Part 6 out of 10
'Well, perhaps you are right. The eyebrows are a little weak and
undecided, Seraphine, as you say, and the lashes would be all the better
for your famous cosmetic; but after all there is a charm in what the
painters call "sincerity," and any little errors of detail will prove
the genuineness of Lady Lesbia's beauty. One _may_ be too artistic.'
And Lady Kirkbank gave a complacent glance at her own image in one of
the Marie Antoinette mirrors, pleased with the general effect of arched
brows, darkened eyelids, and a daisy bonnet. The fair Georgie generally
affected field-flowers and other simplicities, which would have been
becoming to a beauty of eighteen.
'One is obliged to smother one's self in satin and velvet for balls and
dinners,' said Lady Kirkbank, when she discussed the great question of
gowns; 'but I know I always look my best in my cotton frock and straw
That first visit to Seraphine's den--den as terrible, did one but know
it, as that antediluvian hyena-cave at Torquay, where the threshold is
worn by the bodies of beasts dragged across it, and the ground paved
with their bones--that first visit was a serious business. Later
interviews might be mere frivolities, half-an-hour wasted in looking at
new fashions, an order given carelessly on the spur of the moment; but
upon this occasion Lady Kirkbank had to arm her young _protegee_ for the
coming campaign, and the question was to the last degree serious.
The chaperon and the dressmaker put their heads together, looked at
fashion plates, talked solemnly of Worth and his compeers, of the gowns
that were being worn by Bernhardt, and Pierson, and Croisette, and other
stars of the Parisian stage; and then Lady Kirkbank gave her orders,
Lesbia listening and assenting.
Nothing was said about prices; but Lesbia had a vague idea that some of
the things would be rather expensive, and she ventured to ask Lady
Kirkbank if she were not ordering too many gowns.
'My dear, Lady Maulevrier said you were to have _carte blanche_,'
replied Georgie, solemnly. 'Your dear grandmother is as rich as Croesus,
and she is generosity itself; and how should I ever forgive myself if I
allowed you to appear in society in an inadequate style. You have to
take a high place, the very highest place, Lesbia; and you must be
dressed in accordance with that position.'
Lesbia said no more. After all it was Lady Kirkbank's business and not
hers. See had been entrusted to Lady Kirkbank as to a person who
thoroughly knew the great world, and she must submit to be governed by
the wisdom and experience of her chaperon. If the bills were heavy, that
would be Lady Kirkbank's affair; and no doubt dear grandmother was rich
enough to afford anything Lesbia wanted. She had been told that she was
to take rank among heiresses.
Lady Maulevrier had given her granddaughter some old-fashioned
ornaments, topaz, amethysts, turquoise--jewels that had belonged to dead
and gone Talmashes and Angersthorpes--to be reset. This entailed a visit
to a Bond Street jeweller, and in the dazzling glass-cases on the
counter of the Bond Street establishment Lesbia saw a good many things
which she felt were real necessities to her new phase of existence, and
these, with Lady Kirkbank's approval, she ordered. They were not
important matters. Half-a-dozen gold bangles of real oriental
workmanship, three or four jewelled arrows, flies and beetles, and
caterpillars, to pin on her laces and flowers, a diamond clasp for her
pearl necklace, a dear little gold hunter to wear when she rode in the
park, a diamond butterfly to light up that old-fashioned amethyst
_parure_ which the jeweller was to reset with an artistic admixture of
'I am sure you would not like the effect without diamonds,' said the
jeweller. 'Your amethysts are very fine, but they are dark and heavy in
tone, and want a good deal of lighting-up, especially for the present
fashion of half-lighted rooms. If you will allow me to use my own
discretion, and mix in a few brilliants, I shall be able to produce a
really artistic _parure_; otherwise I would not recommend you to touch
them. The present setting is clumsy and inelegant; but I really do not
know that I could improve upon it, without an admixture of brilliants.'
'Will the diamonds add very much to the expense?' Lesbia inquired,
'My dear child, you are perfectly safe in leaving the matter in Mr.
Cabochon's hands,' interposed Lady Kirkbank, who had particular reasons
for wishing to be on good terms with the head of the establishment. 'Your
dear grandmother gave you the amethysts to be reset; and of course she
would wish it to be done in an artistic manner. Otherwise, as Mr.
Cabochon judiciously says, why have the stones reset at all? Better wear
them in all their present hideousness.'
Of course, after this Lesbia consented to the amethysts being dealt with
according to Mr. Cabochon's taste.
'Which is simply perfect,' interjected Lady Kirkbank.
And now Lesbia's campaign began in real earnest--a life of pleasure, a
life of utter selfishness and self-indulgence, which would go far to
pervert the strongest mind, tarnish the purest nature. To dress and be
admired--that was what Lesbia's life meant from morning till night. She
had no higher or nobler aim. Even on Sunday mornings at the fashionable
church, where the women sat on one side of the nave and the men on the
other, where divinest music was as a pair of wings, on which the
enraptured soul flew heavenward--even here Lesbia thought more of her
bonnet and gloves--the _chic_ or non-_chic_ of her whole costume, than
of the service. She might kneel gracefully, with her bent head, just
revealing the ivory whiteness of a lovely throat, between the edge of
her lace frilling and the flowers in her bonnet. She might look the
fairest image of devotion; but how could a woman pray whose heart was a
milliner's shop, whose highest ambition was to be prettier and better
dressed than other women?
The season was six weeks old. It was Ascot week, the crowning glory of
the year, and Lesbia and her chaperon had secured tickets for the Royal
enclosure--or it may be said rather that Lesbia had secured them--for
the Master of the Royal Buckhounds might have omitted poor old Lady
Kirkbank's familiar name from his list if it had not been for that
lovely girl who went everywhere under the veteran's wing.
Six weeks, and Lesbia's appearance in society had been one perpetual
triumph; but as yet nothing serious had happened. She had had no offers.
Half a dozen men had tried their hardest to propose to her--had sat out
dances, had waylaid her in conservatories and in back drawing-rooms, in
lobbies while she waited for her carriage--had looked at her piteously
with tenderest declarations trembling on their lips; but she had
contrived to keep them at bay, to strike them dumb by her coldness, or
confound them by her coquetry; for all these were ineligibles, whom Lady
Lesbia Haselden did not want to have the trouble of refusing.
Lady Kirkbank was in no haste to marry her _protegee_--nay, it was much
more to her interest that Lesbia should remain single for three or four
seasons, and that she, Lady Kirkbank, might have the advantage of close
association with the young beauty, and the privilege of spending Lady
Maulevrier's money. But she would have liked to be able to inform
Lesbia's grandmother of some tremendous conquest--the subjugation of a
worthy victim. This herd of nobodies--younger sons with courtesy titles
and empty pockets, ruined Guardsmen, briefless barristers--what was the
use of telling Lady Maulevrier about such barren victories? Lady
Kirkbank therefore contented herself with expatiating upon Lesbia's
triumphs in a general way: how graciously the Princess spoke to her and
about her; how she had been asked to sit on the dais at the ball at
Marlborough House, and had danced in the Royal quadrille.
'Has Lesbia happened to meet Lord Hartfield?' Lady Maulevrier asked,
incidentally, in one of her letters.
No. Lord Hartfield was in London, for he had made a great speech in the
Lords on a question of vital interest; but he was not going into
society, or at any rate into society of a frivolous kind. He had given
himself up to politics, as so many young men did nowadays, which was
altogether horrid of them. His name had appeared in the list of guests
at one or two cabinet dinners; but the world of polo matches and
afternoon teas, dances and drums, private theatricals, and Orleans House
suppers, knew him not. As a competitor on the fashionable race-course,
Lord Hartfield was, in common parlance, out of the running.
And now on this glorious June day, this Thursday of Thursdays, the Ascot
Cup day, for the first time since Lesbia's debut, Lady Kirkbank had
occasion to smile upon an admirer whose pretensions were worthy of the
Mr. Smithson, of Park Lane, and Rood Hall, near Henley, and Formosa,
Cowes, and Le Bouge, Deauville, and a good many other places too
numerous to mention, was reputed to be one of the richest commoners in
England. He was a man of that uncertain period of life which enemies
call middle age, and friends call youth. That he would never see a
five-and-thirtieth birthday again was certain; but whether he had passed
the Rubicon of forty was open to doubt. It is possible that he was
enjoying those few golden years between thirty-five and forty, which for
the wealthy bachelor constitute verily the prime and summer-tide of
life. Wisdom has come, experience has been bought, taste has been
cultivated, the man has educated himself to the uttermost in the great
school of daily life. He knows his world thoroughly, whatever that world
is, and he knows how to enjoy every gift and every advantage which
Providence has bestowed upon him.
