His wife had died, and during the latter years of his life almost his only companion was his son. He concentrated on this being all that ardent affection which, had he diffused among his fellow-creatures, might have ensured his happiness and his prosperity. Yet even sometimes he would look in his child's face with an anxious air, as if he read incubating treason, and then press him to his bosom with unusual fervour, as if he would stifle the idea, which alone was madness.
This child was educated in an hereditary hate of the Dacre family. His uncle was daily painted as a tyrant, whom he classed in his young mind with Phalaris or Dionysius. There was nothing that he felt keener than his father's wrongs, and nothing which he believed more certain than his uncle's wickedness. He arrived at his thirteenth year when his father died, and he was to be consigned to the care of that uncle.
Arundel Dacre had left his son as a legacy to his friend; but that friend was a man of the world; and when the elder brother not only expressed his willingness to maintain the orphan, but even his desire to educate and adopt him as his son, he cheerfully resigned all his claims to the forlorn boy, and felt that, by consigning him to his uncle, he had most religiously discharged the trust of his confiding friend.
The nephew arrived at Castle Dacre with a heart equally divided between misery and hatred. It seemed to him that a fate more forlorn than his had seldom been awarded to mortal. Although he found his uncle diametrically opposite to all that his misled imagination had painted him, although he was treated with a kindness and indulgence which tried to compensate for their too long estranged affections, Arundel Dacre could never conquer the impressions of his boyhood; and had it not been for his cousin, May, a creature of whom he had not heard, and of whom no distorted image had therefore haunted his disturbed imagination; had it not been for this beautiful girl, who greeted him with affection which warmed and won his heart, so morbid were his feelings, that he would in all probability have pined away under the roof which he should have looked upon as his own.
His departure for Eton was a relief. As he grew up, although his knowledge of life and man had long taught him the fallacy of his early feelings, and although he now yielded a tear of pity, rather than of indignation, to the adored manes of his father, his peculiar temper and his first education never allowed him entirely to emancipate himself from his hereditary feelings. His character was combined of many and even of contrary qualities.
His talents were great, but his want of confidence made them more doubtful to himself than to the world; yet, at times, in his solitary musings, he perhaps even exaggerated his powers. He was proud, and yet worldly. He never forgot that he was a Dacre; but he desired to be the architect of his own fortune; and his very love of independence made him, at an early period, meditate on the means of managing mankind. He was reserved and cold, for his imagination required much; yet he panted for a confidant and was one of those youths with whom friendship is a passion. To conclude, he was a Protestant among Catholics; and although this circumstance, inasmuch as it assisted him in the views which he had early indulged, was not an ungracious one, he felt that, till he was distinguished, it had lessened his consideration, since he could not count upon the sympathy of hereditary connections and ancient party. Altogether, he was one who, with the consciousness of ancient blood, the certainty of future fortune, fine talents, great accomplishments, and not slight personal advantages, was unhappy. Yet, although not of a sanguine temper, and occasionally delivered to the darkest spleen, his intense ambition sustained him, and he lived on the hope, and sometimes on the conviction, that a bright era would, some day, console him for the bitterness of his past and present life.
At school and at college he equally distinguished himself, and was everywhere respected and often regarded; yet he had never found that friend on whom his fancy had often busied itself, and which one whose alternations of feeling were so violent peremptorily required. His uncle and himself viewed each other with mutual respect and regard, but confidence did not exist between them. Mr. Dacre, in spite of his long and constant efforts, despaired of raising in the breast of his nephew the flame of filial love; and had it not been for his daughter, who was the only person in the world to whom Arundel ever opened his mind, and who could, consequently, throw some light upon his wants and wishes, it would not have been in his power to evince to his nephew that this disappointment had not affected his uncle's feelings in his favour.
When his education was completed, Mr. Dacre had wished him to take up his residence in Yorkshire, and, in every sense, to act as his son, as he was his successor. But Arundel declined this proposition. He obtained from his father's old political connection the appointment of attache to a foreign embassy, and he remained on the Continent, with the exception of a yearly visit to Yorkshire, three or four years. But his views were not in the diplomatic line, and this appointment only served as a political school until he could enter Parliament. May Dacre had wormed from him his secret, and worked with energy in his cause. An opportunity appeared to offer itself, and, under the patronage of a Catholic nobleman, he was to appear as a candidate for an open borough. It was on this business that he had returned to England.
Birds of a Feather
WE WILL go and make a morning call. The garish light of day, that never suits a chamber, was broken by a muslin veil, which sent its softened twilight through a room of moderate dimensions but of princely decoration, and which opened into a conservatory. The choice saloon was hung with rose-coloured silk, which diffused a delicate tint over the inlaid and costly cabinets. It was crowded with tables covered with bijouterie. Apparently, however, a road had been cut through the furniture, by which you might wind your way up to the divinity of the temple. A ravishing perfume, which was ever changing, wandered through the apartment. Now a violet breeze made you poetical; now a rosy gale called you to love. And ever and anon the strange but thrilling breath of some rare exotic summoned you, like an angel, to opening Eden. All was still and sweet, save that a fountain made you, as it were, more conscious of silence; save that the song of birds made you, as it were, more sensible of sweetness.
Upon a couch, her small head resting upon an arm covered with bracelets, which blazed like a Sol-dan's treasure, reclined Mrs. Dallington Vere.
She is in thought. Is her abstracted eye fixed in admiration upon that twinkling foot which, clothed in its Russian slipper, looks like a serpent's tongue, small, red, and pointed; or does a more serious feeling than self-admiration inspire this musing? Ah! a cloud courses over that pellucid brow. Tis gone, but it frowned like the harbinger of a storm. Again! A small but blood-red blush rises into that clear cheek. It was momentary, but its deep colour indicated that it came from the heart. Her eye lights up with a wild and glittering fire, but the flash vanishes into darkness, and gloom follows the unnatural light. She clasps her hands; she rises from an uneasy seat, though supported by a thousand pillows, and she paces the conservatory.
A guest is announced. It is Sir Lucius Grafton.
He salutes her with that studied courtesy which shows they are only friends, but which, when maintained between intimate acquaintance, sometimes makes wicked people suspect that they once perhaps were more. She resumes her seat, and he throws himself into an easy chair which is opposite.
'Your note I this moment received, Bertha, and I am here. You perceive that my fidelity is as remarkable as ever.'
'We had a gay meeting last night.'
'Very much so. So Lady Araminta has at last shown mercy.'
'I cannot believe it.'
'I have just had a note from Challoner, preliminary, I suppose, to my trusteeship. You are not the only person who holds my talents for business in high esteem.'
'But Ballingford; what will he say?'
'That is his affair; and as he never, to my knowledge, spoke to the purpose, his remarks now, I suppose, are not fated to be much more apropos.'
'Yet he can say things. We all know——'
'Yes, yes, we all know; but nobody believes. That is the motto of the present day; and the only way to neutralise scandal, and to counteract publicity.'
Mrs. Dallington was silent, and looked uneasy; and her friend perceiving that, although she had sent to him so urgent a billet, she did not communicate, expressed a little surprise.
'But you wish to see me, Bertha?'
'I do very much, and to speak to you. For these many days I have intended it; but I do not know how it is, I have postponed and postponed our interview. I begin to believe,' she added, looking up with a faint smile, 'I am half afraid to speak.'
'Good God!' said the Baronet, really alarmed, 'you are in no trouble?'
'Oh, no! make yourself easy. Trouble, trouble! No, no! I am not exactly in trouble. I am not in debt; I am not in a scrape; but—but—but I am in something—something worse, perhaps: I am in love.'
The Baronet looked puzzled. He did not for a moment suspect himself to be the hero; yet, although their mutual confidence was illimitable, he did not exactly see why, in the present instance, there had been such urgency to impart an event not altogether either unnatural or miraculous.
'In love!' said Sir Lucius; 'a very proper situation for the prettiest woman in London. Everybody is in love with you; and I heartily rejoice that some one of our favoured sex is about to avenge our sufferings.'
'Point de moquerie, Lucy! I am miserable.'
'Dear little pigeon, what is the matter?'
'Speak,-speak,' said he, in a gay tone; 'you were not made for sighs, but smiles. Begin——'
'Well, then, the young Duke——'
'The deuce!' said Sir Lucius, alarmed.
'Oh! no! make yourself easy,' said Mrs. Dallington, smiling; 'no counterplot, I assure you, although really you do not deserve to succeed.'
'Then who is it?' eagerly asked Sir Lucius.
'You will not let me speak. The young Duke——'
'Damn the Duke!'
'How impatient you are, Lucy! I must begin with the beginning. Well, the young Duke has something to do with it.'
'Pray be explicit.'
'In a word, then,' said Mrs. Dallington, in a low voice, but with an expression of earnestness which Sir Lucius had never before remarked, 'I am in love, desperately in love, with one whom hitherto, in accordance with your wishes, I have been driving into the arms of another. Our views, our interests are opposite; but I wish to act fairly, if possible; I wish to reconcile them; and it is for this purpose that I have summoned you this morning.'
'Arundel Dacre!' said Sir Lucius, quietly, and he rapped his cane on his boot. The blood-red spot again rose in his companion's cheek.
