated walking. She is not actually stout, but everything is as tight as possible, and it does make her puff. She was awfully smart, and had the thinnest boots on. Lady Doraine was being so lovely to her, and Octavia was in one of her moods when she talks over people's heads, so we had not a very pleasant walk, until we came to the stable gate, when Octavia and I went that way to see her new hunters. We had hardly got out of hearing when she said—
"Really, Elizabeth, how I dislike women!"
[Sidenote: The Millionaires]
So I asked her who the puffing lady was, and she said a Mrs. Pike, the new Colonial millionairess.
"Horrid creature, as unnecessary as can be!"
So I asked her why she had invited her, then. And she said her sister-in-law, Carry, had got round Tom and made a point of it, as she was running them, and now Carry had got the measles and could not come to look after the creature herself; and it would serve her right if Folly Doraine took them out of her hands. And so you see, Mamma, everything has changed from your days, because this isn't a person you would dream of knowing. I don't quite understand what "running them" means, and as Octavia was a little out of temper, I did not like to ask her; but Jane Roose is sure to know, so I will find out and tell you.
I went and played with the children when we got in. They are such ducks, and we had a splendid romp. Little Tom is enormous for five, and so clever, and Gwynnie is the image of Octavia when her hair was dark. Now I must go down to tea.
[Sidenote: Teaching Patience]
7.30.—I was so late. Every one was there when I got down in such gorgeous tea-gowns; I wore my white mousseline delaine frock. The Rooses have the look of using out their summer best dresses. Jane's cold is worse. The guns had got back, and came straggling in one by one, as they dressed, quickly or slowly; and Lord Doraine had such a lovely velvet suit on, and he said such nice things to me; and Lord Valmond sat at the other side, and seemed more ill-tempered than ever. I can't think what is the matter with him. At last he asked me to play Patience with him; so I said that was a game one played by oneself, and he said he knew quite a new one which he was sure I would like to learn; but I did not particularly want to just then. Lady Doraine was showing Mr. Wertz her new one at the other side of the hall. There are some cosy little tables arranged for playing cards, with nice screens near, so that the other people's counting, &c., may not put one out.
Mrs. Pike was too splendid for words, in petunia satin, and sable, and quantities of pearl chains; and Tom was trying to talk to her. Nobody worries about Mr. Pike much; but Lord Doraine took him off to the billiard-room, after collecting Mr. Wertz, to play "Bridge"—everybody plays "Bridge," I find—and then Lady Doraine came and joined Lord Valmond and me on the big sofa.
Lord Valmond hardly spoke after that, and she teased him and said: "Harry, what a child you are!" and she looked as sweetly malicious as the tortoise-shell cat at home does when it is going to scratch while it is purring. And presently Dolly Tenterdown came over to us (he is in Cousin Jack's battalion of the Coldstreams, and he looks about fifteen, but he behaves very "grown up"), and he asked Lady Doraine to come and teach him her new "Patience"; and they went to one of the screen tables, and Lord Valmond said he was a charming fellow, but I thought he looked silly, and I do wonder what she found to say to him. She must be quite ten years older than he is, and Jane Roose says it is an awful sign of age when people play with boys.
Lord Valmond asked me to keep him some dances to-night, but I said I really did not know what I should do until it began, as I had never been at a ball before. I haven't forgiven him a bit, so he need not think I have. Now I must stop. Oh! I am longing to put on my white tulle, and I do feel excited.—Your affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
P.S.—I asked Jane Roose what "running them" means, and it's being put on to things in the City, and having all your bills paid if you introduce them to people; only you sometimes have to write their letters for them to prevent them putting the whole grand address, &c., that is in the Peerage; and she says it is quite a profession now, and done by the best people, which of course must be true, as Carry is Tom's sister. E.
[Sidenote: A Modern Industry]
Dearest Mamma,—Oh! it was too, too lovely, last night. I am having my breakfast in bed to-day, just like the other grown-up people, and it really feels so grand to be writing to you between sips of tea and nibbles of toast and strawberry jam! Well, to tell you about the ball. First my white tulle was a dream. Octavia said it was by far the prettiest debutante frock she had ever seen; and when I was dressed she sent for me to her room, and Tom was there too, and she took out of a duck of a white satin case a lovely string of pearls and put it round my throat, and said it was their present to me for my first ball! Wasn't it angelic of them? I hugged and kissed them both, and almost squashed Tom's buttonhole into his pink coat, I was so pleased, but he said he didn't mind; and then we all went down together, and no one else was ready, so we looked through the rooms. The dancing, of course, was to be in the picture gallery, and the flowers were so splendid everywhere, and Octavia was quite satisfied. It is a mercy it is such a big house, for we weren't put out a bit beforehand by the preparations.
I don't know if you were ever like that, Mamma, but I felt as if I must jump about and sing, and my cheeks were burning. Octavia sat down and played a valse, and Tom and I opened the ball by ourselves in the empty room, and it was fun, and then we saw Lord Valmond peeping in at the door, and he came up and said Tom was not to be greedy, and so I danced the two last rounds with him, and he had such a strange look in his eyes, a little bit like Jean when he had the fit, and he never said one word until we stopped.