Mr. Smithson was a great authority on the Stock Exchange, though he had
ceased for the last three or four years to frequent the 'House,' or to
be seen in the purlieus of Throgmorton Street. Indeed he had an air of
hardly knowing his way to the City, of being acquainted with that part
of London only by hearsay. He complained that his horses shied at
passing Temple Bar. And yet a few years ago Mr. Smithson's city
operations had been on a very extensive scale: It was in the rise and
fall of commodities rather than of stocks and shares that Horace
Smithson had made his money. He had exercised occult influences upon the
trade of the great city, of the world itself, whereof that city is in a
manner the keystone. Iron had risen or fallen at his beck. At the breath
of his nostrils cochineal had gone up in the market at an almost magical
rate, as if the whole civilised world had become suddenly intent upon
dyeing its garments red, nay, as if even the naked savages of the Gold
Coast and the tribes of Central Africa were bent on staining their dusky
skins with the bodies of the female coccus.
Favoured by a hint from Smithson, his particular friends followed his
lead, and rushed into the markets to buy all the cochineal that could be
had; to buy at any price, since the market was rising hourly. And then,
all in a moment, as the sky clouds over on a summer day, there came a
dulness in the cochineal market, and the female coccus was being sold at
an enormous sacrifice. And anon it leaked out that Mr. Smithson had
grown tired of cochineal, and had been selling for the last week or two;
and it was noised abroad that this rise and fall in cocci had brought
Mr. Smithson seventy thousand pounds.
Mr. Smithson was said to have commenced life in a very humble capacity.
There were some who declared he was the very youth who stooped to pick
up a pin in a Parisian banker's courtyard, after his services as clerk
had just been rejected by the firm, and who was thereupon recognised as
a youth worthy of favour and taken into the banker's office. But this
touching incident of the pin was too ancient a tradition to fit Mr.
Smithson, still under forty.
Some there were who remembered him eighteen years ago as an adventurer
in the great wilderness of London, penniless, friendless, a
Jack-of-all-trades, living as the birds of the air live, and with as
little certainty of future maintenance. And then Mr. Smithson
disappeared for a space--he went under, as his friends called it; to
re-appear fifteen years later as Smithson the millionaire. He had been
in Peru, Mexico, California. He had traded in hides, in diamonds, in
silver, in stocks and shares. And now he was the great Smithson, whose
voice was the voice of an oracle, who was supposed to be able to make
the fortunes of other men by a word, or a wink, a nod, or a little look
across the crowd, and whom all the men and women in London
society--short of that exclusive circle which does _not_ open its ranks
to Smithsons--were ready to cherish and admire.
Mr. Smithson had been in Petersburg, Paris, Vienna, all over civilised
Europe during the last five weeks, whether on business or on pleasure
bent, nobody knew. He affected to be an elegant idler; but it was said
by the initiated that wherever Smithson went the markets rose or fell,
and hides, iron, copper, or tin, felt the influence of his presence.
He came back to London in time for the Cup Day, and in time to fall
desperately in love with Lesbia, whom he met for the first time in the
She was dressed in white, purest ivory white, from top to toe--radiant,
dazzling, under an immense sunshade fringed with creamy marabouts. Her
complexion--untouched by Seraphine--her dark and glossy hair, her large
violet eyes, luminous, dark almost to blackness, were all set off and
accentuated by the absence of colour in her costume. Even the cluster of
exotics on her shoulder were of the same pure tint, gardenias and lilies
of the valley.
Mr. Smithson was formally presented to the new beauty, and received with
a cool contempt which riveted his chains. He was so accustomed to be run
after by women, that it was a new sensation to meet one who was not in
the least impressed by his superior merits.
'I don't suppose the girl knows who I am,' he said to himself, for
although he had a very good idea of his intrinsic worth, he knew that
his wealth ranked first among his merits.
But on after occasions when Lesbia had been told all that could be told
to the advantage of Mr. Smithson, she accepted his homage with the same
indifference, and treated him with less favour than she accorded to the
ruined guardsmen and younger sons who were dying for her.
'PROUD CAN I NEVER BE OF WHAT I HATE.'
It was a Saturday afternoon, and even in that great world which has no
occupation in life except to amuse itself, whose days are all holidays,
there is a sort of exceptional flavour, a kind of extra excitement on
Saturday afternoons, distinguished by polo matches at Hurlingham, just
as Saturday evenings are by the production of new plays at fashionable
theatres. There was a great military polo match for this particular
Saturday--Lancers against Dragoons. It was a lovely June afternoon, and
Hurlingham would be at its best. The cool greensward, the branching
trees, the flowing river, would afford an unspeakable relief after the
block of carriages in Bond Street and the heated air of London, where
even the parks felt baked and arid; and to Hurlingham Lady Kirkbank
drove directly after luncheon.
Lesbia leaned back in the barouche listening calmly, while her chaperon
expatiated upon the wealth and possessions of Horace Smithson. It was
now ten days since the meeting at Ascot, and Mr. Smithson had contrived
to see a great deal of Lesbia in that short time. He was invited almost
everywhere, and he had haunted her at afternoon and evening parties; he
had supped in Arlington Street after the opera; he had played cards with
Lesbia, and had enjoyed the felicity of winning her money. His
admiration was obvious, and there was a seriousness in his manner of
pursuing her which showed that, in Lady Kirkbank's unromantic
phraseology, 'the man meant business.'
'Smithson is caught at last, and I am glad of it,' said Georgie.
'The creature is an abominable flirt, and has broken more hearts than
any man in London. He was all but the death of one of the dearest girls
'Mr. Smithson breaks hearts!' exclaimed Lesbia, languidly. 'I should not
have thought that was in his line. Mr. Smithson is not an Adonis, nor
are his manners particularly fascinating.'
'My child how fresh you are! Do you suppose it is the handsome men or
the fascinating men for whom women break their hearts in society? It is
the rich men they all want to marry--men like Smithson, who can give
them diamonds, and yachts, and a hunting stud, and half a dozen fine
houses. Those are the prizes--the blue ribbons of the matrimonial
race-course--men like Smithson, who pretend to admire all the pretty
women, who dangle, and dangle, and keep off other offers, and give ten
guinea bouquets, and then at the end of the season are off to Hombourg
or the Scotch moors, without a word. Do you think that kind of treatment
is not hard enough to break a penniless girl's heart? She sees the
golden prize within her grasp, as she believes; she thinks that she and
poverty have parted company for ever; she imagines herself mistress of
town house and country houses, yachts and stables; and then one fine
morning the gentleman is off and away! Do not you think that is enough
to break a girl's heart?'
'I can imagine that girl steeped to the lips in poverty might be willing
to marry Mr. Smithson's houses and yachts,' answered Lesbia, in her low
sweet voice, with a faint sneer even amidst the sweetness, 'but, I think
it must have been a happy release for any one to be let off the
sacrifice at the last moment.'
'Poor Belle Trinder did not think so.'
'Who was Belle Trinder?'
'An Essex parson's daughter whom I took under my wing five years ago--a
splendid girl, large and fair, and just a trifle coarse--not to be
spoken of in the same day with you, dearest; but still a decidedly
handsome creature. And she took remarkably well. She was a very lively
girl, "never ran mute," Sir George used to say. Sir George was very fond
of her. She amused him, poor girl, with her rather brainless rattle.'
'And Mr. Smithson admired her?'
'Followed her about everywhere, sent her whole flower gardens in the way
of bouquets and Japanese baskets, and floral _parures_ for her gowns,
and opera boxes and concert tickets. Their names were always coupled.
People used to call them Bel and the Dragon. The poor child made up her
mind she was to be Mrs. Smithson. She used to talk of what she would do
for her own people--the poor old father, buried alive in a damp
parsonage, and struggling every winter with chronic bronchitis; the four
younger sisters pining in dulness and penury; the mother who hardly knew
what it was to rest from the continual worries of daily life.'
'Poor things!' sighed Lesbia, gazing admiringly at the handle of her
last new sunshade.