There was silence for a moment. Sir Lucius would not disturb it, and Mrs. Dallington again spoke.
'St. James and the little Dacre have again met. You have my secret. I do not ask your good services with Arundel, which I might at another time; but you cannot expect me to work against myself. Depend, then, no longer on my influence with May Dacre; for to be explicit, as we have always been, most heartily should I rejoice to see her a duchess.'
'The point, Bertha,' said Sir Lucius, very quietly, 'is not that I can no longer count upon you as an ally; but I must, I perceive, reckon you an opponent.'
'Cannot we prevent this?' asked Mrs. Dallington with energy.
'I see no alternative,' said Sir Lucius, shaking his head with great unconcern. 'Time will prove who will have to congratulate the other.'
'My friend,' said Mrs. Dallington, with briskness and decision, 'no affectation between us. Drop this assumed unconcern. You know, you know well, that no incident could occur to you at this moment more mortifying than the one I have communicated, which deranges your plans, and probably may destroy your views. You cannot misconceive my motives in making this not very agreeable communication. I might have pursued my object without your knowledge and permission. In a word, I might have betrayed you. But with me every consideration has yielded to friendship. I cannot forget how often, and how successfully, we have combined. I should grieve to see our ancient and glorious alliance annulled. I am yet in hopes that we may both obtain our objects through its medium.'
'I am not aware,' said Sir Lucius, with more feeling, 'that I have given you any cause to complain of my want of candour. We are in a difficult position. I have nothing to suggest, but I am ready to listen. You know how ready I am to adopt all your suggestions; and I know how seldom you have wanted an expedient.'
'The little Dacre, then, must not marry her cousin; but we cannot flatter ourselves that such a girl will not want to marry some one; I have a conviction that this is her decisive season. She must be occupied. In a word, Lucy, some one must be found.'
The Baronet started from his chair, and nearly knocked down a table.
'Confound your tables, Bertha,' said he, in a pettish tone; 'I can never consult in a room full of tables.' He walked into the conservatory, and she followed him. He seemed plunged in thought. They were again silent. Suddenly he seized her hand and led her back to the sofa, on which they both sat down.
'My dear friend,' he said, in a tone of agitated solemnity. 'I will conceal no longer from you what I have sometimes endeavoured to conceal from myself: I love that girl to distraction.' 'You!'
'Yes; to distraction. Ever since we first met her image has haunted me. I endeavoured to crush a feeling which promised only to plunge me into anxiety, and to distract my attention from my important objects; but in vain, in vain. Her unexpected appearance yesterday has revived my passion with triple fervour. I have passed a sleepless night, and rise with the determination to obtain her.'
'You know your own power, Lucius, better perhaps than I do, or the world. We rank it high; none higher; yet, nevertheless, I look upon this declaration as insanity.'
He raised her hand to his lips, and pressed it with delicate warmth, and summoned his most insinuating tone. 'With your aid, Bertha, I should not despair!'
'Lucy, I am your friend; perhaps your best friend: but these Dacres! Would it were anyone but a Dacre! No, no, this cannot be.'
'Bertha, you know me better than the world: I am a roue, and you are my friend; but, believe me, I am not quite so vain as to indulge for a moment in the idea that May Dacre should be aught to me but what all might approve and all might honour. Yes, I intend her for my wife.'
'Your wife! You are, indeed, premature.'
'Not quite so premature as you perhaps imagine. Know, then, that the great point is on the eve of achievement. Urged by the information which Afy thinks she unconsciously obtains from Lachen, and harrowed by the idea that I am about to tear her from England, she has appealed to the Duke in a manner to which they were both unused. Hitherto her docile temper has not permitted her to abuse her empire. Now she exerts her power with an energy to which he believed her a stranger. He is staggered by his situation. He at the same time repents having so rashly engaged the feelings of a woman, and is flattered that he is so loved. They have more than once consulted upon the expediency of an elopement.'
'This is good news.'
'O! Bertha, you must feel like me before you can estimate it. Yes!' he clenched his fist with horrible energy, 'there is no hell like a detested wife!'
They were again silent; but when she thought that his emotion had subsided, she again recalled their consideration to the object of their interview.
'You play a bold game, indeed; but it shall not fail from any deficiency on my part. But how are we to proceed at present? Who is to interest the feelings of the little Dacre at once?'
'Who but her future husband? What I want you to do is this: we shall call; but prepare the house to receive us not only as acquaintances, but as desirable intimates. You know what to say. I have an idea that the divine creature entertains no very unfavourable opinion of your obedient slave; and with her temper I care not for what she will not probably hear, the passing opinion of a third person. I stand at present, thanks to Afy, very high with the public; and you know, although my life has not the least altered, that my indiscretions have now a dash of discretion in them; and a reformed rake, as all agree, is the personification of morality. Prepare my way with the Dacres, and all will go right. And as for this Arundel, I know him not; but you have told me enough to make me consider him the most fortunate of men. As for love between cousins, I laugh at it. A glance from you will extinguish the feeble flame, as a sunbeam does a fire: and for the rest, the world does me the honour to believe that, if Lucius Grafton be remarkable for one thing more than another, it is for the influence he attains over young minds. I will get acquainted with this boy; and, for once, let love be unattended by doubt.'
Long was their counsel. The plans we have hinted at were analysed, canvassed, weighed, and finally matured. They parted, after a long morning, well aware of the difficulties which awaited their fulfilment, but also full of hope.
A Dangerous Guide
SUCH able and congenial spirits as Mrs. Dallington Vere and Sir Lucius Grafton prosecuted their plans with the success which they had a right to anticipate. Lady Aphrodite, who was proud of her previous acquaintance, however slight, with the most distinguished girl in London, and eager to improve it, unconsciously assisted their operations. Society is so constituted that it requires no little talent and no slight energy to repel the intimacy even of those whose acquaintance is evidently not desirable; and there are many people in this world mixing, apparently, with great spirit and self-esteem in its concerns, who really owe their constant appearance and occasional influence in circles of consideration to no other qualities than their own callous impudence, and the indolence and the irresolution of their victims. They, who at the same time have no delicacy and no shame, count fearful odds; and, much as is murmured about the false estimation of riches, there is little doubt that the parvenus as often owe their advancement in society to their perseverance as to their pelf.
When, therefore, your intimacy is courted by those whose intimacy is an honour, and that, too, with an art, which conceals its purpose, you often find that you have, and are a devoted friend, really before you have felt sufficient gratitude for the opera-box which has been so often lent, the carriage which has been ever at hand, the brother who has received such civilities, or the father who has been requested to accept some of the unattainable tokay which he has charmed you by admiring at your own table.
The manoeuvres and tactics of society are infinitely more numerous and infinitely finer than those of strategy. Woe betide the rash knight who dashes into the thick of the polished melee without some slight experience of his barb and his lance! Let him look to his arms! He will do well not to appear before his helm be plumed with some reputation, however slight. He may be very rich, or even very poor. We have seen that answer with a Belisarius-like air; and more than one hero without an obolus has stumbled upon a fortune merely from his contempt of riches. If to fight, or write, or dress be above you, why, then, you can ride, or dance, or even skate; but do not think, as many young gentlemen are apt to believe, that talking will serve your purpose. That is the quicksand of your young beginners. All can talk in a public assembly; that is to say, all can give us exhortations which do not move, and arguments which do not convince; but to converse in a private assembly is a different affair, and rare are the characters who can be endured if they exceed a whisper to their neighbours. But though mild and silent, be ever ready with the rapier of repartee, and be ever armed with the breastplate of good temper. You will infallibly gather laurels if you add to these the spear of sarcasm and the shield of nonchalance.
The high style of conversation where eloquence and philosophy emulate each other, where principles are profoundly expounded and felicitously illustrated, all this has ceased. It ceased in this country with Johnson and Burke, and it requires a Johnson and a Burke for its maintenance. There is no mediocrity in such discourse, no intermediate character between the sage and the bore. The second style, where men, not things, are the staple, but where wit, and refinement, and sensibility invest even personal details with intellectual interest, does flourish at present, as it always must in a highly civilised society. S. is, or rather was, a fine specimen of this school, and M. and L. are his worthy rivals. This style is indeed, for the moment, very interesting. Then comes your conversation man, who, we confess, is our aversion. His talk is a thing apart, got up before he enters the company from whose conduct it should grow out. He sits in the middle of a large table, and, with a brazen voice, bawls out his anecdotes about Sir Thomas or Sir Humphry, Lord Blank, or my Lady Blue. He is incessant, yet not interesting; ever varying, yet always monotonous. Even if we were amused, we are no more grateful for the entertainment than we are to the lamp over the table for the light which it universally sheds, and to yield which it was obtained on purpose. We are more gratified by the slight conversation of one who is often silent, but who speaks from his momentary feelings, than by all this hullaballoo. Yet this machine is generally a favourite piece of furniture with the hostess. You may catch her eye as he recounts some adventure of the morning, which proves that he not only belongs to every club, but goes to them, light up with approbation; and then, when the ladies withdraw, and the female senate deliver their criticism upon the late actors, she will observe, with a gratified smile, to her confidante, that the dinner went off well, and that Mr. Bellow was very strong to-day.