Then Octavia went out of the other door, and I don't know where Tom went, but we were alone, and so he said, would I forgive him for everything and be friends, that he had never been so sorry for anything in his life as having offended me. He really seemed so penitent, and he does dance so beautifully, and he is so tall and nice in his pink coat; and, besides, I remembered his dinner with Aunt Maria, and how nasty I had been to him at Hazeldene! So I said, all right I would try, if he would promise never to be horrid again; and he said he wouldn't; and then we shook hands, and he said I looked lovely, and that my frock was perfect; and then Tom came back and we went into the hall, and everybody was down, and they had drawn for partners to go in to dinner while we were in the ballroom. Tom had made Octavia arrange that we should draw, as he said he could not stand Lady Greswold two nights running. Octavia said she had drawn for Lord Valmond because he wasn't there, and that his slip of paper was me, and he said on our way into the dining-room that Octavia was a brick. We had such fun at dinner. Now that I have forgiven him, and have not to be thinking all the time of how nasty I can be, we get on splendidly.
[Sidenote: The Ball]
Mr. Wertz was at the other side of me with Mrs. Pike; but as he isn't "running" them he had not to bother to talk to her, and he is really very intelligent, and we three had such an amusing time. Lord Valmond was in a lovely temper. Jane Roose said afterwards in the drawing-room that it was because Mrs. Smith was coming with the Courceys to the ball. Lady Doraine had drawn Mr. Pike, who is melancholy-looking, with a long Jew nose; but she woke him up and got him quite animated by dessert, and Mrs. Pike did not like it one bit. I overheard her speaking to him about it afterwards, and he said so roughly, "You mind your own climbing, Mary; you ought to be glad as it's a titled lady!" Well, then, by the time we were all assembled in the hall, every one began to arrive. Oh, it was so, so lovely! Every one looked at me as I stood beside Octavia at first, because they all knew the ball was given for me, and then for the first dance I danced with Tom, and after that I had heaps of partners, and I can't tell you about each dance, but it was all heavenly. I tried to remember what you said and not dance more than three times with the same person, but, somehow, Lord Valmond got four, and another—but that was an extra.
Mrs. Smith did come with the Courceys, and she was looking so smart with a beautiful gown on, and Jane Roose said it was a mercy Valmond was so rich; but I don't see what that had to do with it. I saw him dancing with her once, but he looked as cross as two sticks, perhaps because she was rather late. Do you know, Mamma, a lot of the beauties we are always reading about in the papers as having walked in the Park looking perfectly lovely were there, and some of them are quite, quite old—much older than you—and all trimmed up! Aren't you astonished? And one has a grown-up son and daughter, and she danced all the time with Dolly Tenterdown, who was her son's fag at Eton, Lord Doraine told me. Isn't it odd? And another was the lady that Sir Charles Helmsford was with on the promenade at Nice, when you would not let me bow to him, do you remember? And she is as old as the other!
Lord Doraine was rather a bother, he wanted to dance with me so often; so at last I said to Octavia I really was not at my first ball to dance with old men (he is quite forty), and what was I to do? And she was so cross with him, and I could see her talking to him about it when she danced with him herself next dance; and after that till supper he disappeared—into the smoking-room, I suppose, to play "Bridge."
[Sidenote: At Supper]
I went in to supper first with the Duke of Meath—he had just finished taking in Octavia—he is such a nice boy; and then, as we were coming out, we went down a corridor, and there in a window-seat were Lord Valmond and Mrs. Smith, and he was still gloomy, and she had the same green-rhubarb-juice look she had the last night at Nazeby. He jumped up at once, and said to me he hoped I had not forgotten I had promised to go in to supper with him, so I said I had just come from supper; and while we were speaking Mrs. Smith had got the Duke to sit down beside her, and so I had to go off with Lord Valmond, and he seemed so odd and nervous, and as if he were apologising about something; but I don't know what it could have been, as he had not asked me before to go in to supper with him.
He seemed to cheer up presently, and persuaded me to go back into the supper-room, as he said he was so hungry, and we found a dear little table, with big flower things on it, in a corner; but when we got there he only played with an ortolan and drank some champagne, but he did take such a while about it; and each time I said I was sure the next dance was beginning he said he was still hungry. I have never seen any one have so much on his plate and eat so little. At last I insisted on going back, and when we got to the ballroom an extra was on, and he said I had promised him that, but I hadn't. However, we danced, and after that, having been so long away at supper, and one thing and another, my engagements seemed to get mixed, and I danced with all sorts of people I hadn't promised to in the beginning. At last it came to an end, and when the last carriage had driven away, we all went and had another hot supper.
[Sidenote: End of the Ball]
Mr. Pike would sit next to Lady Doraine, and he was as gay as a blackbird, and I heard Octavia saying to Lady Greswold that Carry had better hurry up and get that house in Park Street, or Lady Doraine would have it instead. Then we all went to bed, and Lord Valmond squeezed my hand and looked as silly as anything, and Jane Roose, who saw, said I had better be careful, as he was playing me off against Mrs. Smith. It was great impertinence of her, I think—don't you?—especially as Mrs. Smith had gone, so I can't see the point.—Now I am going to get up. Your affectionate daughter, Elizabeth.
Dearest Mamma,—I enjoyed my self last night quite as much as at the ball here; but first, I must tell you about Thursday and yesterday. The morning after the ball here no one came down till lunch, and in the afternoon Lady Doraine suggested we should have some tableaux in the evening, and so we were busy all the time arranging them. They were all bosh; but it was so amusing.