'Belle used to talk of what she would do for them all,' pursued Lady
Kirkbank. 'Father should go every year to the villa at Monte Carlo;
mother and the girls should have a month in Park Lane every season, and
their autumn holiday at one of Mr. Smithson's country houses. I knew the
world well enough to be sure that this kind of thing would never answer
with a man like Smithson. It is only one man in a thousand--the modern
Arthur, the modern Quixote--who will marry a whole family. I told Belle
as much, but she laughed. She felt so secure of her power over the man.
"He will do anything I ask him," she said.'
'Miss Trinder must be an extraordinary young person,' observed Lesbia,
scornfully. 'The man had not proposed, had he?'
'No; the actual proposal hung fire, but Belle thought it was a settled
thing all the same. Everybody talked to her as if she were engaged to
Smithson, and those poor, ignorant vicarage girls used to write her long
letters of congratulation, envying her good fortune, speculating, about
what she would do when she was married. The girl was too open and candid
for London society--talked too much, "gave the view before she was sure
of her fox," Sir George said. All this silly talk came to Smithson's
ears, and one morning we read in the Post that Mr. Smithson had started
the day before for Algiers, where he was to stay at the house of the
English Consul, and hunt lions. We waited all day, hoping for some
letter of explanation, some friendly farewell which would mean _a
revoir_. But there was nothing, and then poor Belle gave way altogether.
She shut herself up in her room, and went out of one hysterical fit into
another. I never heard a girl sob so terribly. She was not fit to be
seen for a week, and then she went home to her father's parsonage in the
flat swampy country on the borders of Suffolk, and eat her heart, as
Byron calls it. And the worst of it was that she had no actual
justification for considering herself jilted. She had talked, and other
people had talked, and among them they had settled the business. But
Smithson had said hardly anything. He had only flirted to his heart's
content, and had spent a few hundreds upon flowers, gloves, fans, and
opera tickets, which perhaps would not have been accepted by a girl with
a strong sense of her own dignity.'
'I should think not, indeed,' interjected Lesbia.
'But which poor Belle was only too delighted to get.'
'Miss Trinder must be very bad style,' said Lesbia, with languid scorn,
'and Mr. Smithson is an execrable person. Did she die?'
'No, my dear, she is alive poor soul!'
'You said she broke her heart.'
'"The heart may break, yet brokenly live on,"' quoted Lady Kirkbank.
'The disappointed young women don't all die. They take to district
visiting, or rational dressing, or china painting, or an ambulance
brigade. The lucky ones marry well-to-do widowers with large families,
and so slip into a comfortable groove by the time they are
five-and-thirty. Poor Belle is still single, still buried in the damp
parsonage, where she paints plates and teacups, and wears out my old
gowns, just as she is wearing out her own life, poor creature!'
'The idea of any one wanting to marry Mr. Smithson,' said Lesbia. 'It
seems too dreadful.'
'A case of real destitution, you think. Wait till you have seen
Smithson's house in Park Lane--his team, his yacht, his orchid houses in
Lesbia sighed. Her knowledge of London society was only seven weeks old;
and yet already the day of disenchantment had begun! She was having her
eyes opened to the stern realities of life. A year ago when her
appearance in the great world was still only a dream of the future, she
had pictured to herself the crowd of suitors who would come to woo, and
she had resolved to choose the worthiest.
What would he be like, that worthiest among the wooers, that King Arthur
among her knights?
First and foremost, he would be of rank higher than her own--duke, a
marquis, or one of the first and oldest among earls. Title and lofty
lineage were indispensable. It would be a fall, a failure, a
disappointment, were she to marry a commoner, however distinguished.
The worthy one must be noble, therefore, and of the old nobility. He
must be young, handsome, intellectual. He must stand out from among his
peers by his gifts of mind and person. He must have won distinction in
the arena of politics or diplomacy, arms or letters. He must be
She had been seven weeks in society, and this modern Arthur had not
appeared. So far as she had been able to discover, there was no such
person. The dukes and marquises were mostly men of advanced years. The
young unmarried nobility were given over to sport, play, and
foolishness. She had heard of only one man who at all corresponded with
her ideal, and he was Lord Hartfield. But Lord Hartfield had given
himself up to politics, and was no doubt a prig. Lady Kirkbank spoke of
him with contempt, as an intolerable person. But then Lord Hartfield was
not in Lady Kirkbank's set. He belonged to that serious circle to which
Lady Kirkbank's house appeared about as reputable a place of gathering
as a booth on a race-course.
And now Lady Kirkbank told Lesbia that this Mr. Smithson, a nobody with
a great fortune, was a man whose addresses she, the sister of Lord
Maulevrier, ought to welcome. Mr. Smithson, who claimed to be a lineal
descendant of that Sir Michael Carrington, standard-bearer to Coeur de
Lion in the Holy Land, whose descendants changed their name to Smith
during the Wars of the Roses. Mr. Smithson bodily proclaimed himself a
scion of this good old county family, and bore on his plate and his
coach panels the elephant's head and the three demi-griffins of the
Hertfordshire Smiths, who only smiled and shrugged their shoulders when
they were complimented upon the splendid surroundings of their cousin.
Who could tell? Some lateral branch of the standard-bearer's family tree
might have borne this illustrious twig.
Lady Kirkbank and all Lady Kirkbank's friends seemed to have conspired
to teach Lesbia Haselden one lesson, and that lesson meant that money
was the first prize in the great game of life. Money ranked before
everything--before titles, before noble lineage, genius, fame, beauty,
courage, honour. Money was Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
Mr. Smithson, whose antecedents were as cloudy as those of Aphrodite,
was a greater man than a peer whose broad acres only brought him two per
cent., or half of whose farms were tenantless, and his fields growing
cockle instead of barley.
Yes, one by one, Lady Lesbia's illusions were reft from her. A year ago
she had fancied beauty all-powerful, a gift which must ensure to its
possessor dominion over all the kingdoms of the earth. Rank, intellect,
fame would bow down before that magical diadem. And, behold, she had
been shining upon London society for seven weeks, and only empty heads
and empty pockets had bowed down--the frivolous, the ineligible,--and
Another illusion which had been dispelled was Lesbia's comfortable idea
of her own expectations. Her grandmother had told her that she might
take rank among heiresses; and she had held herself accordingly, deeming
that her place was among the wealthiest. And now, since Mr. Smithson's
appearance upon the scene, Lady Kirkbank had informed her young friend
with noble candour that Lady Maulevrier's fortune, however large it
might seem at Grasmere, would be a poor thing in London; and that Lady
Maulevrier's ideas about money were as old-fashioned as her notions
'Life is about six times as expensive as it was in your grandmother's
time.' said Lady Kirkbank, as the carriage rolled softly along the
shabby road between Knightsbridge and Fulham. 'It is the pace that
kills. Society, which used to jog along comfortably, like the old
Brighton stage, at ten miles an hour, now goes as fast as the Brighton
express. In my mother's time poor Lord Byron was held up to the
execration of respectable people as the type of cynical profligacy; in
my own time people talked about Lord Waterford; but, my dear, the young
men now are all Byrons and Waterfords, without the genius of the one or
the generosity of the other. We are all going at steeplechase rate.
Social success without money is impossible. The rich Americans, the
successful Jews, will crowd us out unless we keep pace with them. Ah,
Lesbia, my dear girl, there would be a great future before you if you
could only make up your mind to accept Mr. Smithson.'
'How do you know that he means to propose to me?' asked Lesbia,
mockingly. 'Perhaps he is only going to behave as he did to Miss
'Lady Lesbia Haselden is a very different person from a country parson's
daughter,' answered her chaperon; 'Smithson told me all about it
afterwards. He was really taken with Belle's fine figure and good
complexion; but one of her particular friends told him of her foolish
talk about her sisters, and how well she meant to get them married when
she was Mrs. Smithson. This disgusted him. He went down to Essex,
reconnoitered the parsonage, saw one of the sisters hanging out cuffs
and collars in the orchard--another feeding the fowls--both in shabby
gowns and country-made boots; one of them with red hair and freckles.
The mother was bargaining for fish with a hawker at the kitchen door.
And these were the people he was expected to import into Park Lane,
under ceilings painted by Leighton. These were the people he was to
exhibit on board his yacht, to cart about on his drag. "I had half made
up my mind to marry the girl, but I would sooner have hung myself than
marry her mother and sisters so I took the first train for Dover, en
route for Algiers," said Smithson, and upon my word I could hardly blame
the man,' concluded Lady Kirkbank.