All this is horrid, and the whole affair is a delusion. A variety of people are brought together, who all come as late as possible, and retire as soon, merely to show they have other engagements. A dinner is prepared for them, which is hurried over, in order that a certain number of dishes should be, not tasted, but seen: and provided that there is no moment that an absolute silence reigns; provided that, besides the bustling of the servants, the clattering of the plates and knives, a stray anecdote is told, which, if good, has been heard before, and which, if new, is generally flat; provided a certain number of certain names of people of consideration are introduced, by which some stranger, for whom the party is often secretly given, may learn the scale of civilisation of which he this moment forms a part; provided the senators do not steal out too soon to the House, and their wives to another party, the hostess is congratulated on the success of her entertainment.
And this glare, and heat, and noise, these congeries of individuals without sympathy and dishes without flavour; this is society! What an effect without a cause! A man must be green indeed to stand this for two seasons. One cannot help thinking that one consequence of the increased intelligence of the present day will be a great change in the habits of our intercourse.
To our tale; we linger. Few who did not know too much of Sir Lucius Grafton could refrain from yielding him their regard when he chose to challenge it, and with the Dacres he was soon an acknowledged favourite. As a new M.P., and hitherto doubtful supporter of the Catholic cause, it was grateful to Mr. Dacre's feelings to find in him an ally, and flattering to Mr. Dacre's judgment when that ally ventured to consult him on his friendly operations. With Miss Dacre he was a mild, amiable man, who knew the world; thoroughly good, but void of cant, and owner of a virtue not less to be depended on because his passions had once been strong, and he had once indulged them. His experience of life made him value domestic felicity; because he knew that there was no other source of happiness which was at once so pure and so permanent. But he was not one of those men who consider marriage as an extinguisher of all those feelings and accomplishments which throw a lustre on existence; and he did not consider himself bound, because he had plighted his faith to a beautiful woman, immediately to terminate the very conduct which had induced her to join him in the sacred and eternal pledge. His gaiety still sparkled, his wit still flashed; still he hastened to be foremost among the courteous; and still his high and ready gallantry indicated that he was not prepared to yield the fitting ornament of his still blooming youth. A thousand unobtrusive and delicate attentions which the innocent now received from him without a thought, save of Lady Aphrodite's good fortune; a thousand gay and sentimental axioms, which proved not only how agreeable he was, but how enchanting he must have been; a thousand little deeds which struggled to shun the light, and which palpably demonstrated that the gaiety of his wit, the splendour of his accomplishments, and the tenderness of his soul were only equalled by his unbounded generosity and unparalleled good temper; all these combined had made Sir Lucius Grafton, to many, always a delightful, often a dangerous, and sometimes a fatal, companion. He was one of those whose candour is deadly. It was when he least endeavoured to conceal his character that its hideousness least appeared. He confessed sometimes so much, that you yielded that pity which, ere the shrived culprit could receive, by some fatal alchemy was changed into passion. His smile was a lure, his speech was a spell; but it was when he was silent, and almost gloomy, when you caught his serious eye, charged, as it were, with emotion, gazing on yours, that if you had a guardian sylph you should have invoked its aid; and we pray, if ever you meet the man of whom we write, your invocation may not be forgotten, or be, what is more likely, too late.
The Dacres, this season, were the subject of general conversation. She was the distinguished beauty, and the dandies all agreed that his dinner was worthy of his daughter. Lady Fitz-pompey was not behind the welcoming crowd. She was too politic a leader not to feel anxious to enlist under her colours a recruit who was so calculated to maintain the reputation of her forces. Fitz-pompey House must not lose its character for assembling the most distinguished, the most agreeable, and the most refined, and May Dacre was a divinity who would summon many a crowd to her niche in this Pantheon of fashion.
If any difficulty were for a moment anticipated in bringing about this arrangement, a fortunate circumstance seemed sufficient to remove it. Lord St. Maurice and Arundel Dacre had been acquainted at Vienna, and, though the intimacy was slight, it was sweet. St. Maurice had received many favours from the attache, and, as he was a man of family and reputation, had been happy to greet him on his arrival in London. Before the Dacres made their appearance in town for the season Arundel had been initiated in the mysteries of Fitz-pompey House, and therefore a desire from that mansion to cultivate the good graces of his Yorkshire relation seemed not only not forced, but natural. So, the families met, and, to the surprise of each other, became even intimate, for May Dacre and Lady Caroline soon evinced a mutual regard for each other. Female friendships are of rapid growth, and in the present instance, when there was nothing on either side which was not lovable, it was quite miraculous, and the friendship, particularly on the part of Lady Caroline, shot up in one night, like a blooming aloe.
Perhaps there is nothing more lovely than the love of two beautiful women, who are not envious of each other's charms. How delightfully they impart to each other the pattern of a cap, or flounce, or frill! how charmingly they entrust some slight, slender secret about tinting a flower or netting a purse! Now one leans over the other, and guides her inexperienced hand, as it moves in the mysteries of some novel work, and then the other looks up with an eye beaming with devotion; and then again the first leans down a little lower, and gently presses her aromatic lips upon her friend's polished forehead.
These are sights which we quiet men, who, like 'little Jack Horner,' know where to take up a safe position, occasionally enjoy, but which your noisy fellows, who think that women never want to be alone—a sad mistake—and consequently must be always breaking or stringing a guitar, or cutting a pencil, or splitting a crowquill, or overturning the gold ink, or scribbling over a pattern, or doing any other of the thousand acts of mischief, are debarred from.
Not that these bright flowers often bloomed alone; a blossom not less brilliant generally shared with them the same parterre. Mrs. Dallington completed the bouquet, and Arundel Dacre was the butterfly, who, she was glad to perceive, was seldom absent when her presence added beauty to the beautiful. Indeed, she had good reason to feel confidence in her attractions. Independently of her charms, which assuredly were great, her fortune, which was even greater, possessed, she was well aware, no slight allurement to one who ever trembled when he thought of his dependence, and often glowed when he mused over his ambition. His slight but increasing notice was duly estimated by one who was perfectly acquainted with his peculiar temper, and daily perceived how disregardful he was of all others, except her and his cousin. But a cousin! She felt confidence in the theory of Sir Lucius Grafton.
And the young Duke; have we forgotten him? Sooth to say, he was seldom with our heroine or heroines. He had called on Mr. Dacre, and had greeted him with marked cordiality, and he had sometimes met him and his daughter in society. But although invited, he had hitherto avoided being their visitor; and the comparatively secluded life which he now led prevented him from seeing them often at other houses. Mr. Dacre, who was unaware of what had passed between him and his daughter, thought his conduct inexplicable; but his former guardian remembered that it was not the first time that his behaviour had been unusual, and it was never the disposition of Mr. Dacre to promote explanations.
Our hero felt annoyed at his own weakness. It would have been infinitely more worthy of so celebrated, so unrivalled a personage as the Duke of St. James not to have given the woman who had rejected him this evidence of her power. According to etiquette, he should have called there daily and have dined there weekly, and yet never have given the former object of his adoration the slightest idea that he cared a breath for her presence. According to etiquette, he should never have addressed her but in a vein of persiflage, and with a smile which indicated his perfect heartease and her bad taste. According to etiquette, he should have flirted with every woman in her company, rode with her in the Park, walked with her in the Gardens, chatted with her at the opera, and drunk wine with her at a water party; and finally, to prove how sincere he was in his former estimation of her judgment, have consulted her on the presents which he should make to some intimate friend of hers, whom he announces as his future bride. This is the way to manage a woman; and the result may be conceived. She stares, she starts, she sighs, she weeps; feels highly offended at her friend daring to accept him; writes a letter of rejection herself to the affianced damsel, which she makes him sign, and then presents him with the hand which she always meant to be his.
But this was above our hero. The truth is, whenever he thought of May Dacre his spirit sank. She had cowed him; and her arrival in London had made him as dissatisfied with his present mode of life as he had been with his former career. They had met again, and under circumstances apparently, to him, the most unfavourable. Although he was hopeless, yet he dreaded to think what she might hear of him. Her contempt was bitter; her dislike would even be worse. Yet it seemed impossible to retrieve. He was plunged deeper than he imagined. Embarrassed, entangled, involved, he flew to Lady Afy, half in pique and half in misery. Passion had ceased to throw a glittering veil around this idol; but she was kind, and pure, and gentle, and devoted. It was consoling to be loved to one who was so wretched. It seemed to him that life must ever be a blank without the woman who, a few months ago, he had left an encumbrance. The recollection of past happiness was balm to one who was so forlorn. He shuddered at the thought of losing his only precious possession, and he was never more attached to his mistress than when the soul of friendship rose from the body of expired love.
An Epicurean Feast
THE Duke of St. James dines to-day with Mr. Annesley. Men and things should be our study; and it is universally acknowledged that a dinner is the most important of affairs, and a dandy the most important of individuals. If we liked, we could give you a description of the fete which should make all your mouths water; but everyone cooks now, and ekes out his page by robbing Jarrin and by rifling Ude.