They were driving up the narrow avenue to the gates of Hurlingham by
this time. Lesbia shock out her frock and looked at her gloves,
tan-coloured mousquetaires, reaching up to the elbow, and embroidered to
match her frock.
To-day she was a study in brown and gold. Brown satin petticoat
embroidered with marsh marigolds; little bronze shoes, with marsh
marigolds tied on the lachets; brown stockings with marsh marigold
clocks; tunic brown foulard smothered with quillings of soft brown lace;
Princess bonnet of brown straw, with a wreath of marsh marigold and a
neat little buckle of brown diamonds; parasol brown satin, with an
immense bunch of marsh marigolds on the top; fan to match parasol.
The seats in front of the field were nearly all full when Lady Kirkbank
and Lesbia left their carriage; but their interests had been protected
by a gentleman who had turned down two chairs and sat between them on
guard. This was Mr. Smithson.
'I have been sitting here for an hour keeping your chairs,' he said, as
he rose to greet them. 'You have no idea what work I have had, and how
ferociously all the women have looked at me.'
The match was going on. The Lancers were scuffling for the ball, and
affording a fine display of hog-maned ponies and close-cropped young men
in ideal boots. But Lesbia cared very little about the match. She was
looking along the serried ranks of youth and beauty to see if anybody's
frock was smarter than her own.
No. She could see nothing she liked so well as her brown satin and
buttercups. She sat down in a perfectly contented frame of mind, pleased
with herself and with Seraphine--pleased even with Mr. Smithson, who had
shown himself devoted by his patient attendance upon the empty chairs.
After the match was over the two ladies and their attendant strolled
about the gardens. Other men came and fluttered round Lesbia, and women
and girls exchanged endearing smiles and pretty little words of greeting
with her, and envied her the brown frock and buttercups and Mr. Smithson
at her chariot wheel. And then they went to the lawn in front of the
club-house, which was so crowded that even Mr. Smithson found it
difficult to get a tea-table, and would hardly have succeeded so soon as
he did if it had not been for the assistance of a couple of Lesbia's
devoted Guardsmen, who ran to and fro and badgered the waiters.
After much skirmishing they were seated at a rustic table, the blue
river gleaming and glancing in the distance, the good old trees
spreading their broad shadows over the grass, the company crowding and
chattering and laughing--an animated picture of pretty faces, smart
gowns, big parasols, Japanese fans.
Lesbia poured out the tea with the prettiest air of domesticity.
'Can you really pour out tea?' gasped a callow lieutenant, gazing upon
her with goggling, enraptured eyes. 'I did not think you could do
anything so earthly.'
'I can, and drink it too,' answered Lesbia, laughing. 'I adore tea.
Cream and sugar?'
'I--I beg your pardon--how many?' murmured the youth, who had lost
himself in gazing, and no longer understood plain English.
Mr. Smithson frowned at the intruder, and contrived to absorb Lesbia's
attention for the rest of the afternoon. He had a good deal more to say
for himself than her military admirers, and was altogether more amusing.
He had a little cynical air which Lesbia's recent education had taught
her to enjoy. He depreciated all her female friends--abused their gowns
and bonnets, and gave her to understand, between the lines, as it were,
that she was the only woman in London worth thinking about.
She looked at him curiously, wondering how Belle Trinder had been able
to resign herself to the idea of marrying him.
He was not absolutely bad looking--but he was in all things unlike a
girl's ideal lover. He was short and stout, with a pale complexion, and
sunken faded eyes, as of a man who had spent the greater part of his
life by candle light, and had pored much over ledgers and bank books,
share lists and prospectuses. He dressed well, or allowed himself to be
dressed by the most correct of tailors--the Prince's tailor--but he
never attempted to lead the fashion in his garments. He had no
originality. Such sublime flights as that of the man who revived
corduroy, or of that daring genius who resuscitated the half-forgotten
Inverness coat, were unknown to him. He could only follow the lead of
the highest. He had small feet, of which he was intensely proud, podgy
white hands on which he wore the most exquisite rings. He changed his
rings every day, like a Roman Emperor; was reported to have summer and
winter rings--onyx and the coolest looking intaglios set in filagree for
warm weather--fiery rubies and diamonds in massive bands of dull gold
for winter. He was said to devote half-an-hour every morning to the
treatment of his nails, which were perfect. All the inkstains of his
youth had been obliterated, and those nails which had once been bitten
to the quick during the throes of financial study were now things of
Lady Lesbia surveyed Mr. Smithson critically, and shuddered at the
thought that this person was the best substitute which the season had
yet offered her for her ideal knight. She thought of John Hammond, the
tall, strong figure, straight and square; the head so proudly carried on
a neck which would have graced a Greek arena. The straight, clearly-cut
features, the flashing eyes, bright with youth and hope and the promise
of all good things. Yes, there was indeed a man--a man in all the
nobility of manhood, as God made him, an Adam before the Fall.
Ah, if John Hammond had only possessed a quarter of Mr. Smithson's
wealth how gladly would Lesbia have defied the world and married him.
But to defy the world upon nothing a year was out of the question.
'Why didn't he go on the Stock Exchange and make his fortune?' thought
Lesbia, pettishly, 'instead of talking vaguely about politics and
She felt angry with her rejected lover for having come to her
empty-handed. She had seen no man in London who was, or who seemed to
her, his equal. And yet she did not repent of having rejected him. The
more she knew of the world and the more she knew of herself the more
deeply was she convinced that poverty was an evil thing, and that she
was not the right kind of person to endure it.
She was inwardly making these comparisons as they strolled back to the
carriage, while Mr. Smithson and Lady Kirkbank talked confidentially at
'Do you know that Lady Kirkbank has promised and vowed three things for
you?' said Mr. Smithson.
'Indeed! I thought I was past the age at which one can be compromised by
other people's promises. Pray what are those three things?'
'First, that you will come to breakfast in Park Lane with Lady Kirkbank
next Wednesday morning. I say Wednesday because that will give me time
to ask some nice people to meet you; secondly, that you will honour me
by occupying my box at the Lyceum some evening next week; and thirdly,
that you will allow me to drive you down to the Orleans for supper after
the play. The drive only takes an hour, and the moonlight nights are
delicious at this time of the year.'
'I am in Lady Kirkbank's hands,' answered Lesbia, laughing. 'I am her
goods, her chattels; she takes me wherever she likes.'
'But would you refuse to do me this honour if you were a free agent?'
'I can't tell. I hardly know what it is to be a free agent. At Grasmere
I did whatever my grandmother told me; in London I obey Lady Kirkbank. I
was transferred from one master to another. Why should we breakfast in
Park Lane instead of in Arlington Street? What is the use of crossing
Piccadilly to eat our breakfast?'
This was a cool-headed style of treatment to which Mr. Smithson was not
accustomed, and which charmed him accordingly. Young women usually threw
themselves at his head, as it were; but here was a girl who talked to
him as indifferently as if he were a tradesman offering his wares.
'What a dreadfully practical person you are?' he exclaimed. 'What is the
use of crossing Piccadilly? Well, in the first place, you will make me
ineffably happy. But perhaps that doesn't count. In the second place, I
shall be able to show you some rather good pictures of the French
'I hate the French school!' interjected Lesbia. 'Tricky, flashy, chalky,
shallow, smelling of the footlights and the studio.'
'Well, sink the pictures. You will meet some very charming people,
belonging to that artist world which is not to be met everywhere.'
'I will go to Park Lane to meet your people, if Lady Kirkbank likes to
take me,' said Lesbia; and with this answer Mr. Smithson was bound to be
'My pet, if you had made it the study of your life how to treat that man
you could not do it better,' said Lady Kirkbank, when they were driving
along the dusty road between dusty hedges and dusty trees, past that
last remnant of country which was daily being debased into London.
'Upon my word, Lesbia, I begin to think you must be a genius.'
'Did you see any gowns you liked better than mine?' asked Lesbia,
reclining reposefully, with her little bronze shoes upon the opposite
'Not one--Seraphine has surpassed herself.'
'You are always saying that. One would suppose you were a sleeping
partner in the firm. But I really think this brown and buttercups is
rather nice. I saw that odious American girl just now--Miss--Miss
Milwaukee, that mop-stick girl people raved about at Cannes. She was in
pale blue and cream colour, a milk and water mixture, and looked
LESBIA CROSSES PICCADILLY.
Lady Kirkbank and Lady Lesbia drove across Piccadilly at eleven o'clock
on Wednesday morning to breakfast with Mr. Smithson, and although Lesbia
had questioned whether it was worth while crossing Piccadilly to eat
one's breakfast, she had subsequently considered it worth while ordering
a new gown from Seraphine for the occasion; or, it may be, rather that
the breakfast made a plausible excuse for a new gown, the pleasure of
ordering which was one of those joys of a London life that had not yet
lost their savour.
The gown, devised especially for the early morning, was simplicity
itself--rusticity, even. It was a Dresden shepherdess gown, made of a
soft flowered stuff, with roses and forget-me-nots on a creamy ground.
There was a great deal of creamy lace, and innumerable yards of palest
azure and palest rose ribbon in the confection, and there was a
coquettish little hat, the regular Dresden hat, with a wreath of
'Dresden china incarnate!' exclaimed Smithson, as he welcomed Lady
Lesbia on the threshold of his marble hall, under the glass marquise
which sheltered arrivals at his door. 'Why do you make yourself so
lovely? I shall want to keep you in one of my Louis Seize cabinets, with
the rest of my Dresden!'
Lady Kirkbank had considered the occasion suitable for one of her
favourite cotton frocks and rustic hats--a Leghorn hat, with clusters Of
dog-roses and honeysuckle, and a trail of the same hedge-flowers to
fasten her muslin fichu.
Mr. Smithson's house in Park Lane was simply perfect. It is wonderful
what good use a _parvenu_ can make of his money nowadays, and how rarely
he disgraces himself by any marked offences against good taste. There
are so many people at hand to teach the _parvenu_ how to furnish his
house, or how to choose his stud. If he go wrong it must be by sheer
perversity, an arrogant insistence upon being governed by his own
Mr. Smithson was too good a tactician to go wrong in this way. He had
taken the trouble to study the market before he went out to buy his
goods. He knew that taste and knowledge were to be bought just as easily
as chairs and tables, and he went to the right shop. He employed a
clever Scotchman, an artist in domestic furniture, to plan his house,
and make drawings for the decoration and furniture of every room--and
for six months he gave himself up to the task of furnishing.
Money was spent like water. Painters, decorators, cabinet-makers had a
merry time of it. Royal Academicians were impressed into the service by
large offers, and the final result of Mr. MacWalter's taste and Mr.
Smithson's bullion was a palace in the style of the Italian Renaissance,
frescoed ceilings, painted panels, a staircase of sculptured marble, as
beautiful as a dream, a conservatory as exquisite as a jewel casket by
Benvenuto Cellini, a picture gallery which was the admiration of all
London, and of the enlightened foreigner, and of the inquiring American.
This was the house which Lesbia had been brought to see, and through
which she walked with the calmly critical air of a person who had seen
so many palaces that one more or less could make no difference.
In vain did Mr. Smithson peruse her countenance in the hope of seeing
that she was impressed by the splendour of his surroundings, and by the
power of the man who commanded such splendour. Lesbia was as cold as the
Italian sculptor's Reading Girl in an alcove of Mr. Smithson's picture
gallery; and the stockbroker felt very much as Aladdin might have done
if the fair Badroulbadour had shown herself indifferent to the hall of
the jewelled windows, in that magical palace which sprang into being in
a single night.
Lesbia had been impressed by that story of poor Belle Trinder and by
Lady Kirkbank's broad assertion that half the young women in London were
running after Mr. Smithson; and she had made up her mind to treat the
man with supreme scorn. She did not want his houses or his yachts.
Nothing could induce her to marry such a man, she told herself; but her
vanity fed upon the idea of his subjugation, and her pride was gratified
by the sense of her power over him.
The guests were few and choice. There was Mr. Meander, the poet, one of
the leading lights in that new sect which prides itself upon the
cultivation of abstract beauty, and occasionally touches the verge of
concrete ugliness. There were a newspaper man--the editor of a
fashionable journal--and a middle-aged man of letters, playwright,
critic, humourist, a man whose society was in demand everywhere, and who
said sharp things with the most supreme good-nature. The only ladies
whose society Mr. Smithson had deemed worthy the occasion were a
fashionable actress, with her younger sister, the younger a pretty copy
of the elder, both dressed picturesquely in flowing cashmere gowns of
faint sea-green, with old lace fichus, leghorn hats, and a general
limpness and simplicity of style which suited their cast of feature and
delicate colouring. Lesbia wondered to see how good an effect could be
produced by a costume which could have cost so little. Mr. Nightshade,
the famous tragedian, had been also asked to grace the feast, but the
early hour made the invitation a mockery. It was not to be supposed that
a man who went to bed at daybreak would get up again before the sun was
in the zenith, for the sake of Mr. Smithson's society, or Mr. Smithson's
Strasbourg pie, for the manufacture whereof a particular breed of geese
were supposed to be set apart, like sacred birds in Egypt, while a
particular vineyard in the Gironde was supposed to be devoted wholly and
solely to the production of Mr. Smithson's claret. It was a cabinet
wine, like those rare vintages of the Rhineland which are reserved
exclusively for German princes.
Breakfast was served in Mr. Smithson's smallest dining-room--there were
three apartments given up to feasting, beginning with a spacious
banqueting-room for great dinners, and dwindling down to this snuggery,
which held about a dozen comfortably, with ample room and verge enough
for the attendants. The walls were old gold silk, the curtains a tawny
velvet of deeper tone, the cabinets and buffet of dark Italian walnut,
inlaid with lapis-lazuli and amber. The fireplace was a masterpiece of
cabinet work, with high narrow shelves, and curious recesses holding
priceless jars of Oriental enamel. The deep hearth was filled with arum
lilies and azalias, like a font at Easter.
Lady Kirkbank, who pretended to adore genius, was affectionately
effusive to Miss Fitzherbert, the popular actress, but she rather
ignored the sister. Lesbia was less cordial, and was not enchanted at
finding that Miss Fitzherbert shone and sparkled at the breakfast table
by the gaiety of her spirits and the brightness of her conversation.
There was something frank and joyous, almost to childishness, in the
actress's manner, which was full of fascination; and Lesbia felt herself
at a disadvantage almost for the first time since she had been in
The editor, the wit, the poet, the actress, had a language of their own;
and Lesbia felt herself out in the cold, unable to catch the ball as it
glanced past her, not quick enough to follow the wit that evoked those
ripples of silvery laughter from the two fair-haired, pale-faced girls
in sea-green cashmere. She felt as an Englishman may feel who has made
himself master of academical French, and who takes up one of Zola's
novels, or goes into artistic society, and finds that there is another
French, a complete and copious language, of which he knows not a word.
Lesbia began to think that she had a great deal to learn. She began to
wonder even whether, in the event of her having made rather too free use
of Lady Maulevrier's _carte blanche_, it might not be well to make a new
departure in the art of dressing, and to wear untrimmed cashmere gowns,
and rags of limp lace.
After breakfast they all went to look at Mr. Smithson's picture gallery.
His pictures were, as he had told Lesbia, chiefly of the French school,
and there may have been a remote period--say, in the time of good Queen
Charlotte--when such pictures would hardly have been exhibited to young
ladies. His pictures were Mr. Smithson's own unaided choice. Here the
individual taste of the man stood revealed.
There were two or three Geromes; and in the place of honour at the end
of the gallery there was a grand Delaroche, Anne Boleyn's last letter to
the king, the hapless girl-queen sitting at a table in her gloomy cell
in the Tower, a shaft of golden light from the narrow window streaming
on the fair, disordered hair, the face bleached with unutterable woe, a
sublime image of despair and self-abandonment.
The larger pictures were historical, classic, grand: but the smaller
pictures--the lively little bits of colour dotted in here and
there--were of that new school which Mr. Smithson affected. They were of
that school which is called Impressionist, in which ballet dancers and
jockeys, burlesque actresses, masked balls, and all the humours of the
side scenes are represented with the sublime audacity of an art which
disdains finish, and relies on _chic, fougue, chien, flou, v'lan_, the
inspiration of the moment. Lesbia blushed as she looked at the ballet
girls, the maskers in their scanty raiment, the _demi-mondaines_ lolling
out of their opera boxes, and half out of their gowns, with false smiles
and frizzled hair. And then there came the works of that other school
which lavishes the finish of a Meissonier on the most meretricious
compositions. A woman in a velvet gown warming her dainty little feet on
a gilded fender, in a boudoir all aglow with colour and lamplight; a
cavalier in satin raiment buckling his sword-belt before a Venetian
mirror; a pair of lovers kissing in a sunlit corridor; a girl in a
hansom cab; a milliner's shop; and so on, and so on.