Charles Annesley was never seen to more advantage than when a host. Then his superciliousness would, if not vanish, at least subside. He was not less calm, but somewhat less cold, like a summer lake. Therefore we will have an eye upon his party; because, to dine with dandies should be a prominent feature in your career, and must not be omitted in this sketch of the 'Life and Times' of our young hero. The party was of that number which at once secures a variety of conversation and the impossibility of two persons speaking at the same time. The guests were his Grace, Lord Squib, and Lord Darrell. The repast, like everything connected with Mr. Annesley, was refined and exquisite, rather slight than solid, and more novel than various. There was no affectation of gourmandise, the vice of male dinners. Your imagination and your sight were not at the same time dazzled and confused by an agglomeration of the peculiar luxuries of every clime and every season. As you mused over a warm and sunny flavour of a brown soup, your host did not dilate upon the milder and moonlight beauties of a white one. A gentle dallying with a whiting, that chicken of the ocean, was not a signal for a panegyric of the darker attraction of a matelotte a la royale. The disappearance of the first course did not herald a catalogue of discordant dainties. You were not recommended to neglect the croquettes because the boudins might claim attention; and while you were crowning your important labours with a quail you were not reminded that the pate de Troyes, unlike the less reasonable human race, would feel offended if it were not cut. Then the wines were few. Some sherry, with a pedigree like an Arabian, heightened the flavour of the dish, not interfered with it; as a toady keeps up the conversation which he does not distract. A goblet of Graffenburg, with a bouquet like woman's breath, made you, as you remembered some liquid which it had been your fate to fall upon, suppose that German wines, like German barons, required some discrimination, and that hock, like other titles, was not always the sign of the high nobility of its owner. A glass of claret was the third grace. But, if we had been there, we should have devoted ourselves to one of the sparkling sisters; for one wine, like one woman, is sufficient to interest one's feelings for four-and-twenty hours. Fickleness we abhor.
'I observed you riding to-day with the gentle Leonora, St. James,' said Mr. Annesley.
'No! her sister.'
'Indeed! Those girls are uncommonly alike. The fact is, now, that neither face nor figure depends upon nature.'
'No,' said Lord Squib; 'all that the artists of the present day want is a model. Let a family provide one handsome sister, and the hideousness of the others will not prevent them, under good management, from being mistaken, by the best judges, for the beauty, six times in the same hour.'
'You are trying, I suppose, to account for your unfortunate error at Cleverley's, on Monday, Squib?' said Lord Darrell, laughing.
'Pooh! all nonsense.'
'What was it?' said Mr. Annesley.
'Not a word true,' said Lord Squib, stifling curiosity.
'I believe it,' said the Duke, without having heard a syllable. 'Come, Darrell, out with it!'
'It really is nothing very particular, only it is whispered that Squib said something to Lady Clever-ley which made her ring the bell, and that he excused himself to his Lordship by protesting that, from their similarity of dress and manner and strong family likeness, he had mistaken the Countess for her sister.'
Omnes. 'Well done, Squib! And were you introduced to the right person?'
'Why,' said his Lordship, 'fortunately I contrived to fall out about the settlements, and so I escaped.'
'So the chaste Diana is to be the new patroness?' said Lord Darrell.
'So I understand,' rejoined Mr. Annesley. 'This is the age of unexpected appointments.'
'On dit that when it was notified to the party most interested, there was a rider to the bill, excluding my Lord's relations.'
'Ha, ha, ha,' faintly laughed Mr. Annesley. 'What have they been doing so remarkable?'
'Nothing,' said Lord Squib. 'That is just their fault. They have every recommendation; but when any member of that family is in a room, everybody feels so exceedingly sleepy that they all sink to the ground. That is the reason that there are so many ottomans at Heavyside House.'
'Is it true,' asked the Duke, 'that his Grace really has a flapper?'
'Unquestionably,' said Lord Squib. 'The other day I was announced, and his attendant was absent. He had left his instrument on a sofa. I immediately took it up, and touched my Lord upon his hump. I never knew him more entertaining. He really was quite lively.'
'But Diana is a favourite goddess of mine,' said Annesley; 'taste that hock.'
'Superb! Where did you get it?'
'A present from poor Raffenburg.'
'Ah! where is he now?'
'At Paris, I believe.'
'Paris! and where is she?'
'I liked Raffenburg,' said Lord Squib; 'he always reminded me of a country innkeeper who supplies you with pipes and tobacco gratis, provided that you will dine with him.'
'He had unrivalled meerschaums,' said Mr. Annesley, 'and he was most liberal. There are two. You know I never use them, but they are handsome furniture.'
'Those Dalmaines are fine girls,' said the Duke of St. James.
'Very pretty creatures! Do you know, Duke,' said Annesley, 'I think the youngest one something like Miss Dacre.'
'Indeed! I cannot say the resemblance struck me.'
'I see old mother Dalmaine dresses her as much like the Doncaster belle as she possibly can.'
'Yes, and spoils her,' said Lord Squib; 'but old mother Dalmaine, with all her fuss, was ever a bad cook, and overdid everything.'
'Young Dalmaine, they say,' observed Lord Darrell, 'is in a sort of a scrape.'
'Oh! some confusion at head-quarters. A great tallow-chandler's son got into the regiment, and committed some heresy at mess.'
'I do not know the brother,' said the Duke.
'You are fortunate, then. He is unendurable. To give you an idea of him, suppose you met him here (which you never will), he would write to you the next day, "My dear St. James."'
'My tailor presented me his best compliments, the other morning,' said the Duke.
'The world is growing familiar,' said Mr. Annesley.
'There must be some remedy,' said Lord Darrell.
'Yes!' said Lord Squib, with indignation. 'Tradesmen now-a-days console themselves for not getting their bills paid by asking their customers to dinner.'
'It is shocking,' said Mr. Annesley, with a forlorn air. 'Do you know, I never enter society now without taking as many preliminary precautions as if the plague raged in all our chambers. In vain have I hitherto prided myself on my existence being unknown to the million. I never now stand still in a street, lest my portrait be caught for a lithograph; I never venture to a strange dinner, lest I should stumble upon a fashionable novelist; and even with all this vigilance, and all this denial, I have an intimate friend whom I cannot cut, and who, they say, writes for the Court Journal.'
'But why cannot you cut him?' asked Lord Darrell.
'He is my brother; and, you know, I pride myself upon my domestic feelings.'
'Yes!' said Lord Squib, 'to judge from what the world says, one would think, Annesley, you were a Brummel!'
'Squib, not even in jest couple my name with one whom I will not call a savage, merely because he is unfortunate.'
'What did you think of little Eugenie, Annesley, last night?' asked the Duke.
'Well, very well, indeed; something like Brocard's worst.'
'I was a little disappointed in her debut, and much interested in her success. She was rather a favourite of mine in Paris, so I invited her to the Alhambra yesterday, with Claudius Piggott and some more. I had half a mind to pull you in, but I know you do not much admire Piggott.'
'On the contrary, I have been in Piggott's company without being much offended.'
'I think Piggott improves,' said Lord Darrell. 'It was those waistcoats which excited such a prejudice against him when he first came over.'
'What! a prejudice against Peacock Piggott!' said Lord Squib; 'pretty Peacock Piggott! Tell it not in Gath, whisper it not in Ascalon; and, above all, insinuate it not to Lady de Courcy.'
'There is not much danger of my insinuating anything to her,' said Mr. Annesley.
'Your compact, I hope, is religiously observed,' said the Duke.
'Yes, very well. There was a slight infraction once, but I sent Charles Fitzroy as an ambassador, and war was not declared.'
'Do you mean,' asked Lord Squib, 'when your cabriolet broke down before her door, and she sent out to request that you would make yourself quite at home?'
'I mean that fatal day,' replied Mr. Annesley. 'I afterwards discovered she had bribed my tiger.'
'Do you know Eugenie's sister, St. James?' asked Lord Darrell.
'Yes: she is very clever; very popular at Paris. But I like Eugenie, because she is so good-natured. Her laugh is so hearty.'
'So it is,' said Lord Squib. 'Do you remember that girl at Madrid, Annesley, who used to laugh so?'
'What, Isidora? She is coming over.'
'But I thought it was high treason to plunder the grandees' dovecotes?'
'Why, all our regular official negotiations have failed. She is not permitted to treat with a foreign manager; but the new ambassador has a secretary, and that secretary has some diplomatic ability, and so Isidora is to be smuggled over.'
'In a red box, I suppose,' said Lord Squib.
'I rather admire our Adele,' said the Duke of St. James. 'I really think she dances with more aplomb than any of them.'
'Oh! certainly; she is a favourite of mine.'
'But I like that wild little Ducis,' said Lord Squib. 'She puts me in mind of a wild cat.'
'And Marunia of a Bengal tiger,' said his Grace.
'She is a fine woman, though,' said Lord Darrell.
'I think your cousin, St. James,' said Lord Squib, 'will get into a scrape with Marunia. I remember Chetwynd telling me, and he was not apt to complain on that score, that he never should have broken up if it had not been for her.'
'But he was an extravagant fellow,' said Mr. Annesley: 'he called me in at his bouleversement for advice, as I have the reputation of a good economist. I do not know how it is, though I see these things perpetually happen; but why men, and men of small fortunes, should commit such follies, really exceeds my comprehension. Ten thousand pounds for trinkets, and nearly as much for old furniture!'
'Chetwynd kept it up a good many years, though, I think,' said Lord Darrell. 'I remember going to see his rooms when I first came over. You recollect his pearl fountain of Cologne water?'