Then came the classical subjects of the last new school. Weak imitations
of Alma Tadema. Nero admiring his mother's corpse; Claudius interrupting
Messalina's marriage with her lover Silus; Clodius disguised among the
women of Caesar's household; Pyrrha's grotto. Lady Kirkbank expatiated
upon all the pictures, and generally made unlucky guesses at the
subjects of them. Classical literature was not her strong point.
Mr. Meander, the poet, discovered that all the beautiful heads were
like Miss Fitzherbert. 'It is the same line,' he exclaimed, 'the line of
lilies and flowing waters--the gracious ineffable upward returning
ripple of the true _retrousse_ nose, the divine _flou_, the loveliness
which has lain dormant for centuries--nay, was at one period of debased
art scorned and trampled under foot by the porcine multitude, as akin to
the pug and the turn-up, until discovered and enshrined on the altar of
the Beautiful by the Boticelli Revivalists.'
Miss Fitzherbert simpered, and accepted these remarks as mere statements
of obvious fact. She was accustomed to hear of Boticelli and the early
Italian painters in connection with her own charms of face and figure.
Lesbia, whose faultless features were of the aquiline type, regarded the
bard's rhapsody as insufferable twaddle, and began to think Mr. Smithson
almost a wit when he made fun of the bard.
Smithson was enchanted when she laughed at his jokelets, even although
she did not scruple to tell him that she thought his favourite pictures
detestable, and looked with the eye of indifference on a collection of
jade that was worth a small fortune.
Mr. Meander fell into another rhapsody over those classic cups and
shallow little bowls of absinthe-coloured jade.
'Here if you like, are colour and beauty,' he murmured, caressing one of
the little cups with the roseate tips of his supple fingers. 'These,
dearest Smithson, are worth all the rest of your collection; worth
vanloads of your cloisonne enamels, your dragon-jars in blood-colour and
blue. This cloudy indefinable substance, not crudely transparent nor yet
distinctly opaque, a something which touches the boundary line of two
worlds--the real and the ideal. And then the colour! Great heaven, can
anything be lovelier than this shadowy tint which is neither yellow nor
green; faint, faint as the dawn of newly-awakened day? After the siege
of blood-bedabbled Delhi, Baron Rothschild sent a special agent to India
to buy him a little jade tea-pot which had been the joy of Eastern
Kings. Only a tea-pot. Yet Rothschild deemed it worth a voyage from
England to India. That is what the love of the beautiful means, in Jew
or Gentile,' concluded the bard, smiling on the company, as they
gathered round the Florentine table on which the jade specimens were set
out, Lady Kirkbank looking at the little cups and basins as if she
thought they were going to do something, after all this fuss had been
made about them. It seemed hardly credible that any reasonable being
could have given thirty guineas for one of those bits of greenish-yellow
clouded glass, unless the thing had some peculiar property of expansion
After this breakfast in Park Lane Lady Lesbia and her admirer met daily.
He went to all her parties; he sat out waltzes with her, in
conservatories, and on staircases; for Horace Smithson was much too
shrewd a man too enter himself in the race for dancing men, handicapped
by his forty years and his fourteen stone. He contrived to amuse Lesbia
by his conversation, which was essentially mundane, depreciating people
whom all the rest of the world admired, or pretended to admire, telling
her of the secret springs by which the society she saw around her was
moved. He was judicious in his revelations of hidden evil, and careful
to say nothing which should offend Lady Lesbia's modesty; yet he
contrived in a very short time to teach her that the world in which she
lived was an utterly corrupt world, whose high priest was Satan; that
all lofty aspirations and noble sentiments were out of place in society;
and that the worst among the people she met were the people who laid any
claim to being better than their neighbours.
'That's why I adore Lady Kirkbank,' he said, confidentially. 'The dear
soul never pretends to be any better than the rest of us. She gambles,
and we all know she gambles; she pegs, and we all know she pegs; and she
makes rather a boast of being up to her eyes in debt. No humbug about
dear old Georgie.'
Lesbia had seen enough, of her chaperon by this time to know that Mr.
Smithson's description of the lady was correct, and, this being so, she
supposed that the facts and traits of character which he told her about
in other people were also true. She thus adopted the Smithsonian, or
fashionable-pessimist view of society in general, and resigned herself
to the idea that the world was a very wicked world, as well as a very
pleasant world, that the wickedest people were generally the
pleasantest, and that it did not much matter.
The fact that Mr. Smithson was at Lesbia Haselden's feet was obvious to
Lesbia, who had at first treated him with supreme hauteur, had grown
more civil as she began to understand the place he held in the world,
and how much social influence goes along with unlimited wealth. She was
civil, but she had quite made up her mind that nothing could ever induce
her to become Horace Smithson's wife. That offer which had hung fire in
the case of poor Belle Trinder, was not too long delayed on this
occasion. Mr. Smithson called in Arlington Street about ten days after
the breakfast in Park Lane, before luncheon, and before Lady Kirkbank
had left her room. He brought tickets for a _matinee d'invitation_ in
Belgrave Square, at which a new and wonderful Russian pianiste was to
make a kind of semi-official _debut_, before an audience of critics and
distinguished amateurs, and the elect of the musical world. They wore
tickets which money could not buy, and were thus a meet offering for
Lady Lesbia, and a plausible excuse for an early call.
Mr. Smithson succeeded in seeing Lesbia alone, and then and there, with
very little circumlocution, asked her to be his wife.
Her social education had advanced considerably since that summer day in
the pine-wood, when John Hammond had wooed her with passionate wooing.
Mr. Smithson was a much less ardent suitor, and made his offer with the
air of a man who expects to be accepted.
Lesbia's beautiful head bent a little, like a lily on its stalk, and a
faint blush deepened the pale rose tint of her complexion. Her reply was
courteous and conventional. She was flattered, she was grateful for Mr.
Smithson's high opinion of her; but she was deeply grieved if anything
in her manner had given him reason to think that he was more to her than
a friend, an old friend of dear Lady Kirkbank's, whom she was naturally
predisposed to like, as Lady Kirkbank's friend.
Horace Smithson turned pale as death, but if he was angry, he gave no
utterance to his angry feelings. He only asked if Lady Lesbia's answer
was final--and on being told that it was so, he dismissed the subject in
the easiest manner, and with a gentlemanlike placidity which very much
astonished the lady.
'You say that you regard me as your friend,' he said. 'Do not withdraw
that privilege from me because I have asked for a higher place in your
esteem. Forget all I have said this morning. Be assured I shall never
offend you by repeating it.'
'You are more than good,' murmured Lesbia, who had expected a wild
outbreak of despair or fury, rather than this friendly calm.
'I hope that you and Lady Kirkbank will go and hear Madame Metzikoff
this afternoon,' pursued Mr. Smithson, returning to the subject of the
_matinee_. 'The duchess's rooms are lovely; but no doubt you know them.'
Lesbia blushed, and confessed that the Duchess of Lostwithiel was one of
those select few who were not on Lady Kirkbank's visiting list.
'There are people Lady Kirkbank cannot get on with,' she said. 'Perhaps
she will hardly like to go to the duchess's, as she does not visit her.'
'Oh, but this affair counts for nothing. We go to hear Metzikoff, not to
bow down to the duchess. All the people in town who care for music will
be there, and you who play so divinely must enjoy fine professional
'I worship a really great player,' said Lesbia, 'and if I can drag Lady
Kirkbank to the house of the enemy, we will be there.'
On this Mr. Smithson discreetly murmured '_au revoir_,' took up his hat
and cane, and departed, without, in Sir George's parlance, having turned
'Refusal number one,' he said to himself, as he went downstairs, with
his leisurely catlike pace, that velvet step by which he had gradually
crept into society. 'We may have to go through refusal number two and
number three; but she means to have me. She is a very clever girl for a
countrybred one; and she knows that it is worth her while to be Lady
This soliloquy may be taken to prove that Horace Smithson knew Lesbia
Haselden better than she knew herself. She had refused him in all good
faith; but even to-day, after he had left her, she fell into a day-dream
in which Mr. Smithson's houses and yachts, drags and hunters, formed the
shifting pictures in a dissolving view of society; and Lesbia wondered
if there were any other young woman in London who would refuse such an
offer as that which she had quietly rejected half-an-hour ago.
Lady Kirkbank surprised her while she was still absorbed in this dreamy
review of the position. It is just possible that the fair Georgie may
have had notice of Mr. Smithson's morning visit, and may have kept out
of the way on purpose, for she was not a person of lazy habits, and was
generally ready for her nine o'clock breakfast and her morning stroll in
the park, however late she might have been out overnight.
'Mr. Smithson has been here, I understand,' said Lady Kirkbank, settling
herself in an arm-chair by the open window, after she had kissed her
_protegee_. 'Rilboche passed him on the stairs.'
'Rilboche is always passing people on the stairs,' answered Lesbia
rather pettishly. 'I think she must spend her life on the landing,
listening for arrivals and departures.'
'I had a kind of vague idea that Smithson would call to-day. He was so
fussy about those tickets for the Metzikoff recital. I hate pianoforte
recitals, and I detest that starched old duchess, but I suppose I shall
have to take you there--or poor Smithson will be miserable,' said Lady
Kirkbank, watching Lesbia keenly over the top of the newspaper.
She expected Lesbia to confide in her, to announce herself blushingly as
the betrothed of one of the richest commoners in England. But Lesbia sat
gazing dreamily across the flowers in the balcony at the house over the
way, and said never a word; so Lady Kirkbank's curiosity burst into
'Well, my dear, has he proposed? There was something in his manner last
night when he put on your wraps that made me think the crisis was near.'
'The crisis is come and is past, and Mr. Smithson and I are just as good
friends as ever.'
'What!' screamed Lady Kirkbank. 'Do you mean to tell me that you have
'Certainly. You know I never meant to do anything else. Did you think I
was like Miss Trinder, bent upon marrying town and country houses,
stables and diamonds?'
'I did not think you were a fool,' cried Lady Kirkbank, almost beside
herself with vexation, for it had been borne in upon her, as the
Methodists sometimes say, that if Mr. Smithson should prosper in his
wooing it would be better for her, Lady Kirkbank, who would have a claim
upon his kindness ever after. 'What can be your motive in refusing one
of the very best matches of the season--or of ever so many seasons? You
think, perhaps, you will marry a duke, if you wait long enough for his
Grace to appear: but the number of marrying dukes is rather small, Lady
Lesbia, and I don't think any of those would care to marry Lord
Lesbia started to her feet, pale as ashes.
'Why do you fling my grandfather's name in my face--and with that
diabolical sneer?' she exclaimed. 'When I have asked you about him you
have always evaded my questions. Why should a man of the highest rank
shrink from marrying Lord Maulevrier's granddaughter? My grandfather
was a distinguished man--Governor of Madras. Such posts are not given to
nobodies. How can you dare to speak as if it were a disgrace to me to
belong to him?'
'CLUBS, DIAMONDS, HEARTS, IN WILD DISORDER SEEN.'
Lady Kirkbank had considerable difficulty in smoothing Lesbia's ruffled
plumage. She did all in her power to undo the effect of her rash
words--declared that she had been carried away by temper--she had spoken
she knew not what--words of no meaning. Of course Lesbia's grandfather
had been a great man--Governor of Madras; altogether an important and
celebrated person--and Lady Kirkbank had meant nothing, could have meant
nothing to his disparagement.
'My dearest girl, I was beside myself, and talked sheer nonsense,' said
Georgie. 'But you know really now, dearest, any woman of the world would
be provoked at your foolish refusal of that dear good Smithson. Only
think of that too lovely house in Park Lane, a palace in the style of
the Italian Renaissance--such a house is in itself equivalent to a
peerage--and there is no doubt Smithson will be offered a peerage before
he is much older. I have heard it confidently asserted that when the
present Ministry retires Smithson will be made a Peer. You have no idea
what a useful man he is, or what henchman's service he has done the
Ministry in financial matters. And then there is his villa at
Deauville--you don't know Deauville--a positively perfect place, the
villa, I mean, built by the Duke de Morny in the golden days of the
Empire--and another at Cowes, and his palace in Berkshire, a manor, my
love, with a glorious old Tudor manor-house; and he has a _pied a terre_
in Paris, in the Faubourg, a ground-floor furnished in the Pompeian
style, half-a-dozen rooms opening one out of the other, and surrounding
a small garden, with a fountain in the middle. Some of the greatest
people in Paris occupy the upper part of the house, and their rooms of
course are splendid; but Smithson's ground-floor is the gem of the
Faubourg. However, I suppose there is no use in talking any more; for
there is the gong for luncheon.'
Lesbia was in no humour for luncheon.
'I would rather have a cup of tea in my own room,' she said. 'This
Smithson business has given me an abominable headache.'
'But you will go to hear Metzikoff?'
'No, thanks. You detest the Duchess of Lostwithiel, and you don't care
for pianoforte recitals. Why should I drag you there?'
'But, my dearest Lesbia, I am not such a selfish wretch as to keep you
at home, when I know you are passionately fond of good music. Forget all
about your headache, and let me see how that lovely little Catherine of
Aragon bonnet suits you. I'm so glad I happened to see it in Seraphine's
hands yesterday, just as she was going to send it to Lady Fonvielle, who
gives herself such intolerable airs on the strength of a pretty face,
and always wants to get the _primeures_ in bonnets and things.'
'Another new bonnet!' replied Lesbia. 'What an infinity of things I seem
to be having from Seraphine. I'm afraid I must owe her a good deal of
This was a vague way of speaking about actual facts. Lady Lesbia might
have spoken with more certainty. Her wardrobes and old-fashioned hanging
closets and chests of drawers in Arlington Street were crammed to
overflowing with finery; and then there were all the things that she had
grown tired of, or had thought unbecoming, and had given away to Kibble,
her own maid, or to Rilboche, who had in a great measure superseded
Kibble on all important occasions; for how could a Westmoreland girl
know how to dress a young lady for London balls and drawing-rooms?
'If you had only accepted Mr. Smithson it would not matter how much
money you owed people,' said Lady Kirkbank. 'You had better come down to
lunch. A glass of Heidseck will bring you up to concert pitch.'
Champagne was Lady Kirkbank's idea of a universal panacea; and she had
gradually succeeded in teaching Lesbia to believe in the sovereign power
of Heidseck as a restorative for shattered nerves. At Fellside Lesbia
had drunk only water; but then at Fellside she had never known that
feeling of exhaustion and prostration which follows days and nights
spent in society, the wear and tear of a mind forever on the alert, and
brilliant spirits which are more often forced than real. For her chief
stimulant Lesbia had recourse to the teapot; but there were occasions
when she found that something more than tea was needed to maintain that
indispensable vivacity of manner which Lady Kirkbank called concert
To-day she allowed herself to be persuaded. She went down to luncheon,
and took a couple of glasses of dry champagne with her cutlet, and, thus
restored, was equal to putting on the new bonnet, which was so becoming
that her spirits revived as she contemplated the effect in her glass. So
Lady Kirkbank carried her off to the musical _matinee_, beaming and
radiant, having forgotten all about that dark hint of evil glancing at
the name of her long dead grandfather.
The duchess was not on view when Lady Kirkbank and her _protegee_
arrived, and a good many people belonging to Georgie's own particular
set were scattered like flowers among those real music-lovers who had
come solely to hear the new pianiste. The music-lovers were mostly dowdy
in their attire, and seemed a race apart. Among them were several young
women of the Blessed Damozel school, who wore flowing garments of
sap-green or orche, or puffed raiment of Venetian red, and among whom
the cartwheel hat, the Elizabethan sleeve, and the Toby frill were
There were very few men except the musical critics in this select
assemblage, and Lesbia began to think that it was going to be very
dreary. She had lived in such an atmosphere of masculine adulation while
under Lady Kirkbank's wing that it was a new thing to find herself in a
room where there were none to love and very few to praise her. She felt
out in the cold, as it were. Those ungloved critics, with their shabby
coats and dubious shirts, snuffy, smoky, everything they ought not to
be, seemed to her a race of barbarians.
Finding herself thus cold and lonely in the midst of the duchess's
splendour of peacock-blue velvet and peacock-feather decoration, Lesbia
was almost glad when in the middle of Madame Metzikoff's opening
gondolied--airy, fairy music, executed with surpassing delicacy--Mr.
Smithson crept gently into the _fauteuil_ just behind hers, and leant
over the back of the chair to whisper an inquiry as to her opinion of
the pianist's style.