'Millecolonnes fitted up his place, I think?' asked the young Duke; 'but it was before my time.'
'Oh! yes; little Bijou,' said Annesley. 'He has done you justice, Duke. I think the Alhambra much the prettiest thing in town.'
'I was attacked the other day most vigorously by Mrs. Dallington to obtain a sight,' said Lord Squib. 'I referred her to Lucy Grafton. Do you know, St. James, I have half a strange idea that there is a renewal in that quarter?'
'So they say,' said the Duke; 'if so, I confess I am surprised.' But they remembered Lord Darrell, and the conversation turned.
'Those are clever horses of Lincoln Graves,' said Mr. Annesley.
'Neat cattle, as Bagshot says,' observed Lord Squib.
'Is it true that Bag is going to marry one of the Wrekins?' asked the Duke.
'Which?' asked Lord Squib; 'not Sophy, surely I thought she was to be your cousin. I dare say,' he added, 'a false report. I suppose, to use a Bagshotism, his governor wants it; but I should think Lord Cub would not yet be taken in. By-the-bye, he says you have promised to propose him at White's, St. James.'
'Oppose him, I said,' rejoined the Duke. 'Bag really never understands English. However, I think it as probable that he will lounge there as on the Treasury bench. That was his "governor's" last shrewd plan.'
'Darrell,' said Lord Squib, 'is there any chance of my being a commissioner for anything? It struck me last night that I had never been in office.'
'I do not think, Squib, that you ever will be in office, if even you be appointed.'
'On the contrary, my good fellow, my punctuality should surprise you. I should like very much to be a lay lord, because I cannot afford to keep a yacht, and theirs, they say, are not sufficiently used, for the Admirals think it spooney, and the landlubbers are always sick.'
'I think myself of having a yacht this summer,' said the Duke of St. James. 'Be my captain, Squib.'
'If you be serious I will commence my duties tomorrow.'
'I am serious. I think it will be amusing. I give you full authority to do exactly what you like, provided, in two months' time, I have the crack vessel in the club.'
'I begin to press. Annesley, your dinner is so good that you shall be purser; and Darrell, you are a man of business, you shall be his clerk. For the rest, I think St. Maurice may claim a place, and——'
'Peacock Piggott, by all means,' said the Duke. 'A gay sailor is quite the thing.'
'And Charles Fitzroy,' said Annesley, 'because I am under obligations to him, and promised to have him in my eye.'
'And Bagshot for a butt,' said the Duke.
'And Backbite for a buffoon,' said Mr. Annesley.
'And for the rest,' said the young Duke, 'the rest of the crew, I vote, shall be women. The Dalmaines will just do.'
'And the little Trevors,' said Lord Darrell.
'And Long Harrington,' said Lord Squib. 'She is my beauty.'
'And the young Ducie,' said Annesley. 'And Mrs. Dallington of course, and Caroline St. Maurice, and Charlotte Bloomerly; really, she was dressed most prettily last night; and, above all, the queen bee of the hive, May Dacre, eh! St. James? And I have another proposition,' said Annesley, with unusual animation. 'May Dacre won the St. Leger, and ruled the course; and May Dacre shall win the cup, and rule the waves. Our yacht shall be christened by the Lady Bird of Yorkshire.'
'What a delightful thing it would be,' said the Duke of St. James, 'if, throughout life, we might always choose our crew; cull the beauties, and banish the bores.'
'But that is impossible,' said Lord Darrell. 'Every ornament of society is counterbalanced by some accompanying blur. I have invariably observed that the ugliness of a chaperon is exactly in proportion to the charms of her charge; and that if a man be distinguished for his wit, his appearance, his style, or any other good quality, he is sure to be saddled with some family or connection, who require all his popularity to gain them a passport into the crowd.'
'One might collect an unexceptionable coterie from our present crowd,' said Mr. Annesley. 'It would be curious to assemble all the pet lambs of the flock.'
'Is it impossible?' asked the Duke.
'Burlington is the only man who dare try,' said Lord Darrell.
'I doubt whether any individual would have sufficient pluck,' said Lord Squib.
'Yes,' said the Duke, 'it must, I think, be a joint-stock company to share the glory and the odium. Let us do it!'
There was a start, and a silence, broken by Annesley in a low voice:
'By Heavens it would be sublime, if practicable; but the difficulty does indeed seem insurmountable.'
'Why, we would not do it,' said the young Duke, 'if it were not difficult. The first thing is to get a frame for our picture, to hit upon some happy pretence for assembling in an impromptu style the young and gay. Our purpose must not be too obvious. It must be something to which all expect to be asked, and where the presence of all is impossible; so that, in fixing upon a particular member of a family, we may seem influenced by the wish that no circle should be neglected. Then, too, it should be something like a water-party or a fete champetre, where colds abound and fits are always caught, so that a consideration for the old and the infirm may authorise us not to invite them; then, too——'
Omnes. 'Bravo! bravo! St. James. It shall be! it shall be!'
'It must be a fete champetre,' said Annesley, decidedly, 'and as far from town as possible.'
'Twickenham is at your service,' said the Duke.
'Just the place, and just the distance. The only objection is, that, by being yours, it will saddle the enterprise too much upon you. We must all bear our share in the uproar, for, trust me, there will be one; but there are a thousand ways by which our responsibility may be insisted upon. For instance, let us make a list of all our guests, and then let one of us act as secretary, and sign the invitations, which shall be like tickets. No other name need appear, and the hosts will indicate themselves at the place of rendezvous.'
'My Lords,' said Lord Squib, 'I rise to propose the health of Mr. Secretary Annesley, and I think if anyone carry the business through, it will be he.'
'I accept the trust. At present be silent as night; for we have much to mature, and our success depends upon our secrecy.'
The Fete of Youth and Beauty
ARUNDEL DACRE, though little apt to cultivate an acquaintance with anyone, called on the young Duke the morning after their meeting. The truth is, his imagination was touched by our hero's appearance. His Grace possessed all that accomplished manner of which Arundel painfully felt the want, and to which he eagerly yielded his admiration. He earnestly desired the Duke's friendship, but, with his usual mauvaise honte, their meeting did not advance his wishes. He was as shy and constrained as usual, and being really desirous of appearing to advantage, and leaving an impression in his favour, his manner was even divested of that somewhat imposing coldness which was not altogether ineffective. In short, he was rather disagreeable. The Duke was courteous, as he usually was, and ever to the Da-cres, but he was not cordial. He disliked Arundel Dacre; in a word, he looked upon him as his favoured rival. The two young men occasionally met, but did not grow more intimate. Studiously polite the young Duke ever was both to him and to his lovely cousin, for his pride concealed his pique, and he was always afraid lest his manner should betray his mind.
In the meantime Sir Lucius Grafton apparently was running his usual course of triumph. It is fortunate that those who will watch and wonder about everything are easily satisfied with a reason, and are ever quick in detecting a cause; so Mrs. Dallington Vere was the fact that duly accounted for the Baronet's intimacy with the Dacres. All was right again between them. It was unusual, to be sure, these rifacimentos; still she was a charming woman; and it was well known that Lucius had spent twenty thousand on the county. Where was that to come from, they should like to know, but from old Dallington Vere's Yorkshire estates, which he had so wisely left to his pretty wife by the pink paper codicil?
And this lady of so many loves, how felt she? Most agreeably, as all dames do who dote upon a passion which they feel convinced will be returned, but which still waits for a response. Arundel Dacre would yield her a smile from a face more worn by thought than joy; and Arundel Dacre, who was wont to muse alone, was now ever ready to join his cousin and her friends in the ride or the promenade. Miss Dacre, too, had noticed to her a kindly change in her cousin's conduct to her father. He was more cordial to his uncle, sought to pay him deference, and seemed more desirous of gaining his good-will. The experienced eye, too, of this pretty woman allowed her often to observe that her hero's presence was not particularly occasioned, or particularly inspired, by his cousin. In a word, it was to herself that his remarks were addressed, his attentions devoted, and often she caught his dark and liquid eye fixed upon her beaming and refulgent brow.
Sir Lucius Grafton proceeded with that strange mixture of craft and passion which characterised him. Each day his heart yearned more for the being on whom his thoughts should never have pondered. Now exulting in her increased confidence, she seemed already his victim; now awed by her majestic spirit, he despaired even of her being his bride. Now melted by her unsophisticated innocence, he cursed even the least unhallowed of his purposes; and now enchanted by her consummate loveliness, he forgot all but her beauty and his own passion.
Often had he dilated to her, with the skill of an arch deceiver, on the blessings of domestic joy; often, in her presence, had his eye sparkled, when he watched the infantile graces of some playful children. Then he would embrace them with a soft care and gushing fondness, enough to melt the heart of any mother whom he was desirous to seduce, and then, with a half-murmured sigh, he regretted, in broken accents, that he, too, was not a father.
In due time he proceeded even further. Dark hints of domestic infelicity broke unintentionally from his ungoverned lips. Miss Dacre stared. He quelled the tumult of his thoughts, struggled with his outbreaking feelings, and triumphed; yet not without a tear, which forced its way down a face not formed for grief, and quivered upon his fair and downy cheek. Sir Lucius Grafton was well aware of the magic of his beauty, and used his charms to betray, as if he were a woman.
Miss Dacre, whose soul was sympathy, felt in silence for this excellent, this injured, this unhappy, this agreeable man. Ill could even her practised manner check the current of her mind, or conceal from Lady Aphrodite that she possessed her dislike. As for the young Duke, he fell into the lowest abyss of her opinions, and was looked upon as alike frivolous, heartless, and irreclaimable.
But how are the friends with whom we dined yesterday? Frequent were the meetings, deep the consultations, infinite the suggestions, innumerable the expedients. In the morning they met and breakfasted with Annesley; in the afternoon they met and lunched with Lord Squib; in the evening they met and dined with Lord Darrell; and at night they met and supped at the Alhambra. Each council only the more convinced them that the scheme was feasible, and must be glorious. At last their ideas were matured, and Annesley took steps to break a great event to the world, who were on the eve of being astonished.
He repaired to Lady Bloomerly. The world sometimes talked of her Ladyship and Mr. Annesley; the world were quite wrong, as they often are on this subject. Mr. Annesley knew the value of a female friend. By Lady Bloomerly's advice, the plan was entrusted in confidence to about a dozen dames equally influential. Then a few of the most considered male friends heard a strange report. Lord Darrell dropped a rumour at the Treasury; but with his finger on the mouth, and leaving himself out of the list, proceeded to give his favourable opinion of the project, merely as a disinterested and expected guest. Then the Duke promised Peacock Piggott one night at the Alhambra, but swore him to solemn secrecy over a vase of sherbet. Then Squib told his tailor, in consideration that his bill should not be sent in; and finally, the Bird of Paradise betrayed the whole affair to the musical world, who were, of course, all agog. Then, when rumour began to wag its hundred tongues, the twelve peeresses found themselves bound in honour to step into the breach, yielded the plan their decided approbation, and their avowed patronage puzzled the grumblers, silenced the weak, and sneered down the obstinate.
The invitations began to issue, and the outcry against them burst forth. A fronde was formed, but they wanted a De Retz; and many kept back, with the hope of being bribed from joining it. The four cavaliers soon found themselves at the head of a strong party, and then, like a faction who have successfully struggled for toleration, they now openly maintained their supremacy. It was too late to cabal. The uninvited could only console themselves by a passive sulk or an active sneer; but this would not do, and their bilious countenances betrayed their chagrin.
The difficulty now was, not to keep the bores away, but to obtain a few of the beauties, who hesitated. A chaperon must be found for one; another must be added on to a party, like a star to the cluster of a constellation. Among those whose presence was most ardently desired, but seemed most doubtful, was Miss Dacre. An invitation had been sent to her father; but he was out of town, and she did not like to join so peculiar a party without him: but it was unanimously agreed that, without her, the affair would be a failure; and Charles Annesley was sent, envoy extraordinary, to arrange. With the good aid of his friend Mrs. Dallington all was at length settled; and fervid prayers that the important day might be ushered in by a smiling sun were offered up during the next fortnight, at half-past six every morning, by all civilised society, who then hurried to their night's rest.
Sir Lucius Drops the Mask
THE fete at 'the Pavilion,' such was the title of the Twickenham Villa, though the subject of universal interest, was anticipated by no one with more eager anxiety than by Sir Lucius Grafton; for that day, he determined, should decide the fate of the Duke of St. James. He was sanguine as to the result, nor without reason. For the last month he had, by his dark machinery, played desperately upon the feelings of Lady Aphrodite; and more than once had she despatched rapid notes to her admirer for counsel and for consolation. The Duke was more skilful in soothing her griefs than in devising expedients for their removal. He treated the threatened as a distant evil! and wiped away her tears in a manner which is almost an encouragement to weep.
At last the eventful morn arrived, and a scorching sun made those exult to whom the barge and the awning promised a progress equally calm and cool. Woe to the dusty britzska! woe to the molten furnace of the crimson cabriolet!
They came, as the stars come out from the heavens, what time the sun is in his first repose: now a single hero, brilliant as a planet; now a splendid party, clustering like a constellation. Music is on the waters and perfume on the land; each moment a barque glides up with its cymbals, each moment a cavalcade bright with bouquets!
Ah, gathering of brightness! ah, meeting of lustre! why, why are you to be celebrated by one so obscure and dull as I am? Ye Lady Carolines and ye Lady Franceses, ye Lady Barbaras and ye Lady Blanches, is it my fault?
O, graceful Lord Francis, why, why have you left us; why, why have you exchanged your Ionian lyre for an Irish harp? You were not made for politics; leave them to clerks. Fly, fly back to pleasure, to frolic, and fun! Confess, now, that you sometimes do feel a little queer. We say nothing of the difference between May Fair and Donnybrook.
And thou, too, Luttrell, gayest bard that ever threw off a triplet amid the clattering of cabs and the chattering of clubs, art thou, too, mute? Where, where dost thou linger? Is our Druid among the oaks of Ampthill; or, like a truant Etonian, is he lurking among the beeches of Burnham? What! has the immortal letter, unlike all other good advice, absolutely not been thrown away? or is the jade incorrigible? Whichever be the case, you need not be silent. There is yet enough to do, and yet enough to instruct. Teach us that wealth is not elegance; that profusion is not magnificence; and that splendour is not beauty. Teach us that taste is a talisman which can do greater wonders than the millions of the loanmonger. Teach us that to vie is not to rival, and to imitate not to invent. Teach us that pretension is a bore. Teach us that wit is excessively good-natured, and, like champagne, not only sparkles, but is sweet. Teach us the vulgarity of malignity. Teach us that envy spoils our complexions, and that anxiety destroys our figure. Catch the fleeting colours of that sly chameleon, Cant, and show what excessive trouble we are ever taking to make ourselves miserable and silly. Teach us all this, and Aglaia shall stop a crow in its course and present you with a pen, Thalia hold the golden fluid in a Sevres vase, and Euphrosyne support the violet-coloured scroll.
The four hosts greeted the arrivals and assisted the disembarkations, like the famous four sons of Aymon.
They were all dressed alike, and their costume excited great attention. At first it was to have been very plain, black and white and a single rose; but it was settled that simplicity had been overdone, and, like a country girl after her first season, had turned into a most affected baggage, so they agreed to be regal; and fancy uniforms, worthy of the court of Oberon, were the order of the day. We shall not describe them, for the description of costume is the most inventive province of our historical novelists, and we never like to be unfair, or trench upon our neighbour's lands or rights; but the Alhambra button indicated a mystical confederacy, and made the women quite frantic with curiosity.
The guests wandered through the gardens, always various, and now a paradise of novelty. There were four brothers, fresh from the wildest recesses of the Carpathian Mount, who threw out such woodnotes wild that all the artists stared; and it was universally agreed that, had they not been French chorus-singers, they would have been quite a miracle. But the Lapland sisters were the true prodigy, who danced the Mazurka in the national style. There was also a fire-eater; but some said he would never set the river in flames, though he had an antidote against all poisons! But then our Mithridates always tried its virtues on a stuffed poodle, whose bark evinced its vitality. There also was a giant in the wildest part of the shrubbery, and a dwarf, on whom the ladies showered their sugarplums, and who, in return, offered them tobacco. But it was not true that the giant sported stilts, or that the dwarf was a sucking-babe. Some people are so suspicious. Then a bell rang, and assembled them in the concert-room; and the Bird of Paradise who to-day was consigned to the cavaliership of Peacock Piggott, condescended to favour them with a new song, which no one had ever heard, and which, consequently, made them feel more intensely all the sublimity of exclusiveness. Shall we forget the panniers of shoes which Melnotte had placed in every quarter of the gardens? We will say nothing of Maradan's cases of caps, because, for this incident, Lord Bagshot is our authority.
On a sudden, it seemed that a thousand bugles broke the blue air, and they were summoned to a dejeuner in four crimson tents worthy of Sardanapalus.
Over each waved the scutcheon of the president. Glittering were the glories of the hundred quarterings of the house of Darrell. 'Si non e vero e ben trovato,' was the motto. Lord Darrell's grandfather had been a successful lawyer. Lord Squib's emblazonry was a satire on its owner. 'Holdfast' was the motto of a man who had let loose. Annesley's simple shield spoke of the Conquest; but all paled before the banner of the house of Hauteville, for it indicated an alliance with royalty. The attendants of each pavilion wore the livery of its lord.
Shall we attempt to describe the delicacy of this banquet, where imagination had been racked for novel luxury? Through the centre of each table ran a rivulet of rose-water, and gold and silver fish glanced in its unrivalled course. The bouquets were exchanged every half-hour, and music soft and subdued, but constant and thrilling, wound them up by exquisite gradations to that pitch of refined excitement which is so strange a union of delicacy and voluptuousness, when the soul, as it were, becomes sensual, and the body, as it were, dissolves into spirit. And in this choice assembly, where all was youth, and elegance, and beauty, was it not right that every sound should be melody, every sight a sight of loveliness, and every thought a thought of pleasure?
They arose and re-assembled on the lawn, where they found, to their surprise, had arisen in their absence a Dutch Fair. Numerous were the booths, innumerable were the contents. The first artists had arranged the picture and the costumes; the first artists had made the trinkets and the toys. And what a very agreeable fair, where all might suit their fancy without the permission of that sulky tyrant, a purse! All were in excellent humour, and no false shame prevented them from plundering the stalls. The noble proprietors set the example. Annesley offered a bouquet of precious stones to Charlotte Bloomerly, and it was accepted, and the Duke of St. James showered a sack of whimsical breloques among a scrambling crowd of laughing beauties. Among them was Miss Dacre. He had not observed her. Their eyes met, and she smiled. It seemed that he had never felt happiness before.
Ere the humours of the fair could be exhausted they were summoned to the margin of the river, where four painted and gilded galleys, which might have sailed down the Cydmus, and each owning its peculiar chief, prepared to struggle for pre-eminence in speed. All betted; and the Duke, encouraged by the smile, hastened to Miss Dacre to try to win back some of his Doncaster losses, but Arundel Dacre had her arm in his, and she was evidently delighted with his discourse. His Grace's blood turned, and he walked away.
It was sunset when they returned to the lawn, and then the ball-room presented itself; but the twilight was long, and the night was warm; there were no hateful dews, no odious mists, and therefore a great number danced on the lawn. The fair was illuminated, and all the little marchandes and their lusty porters walked about in their costume.
The Duke again rallied his courage, and seeing Arundel Dacre with Mrs. Dallington Vere, he absolutely asked Miss Dacre to dance. She was engaged. He doubted, and walked into the house disconsolate; yet, if he had waited one moment, he would have seen Sir Lucius Grafton rejoin her, and lead her to the cotillon that was forming on the turf. The Duke sauntered to Lady Aphrodite, but she would not dance; yet she did not yield his arm, and proposed a stroll. They wandered away to the extremity of the grounds. Fainter and fainter grew the bursts of the revellers, yet neither of them spoke much, for both were dull.
Yet at length her Ladyship did speak, and amply made up for her previous silence. All former scenes, to this, were but as the preface to the book. All she knew and all she dreaded, all her suspicions, all her certainties, all her fears, were poured forth in painful profusion. This night was to decide her fate. She threw herself on his mercy, if he had forgotten his love. Out dashed all those arguments, all those appeals, all those assertions, which they say are usual under these circumstances. She was a woman; he was a man. She had staked her happiness on this venture; he had a thousand cards to play. Love, and first love, with her, as with all women, was everything; he and all men, at the worst, had a thousand resources. He might plunge into politics, he might game, he might fight, he might ruin himself in innumerable ways, but she could only ruin herself in one. Miserable woman! Miserable sex! She had given him her all. She knew it was little: would she had more! She knew she was unworthy of him: would she were not! She did not ask him to sacrifice himself to her: she could not expect it; she did not even desire it. Only, she thought he ought to know exactly the state of affairs and of consequences, and that certainly if they were parted, which assuredly they would be, most decidedly she would droop, and fade, and die. She wept, she sobbed; his entreaties alone seemed to prevent hysterics.
These scenes are painful at all times, and even the callous, they say, have a twinge; but when the actress is really beautiful and pure, as this lady was, and the actor young and inexperienced and amiable, as this actor was, the consequences are more serious than is usual. The Duke of St. James was unhappy, he was discontented, he was dissatisfied with himself. He did not love this lady, if love were the passion which he entertained for Miss Dacre, but she loved him. He knew that she was beautiful, and he was convinced that she was excellent. The world is malicious, but the world had agreed that Lady Aphrodite was an unblemished pearl: yet this jewel was reserved for him! Intense gratitude almost amounted to love. In short, he had no idea at this moment that feelings are not in our power. His were captive, even if entrapped. It was a great responsibility to desert this creature, the only one from whom he had experienced devotion. To conclude: a season of extraordinary dissipation, to use no harsher phrase, had somewhat exhausted the nervous powers of our hero; his energies were deserting him; he had not heart or heartlessness enough to extricate himself from this dilemma. It seemed that if this being to whom he was indebted for so much joy were miserable, he must be unhappy; that if she died, life ought to have, could have, no charms for him. He kissed away her tears, he pledged his faith, and Lady Aphrodite Grafton was his betrothed!
She wonderfully recovered. Her deep but silent joy seemed to repay him even for this bitter sacrifice. Compared with the late racking of his feelings, the present calm, which was merely the result of suspense being destroyed, seemed happiness. His conscience whispered approbation, and he felt that, for once, he had sacrificed himself to another.
They re-entered the villa, and he took the first opportunity of wandering alone to the least frequented parts of the grounds: his mind demanded solitude, and his soul required soliloquy.
'So the game is up! truly a most lame and impotent conclusion! And this, then, is the result of all my high fancies and indefinite aspirations! Verily, I am a very distinguished hero, and have not abused my unrivalled advantages in the least. What! am I bitter on myself? There will be enough to sing my praises without myself joining in this chorus of congratulation. O! fool! fool! Now I know what folly is. But barely fifteen months since I stepped upon these shores, full of hope and full of pride; and now I leave them; how? O! my dishonoured fathers! Even my posterity, which God grant I may not have, will look on my memory with hatred, and on hers with scorn!
'Well, I suppose we must live for ourselves. We both of us know the world; and Heaven can bear witness that we should not be haunted by any uneasy hankering after what has brought us such a heartache. If it were for love, if it were for—but away! I will not profane her name; if it were for her that I was thus sacrificing myself. I could bear it, I could welcome it. I can imagine perfect and everlasting bliss in the sole society of one single being, but she is not that being. Let me not conceal it; let me wrestle with this bitter conviction!
'And am I, indeed, bound to close my career thus; to throw away all hope, all chance of felicity, at my age, for a point of honour? No, no; it is not that. After all, I have experienced that with her, and from her, which I have with no other woman; and she is so good, so gentle, and, all agree, so lovely! How infinitely worse would her situation be if deserted, than mine is as her perpetual companion! The very thought makes my heart bleed. Yes! amiable, devoted, dearest Afy, I throw aside these morbid feelings; you shall never repent having placed your trust in me. I will be proud and happy of such a friend, and you shall be mine for ever!'
A shriek broke on the air: he started. It was near: he hastened after the sound. He entered into a small green glade surrounded by shrubs, where had been erected a fanciful hermitage. There he found Sir Lucius Grafton on his knees, grasping the hand of the indignant but terrified Miss Dacre. The Duke rushed forward; Miss Dacre ran to meet him; Sir Lucius rose.
'This lady, Sir Lucius Grafton, is under my protection,' said the young Duke, with a flashing eye but a calm voice. She clung to his arm; he bore her away. The whole was the affair of an instant.
The Duke and his companion proceeded in silence. She tried to hasten, but he felt her limbs shake upon his arm. He stopped: no one, not even a servant, was near. He could not leave her for an instant. There she stood trembling, her head bent down, and one hand clasping the other, which rested on his arm. Terrible was her struggle, but she would not faint, and at length succeeded in repressing her emotions. They were yet a considerable way from the house. She motioned with her left hand to advance; but still she did not speak. On they walked, though more slowly, for she was exhausted, and occasionally stopped for breath or strength.
At length she said, in a faint voice, 'I cannot join the party. I must go home directly. How can it be done?'
'Your companions?' said the Duke.
'Are of course engaged, or not to be found; but surely somebody I know is departing. Manage it: say I am ill.'
'O, Miss Dacre! if you knew the agony of my mind!'
'Do not speak; for Heaven's sake, do not speak!'
He turned off from the lawn, and approached by a small circuit the gate of the ground. Suddenly he perceived a carriage on the point of going off. It was the Duchess of Shropshire's.
'There is the Duchess of Shropshire! You know her; but not a minute is to be lost. There is such a noise, they will not hear. Are you afraid to stop here one instant by yourself? I shall not be out of sight, and not away a second. I run very quick.'
'No, no, I am not afraid. Go, go!'
Away rushed the Duke of St. James as if his life were on his speed. He stopped the carriage, spoke, and was back in an instant.
'Lean, lean on me with all your strength. I have told everything necessary to Lady Shropshire. Nobody will speak a word, because they believe you have a terrible headache. I will say everything necessary to Mrs. Dallington and your cousin. Do not give yourself a moment's uneasiness. And, oh! Miss Dacre! if I might say one word!'
She did not stop him.
'If,' continued he, 'it be your wish that the outrage of to-night should be known only to myself and him, I pledge my word it shall be so; though willingly, if I were authorised, I would act a different part in this affair.'
'It is my wish.' She spoke in a low voice, with her eyes still upon the ground. 'And I thank you for this, and for all.'
They had now joined the Shropshires; but it was now discovered Miss Dacre had no shawl: and sundry other articles were wanting, to the evident dismay of the Ladies Wrekin. They offered theirs, but their visitor refused, and would not allow the Duke to fetch her own. Off they drove; but when they had proceeded above half a mile, a continued shout on the road, which the fat coachman for a long time would not hear, stopped them, and up came the Duke of St. James, covered with dust, and panting like a racer, with Miss Dacre's shawl.
SO MUCH time was occupied by this adventure of the shawl, and by making requisite explanations to Mrs. Dallington Vere, that almost the whole of the guests had retired, when the Duke found himself again in the saloon. His brother-hosts, too, were off with various parties, to which they had attached themselves. He found the Fitz-pompeys and a few still lingering for their carriages, and Arundel Dacre and his fair admirer. His Grace had promised to return with Lady Afy, and was devising some scheme by which he might free himself from this, now not very suitable, engagement, when she claimed his arm. She was leaning on it, and talking to Lady Fitz-pompey, when Sir Lucius approached, and, with his usual tone, put a note into the Duke's hand, saying at the same time, 'This appears to belong to you. I shall go to town with Piggott;' and then he walked away.
With the wife leaning on his arm, the young Duke had the pleasure of reading the following lines, written with the pencil of the husband:—
'After what has just occurred, only one more meeting can take place between us, and the sooner that takes place the better for all parties. This is no time for etiquette. I shall be in Kensington Gardens, in the grove on the right side of the summer-house, at half-past six to-morrow morning, and shall doubtless find you there.'
Sir Lucius was not out of sight when the Duke had finished reading his cartel. Making some confused excuse to Lady Afy, which was not expected, he ran after the Baronet, and soon reached him.
'Grafton, I shall be punctual: but there is one point on which I wish to speak to you at once. The cause of this meeting may be kept, I hope, a secret?'
'So far as I am concerned, an inviolable one,' bowed the Baronet, stiffly; and they parted.
The Duke returned satisfied, for Sir Lucius Grafton ever observed his word, to say nothing of the great interest which he surely had this time in maintaining his pledge.
Our hero thought that he never should reach London. The journey seemed a day; and the effort to amuse Lady Afy, and to prevent her from suspecting, by his conduct, that anything had occurred, was most painful. Silent, however, he at last became; but her mind, too, was engaged, and she supposed that her admirer was quiet only because, like herself, he was happy. At length they reached her house, but he excused himself from entering, and drove on immediately to Annesley. He was at Lady Bloomerly's. Lord Darrell had not returned, and his servant did not expect him. Lord Squib was never to be found.
The Duke put on a great coat over his uniform and drove to White's; it was really a wilderness. Never had he seen fewer men there in his life, and there were none of his set. The only young-looking man was old Colonel Carlisle, who, with his skilfully enamelled cheek, flowing auburn locks, shining teeth, and tinted whiskers, might have been mistaken for gay twenty-seven, instead of grey seventy-two; but the Colonel had the gout, to say nothing of any other objections.
The Duke took up the 'Courier' and read three or four advertisements of quack medicines, but nobody entered. It was nearly midnight: he got nervous. Somebody came in; Lord Hounslow for his rubber. Even his favoured child, Bagshot, would be better than nobody. The Duke protested that the next acquaintance who entered should be his second, old or young. His vow had scarcely been registered when Arundel Dacre came in alone. He was the last man to whom the Duke wished to address himself, but Fate seemed to have decided it, and the Duke walked up to him.
'Mr. Dacre, I am about to ask of you a favour to which I have no claim.'
Mr. Dacre looked a little confused, and murmured his willingness to do anything.
'To be explicit, I am engaged in an affair of honour of an urgent nature. Will you be my friend?'
'Willingly.' He spoke with more ease. 'May I ask the name of the other party, the—the cause of the meeting?'
'The other party is Sir Lucius Grafton.'
'Hum!' said Arundel Dacre, as if he were no longer curious about the cause. 'When do you meet?'
'At half-past six, in Kensington Gardens, to-morrow; I believe I should say this morning.'
'Your Grace must be wearied,' said Arundel, with unusual ease and animation. 'Now, follow my advice. Go home at once and get some rest. Give yourself no trouble about preparations; leave everything to me. I will call upon you at half-past five precisely, with a chaise and post-horses, which will divert suspicion. Now, good night!'
'But really, your rest must be considered; and then all this trouble!'
'Oh! I have been in the habit of sitting up all night. Do not think of me; nor am I quite inexperienced in these matters, in too many of which I have unfortunately been engaged in Germany.'
The young men shook hands, and the Duke hastened home. Fortunately the Bird of Paradise was at her own establishment in Baker Street, a bureau where her secretary, in her behalf, transacted business with the various courts of Europe and the numerous cities of Great Britain. Here many a negotiation was carried on for opera engagements at Vienna, or Paris, or Berlin, or St. Petersburg. Here many a diplomatic correspondence conducted the fate of the musical festivals of York, or Norwich, or Exeter.
An Affair of Honour.
LET us return to Sir Lucius Grafton. He is as mad as any man must be who feels that the imprudence of a moment has dashed the ground all the plans, and all the hopes, and all the great results, over which he had so often pondered. The great day from which he had expected so much had passed, nor was it possible for four-and-twenty hours more completely to have reversed all his feelings and all his prospects. Miss Dacre had shared the innocent but unusual and excessive gaiety which had properly become a scene of festivity at once so agreeable, so various, and so novel. Sir Lucius Grafton had not been insensible to the excitement. On the contrary his impetuous passions seemed to recall the former and more fervent days of his career, and his voluptuous mind dangerously sympathised with the beautiful and luxurious scene. He was elated, too, with the thought that his freedom would perhaps be sealed this evening, and still more by his almost constant attendance on his fascinating companion. As the particular friend of the Dacre family, and as the secret ally of Mrs. Dallington Vere, he in some manner contrived always to be at Miss Dacre's side. With the laughing but insidious pretence that he was now almost too grave and staid a personage for such scenes, he conversed with few others, and humourously maintaining that his 'dancing days were over,' danced with none but her. Even when her attention was engaged by a third person, he lingered about, and with his consummate knowledge of the world, easy wit, and constant resources, generally succeeded in not only sliding into the conversation, but engrossing it. Arundel Dacre, too, although that young gentleman had not departed from his usual coldness in favour of Sir Lucius Grafton, the Baronet would most provokingly consider as his particular friend; never seemed to be conscious that his reserved companion was most punctilious in his address to him; but on the contrary, called him in return 'Dacre,' and sometimes 'Arundel.' In vain young Dacre struggled to maintain his position. His manner was no match for that of Sir Lucius Grafton. Annoyed with himself, he felt confused, and often quitted his cousin that he might be free of his friend. Thus Sir Lucius Grafton contrived never to permit Miss Dacre to be alone with Arundel, and to her he was so courteous, so agreeable, and so useful, that his absence seemed always a blank, or a period in which something ever went wrong.
The triumphant day rolled on, and each moment Sir Lucius felt more sanguine and more excited. We will not dwell upon the advancing confidence of his desperate mind. Hope expanded into certainty, certainty burst into impatience. In a desperate moment he breathed his passion.
May Dacre was the last girl to feel at a loss in such a situation. No one would have rung him out of a saloon with an air of more contemptuous majesty. But the shock, the solitary strangeness of the scene, the fear, for the first time, that none were near, and perhaps, also, her exhausted energy, frightened her, and she shrieked. One only had heard that shriek, yet that one was legion. Sooner might the whole world know the worst than this person suspect the least. Sir Lucius was left silent with rage, mad with passion, desperate with hate.
He gasped for breath. Now his brow burnt, now the cold dew ran off his countenance in streams. He clenched his fist, he stamped with agony, he found at length his voice, and he blasphemed to the unconscious woods.
His quick brain flew to the results like lightning. The Duke had escaped from his mesh; his madness had done more to win this boy Miss Dacre's heart than an age of courtship. He had lost the idol of his passion; he was fixed for ever with the creature of his hate. He loathed the idea. He tottered into the hermitage, and buried his face in his hands.
Something must be done. Some monstrous act of energy must repair this fatal blunder. He appealed to the mind which had never deserted him. The oracle was mute. Yet vengeance might even slightly redeem the bitterness of despair. This fellow should die; and his girl, for already he hated Miss Dacre, should not triumph in her minion. He tore a leaf from his tablets, and wrote the lines we have already read.
The young Duke reached home. You expect, of course, that he sat up all night making his will and answering letters. By no means. The first object that caught his eye was an enormous ottoman. He threw himself upon it without undressing, and without speaking a word to Luigi, and in a moment was fast asleep. He was fairly exhausted. Luigi stared, and called Spiridion to consult. They agreed that they dare not go to bed, and must not leave their lord; so they played ecarte, till at last they quarrelled and fought with the candles over the table. But even this did not wake their unreasonable master; so Spiridion threw down a few chairs by accident; but all in vain. At half-past five there was a knocking at the gate, and they hurried away.
Arundel Dacre entered with them, woke the Duke, and praised him for his punctuality. His Grace thought that he had only dozed a few minutes; but time pressed; five minutes arranged his toilet, and they were first on the field.
In a moment Sir Lucius and Mr. Piggott appeared. Arundel Dacre, on the way, had anxiously enquired as to the probability of reconciliation, but was told at once it was impossible, so now he measured the ground and loaded the pistols with a calmness which was admirable. They fired at once; the Duke in the air, and the Baronet in his friend's side. When Sir Lucius saw his Grace fall his hate vanished. He ran up with real anxiety and unfeigned anguish.
'Have I hit you? by h-ll!'
His Grace was magnanimous, but the case was urgent. A surgeon gave a favourable report, and extracted the ball on the spot. The Duke was carried back to his chaise, and in an hour was in the state bed, not of the Alhambra, but of his neglected mansion.