'She is exquisite,' Lesbia murmured softly, but the whispered question
and the murmured answer, low as they were, provoked indignant looks from
a brace of damsels in Venetian red, who shook their Toby frills with an
Lesbia felt that Mr. Smithson's presence was hardly correct. It would
have been 'better form' if he had stayed away; and yet she was glad to
have him here. At the worst he was some one--nay, according to Lady
Kirkbank, he was the only one amongst all her admirers whose offer was
worth having. All Lesbia's other conquests had counted as barren honour;
but if she could have brought herself to accept Mr. Smithson she would
have secured the very best match of the season.
To marry a plain Mr. Smithson--a man who had made his money in iron--in
cochineal--on the Stock Exchange--had seemed to her absolute
degradation, the surrender of all her lofty hopes, her golden dreams.
But Lady Kirkbank had put the question in a new light when she said that
Smithson would be offered a peerage. Smithson the peer would be
altogether a different person from Smithson the commoner.
But was Lady Kirkbank sure of her facts, or truthful in her statement?
Lesbia's experience of her chaperon's somewhat loose notions of truth
and exactitude made her doubtful upon this point.
Be this it might she was inclined to be civil to Smithson, albeit she
was inwardly surprised and offended at his taking her refusal so calmly.
'You see that I am determined not to lose the privilege of your society,
because I have been foolish!' he said presently, in the pause after the
first part of the recital. 'I hope you will consider me as much your
friend to-day as I was yesterday.'
'Quite as much,' she answered sweetly, and then they talked of Raff, and
Rubenstein, and Henselt, and all the composers about whom it is the
correct thing to discourse nowadays.
Before they left Belgrave Square Lady Kirkbank had offered Mr. Smithson
Sir George's place in her box at the Gaiety that evening, and had
invited him to supper in Arlington Street afterwards.
It was Sarah Bernhardt's first season in London--the
never-to-be-forgotten season of the Comedie Francaise.
'I should love of all things to be there,' said Mr. Smithson, meekly. He
had a couple of stalls in the third row for the whole of the season.
'But how can I be sure that I shall not be turning Sir George out of
'Sir George can never sit out a serious play. He only cares for Chaumont
or Judie. The Demi-monde is much too prosy for him.'
'The Demi-monde is one of the finest plays in the French language,' said
Smithson. 'You know it, of course, Lady Lesbia?'
'Alas! no. At Fellside I was not allowed to read French plays or novels:
or only a novel now and then, which my grandmother selected for me.'
'And now you read everything, I suppose,--including Zola?'
'The books are lying about, and I dip into them sometimes while I am
having my hair brushed,' answered Lesbia, lightly.
'I believe that is the only time ladies devote to literature during the
season,' said Mr. Smithson. 'Well, I envy you the delight of seeing the
Demi-monde without knowing what it is all about beforehand.'
'I daresay there are a good many people who would not take their girls
to see a play by Dumas,' said Lady Kirkbank, 'but I make a point of
letting _my_ girls see everything. It widens their minds and awakens
'And does away with a good many silly prejudices,' replied Mr.
Lady Kirkbank and Lesbia were due at a Kensington garden-party after the
recital, and from the garden-party, for which any hour sufficed, they
went to show themselves in the Park, then back to Arlington Street to
dress for the play. Then a hurried dinner, and they were in their places
at the theatre in time for the rising of the curtain.
'If it were an English play we would not care for being punctual,' said
Lady Kirkbank; 'but I should hate to lose a word of Dumas. In his plays
every speech tells.'
There were Royalties present, and the house was good; but not so full as
it had been on some other nights, for the English public had been told
that Sarah Bernhardt was the person to admire, and had been flocking
sheep-like after that golden-haired enchantress, whereby many of these
sheep--fighting greedily for Sarah's nights, and ignoring all other
talent--lost some of the finest acting on the French stage, notably that
of Croizette, Delaunay and Febvre, in this very Demi-monde. Lesbia, who,
in spite of her affectations, was still fresh enough to be charmed with
fine acting and a powerful play, was enthralled by the stage, so wrapt
in the scene that she was quite unaware of her brother's presence in a
stall just below Lady Kirkbank's box. He too had a stall at the Gaiety.
He had come in very late, when the play was half over. Lesbia was
surprised when he presented himself at the door of the box, after the
Maulevrier and his sister had met very seldom since the young lady's
_debut_. The young Earl did not go to many parties, and the society he
cultivated was chiefly masculine; and as he neither played polo nor shot
pigeons his masculine pursuits did not bring him in his sister's way.
Lady Kirkbank had asked him to her house with that wide and general
invitation which is so easily evaded. He had promised to go, and he had
not gone. And thus Lesbia and he had pursued their several ways, only
crossing each other's paths now and then at a race meeting or in a
'How d'ye do, Lady Kirkbank?--how d'ye do, Lesbia? Just caught sight of
you from below as the curtain was going down,' said Maulevrier, shaking
hands with the ladies and saluting Mr. Smithson with a somewhat
supercilious nod. 'Rather surprised to see you and Lesbia here to-night,
Lady Kirkbank. Isn't the Demi-monde rather strong meat for babes, eh?
Not _exactly_ the play one would take a young lady to see.'
'Why should a young lady be forbidden to see a fine play, because there
are some hard and bitter truths told in it?' asked Lady Kirkbank.
'Lesbia sees Madame d'Ange and all her sisterhood in the Park and about
London every day of her life. Why should not she see them on the stage,
and hear their history, and understand how cruel their fate is, and
learn to pity them, if she can? I really think this play is a lesson in
Christian charity; and I should like to see that Oliver man strangled,
though Delaunay plays the part divinely. What a voice! What a manner!
How polished! How perfect! And they tell me he is going to leave the
stage in a year or two. What will the world do without him?'
Maulevrier did not attempt to suggest a solution of this difficulty. He
was watching Mr. Smithson as he leant against the back of Lesbia's chair
and talked to her. The two seemed very familiar, laughingly discussing
the play and the actors. Smithson knew, or pretended to know, all about
the latter. He told Lesbia who made Croizette's gowns--the upholsterer
who furnished that lovely house of hers in the Bois--the sums paid for
her horses, her pictures, her diamonds. It seemed to Lesbia, when she
had heard all, that Croizette was a much-to-be-envied person.
Mr. Smithson had unpublished _bon-mots_ of Dumas at his finger ends; he
knew Daudet, and Sarcey, and Sardou, and seemed to be thoroughly at home
in Parisian artistic society. Lesbia began to think that he would hardly
be so despicable a person as she had at first supposed. No wonder he and
his wealth had turned poor Belle Trinder's head. How could a rural
vicar's daughter, accustomed to poverty, help being dazzled by such
Maulevrier stayed in the box only a short time, and refused Lady
Kirkbank's invitation to supper. She did not urge the point, as she had
surprised one or two very unfriendly glances at Mr. Smithson in
Maulevrier's honest eyes. She did not want an antagonistic brother to
interfere with her plans. She had made up her mind to 'run' Lesbia
according to her own ideas, and any counter influence might be fatal.
So, when Maulevrier said he was due at the Marlborough after the play
she let him go.
'I might as well be at Fellside and you in London, for anything I see of
you,' said Lesbia.
'You are up to your eyes in engagements, and I don't suppose you want to
see any more of me.' Maulevrier answered, bluntly.
'But I'll call to-morrow morning, if I am likely to find you at home.
I've some news for you.'
'Then I'll stay at home on purpose to see you. News is always
delightful. Is it good news, by-the-bye?'
'Very good; at least, I think so.'
'What is it about?'
'Oh! that's a long story, and the curtain is just going up. The news is
'About Mary!' exclaimed Lesbia, elevating her eyebrows. 'What news can
there possibly be about Mary?'
'Such news as there generally is about every nice jolly girl, at least
once in her life.'
'You don't mean that she is engaged--to a curate?'
'No, not to a curate. There goes the curtain. "I'll see you later," as
the Yankee President used to say when people bothered him, and he didn't
like to say no.'
Engaged: Mary engaged! The idea of such an altogether unexpected event
distracted Lesbia's mind all through the last act of the Demi-monde. She
hardly knew what the actors were talking about. Mary, her younger
sister! Mary, a good looking girl enough, but by no means a beauty, and
with manners utterly unformed. That Mary should be engaged to be
married, while she, Lesbia, was still free, seemed an obvious absurdity.
And yet the fact was, on reflection, easily to be accounted for. These
unattractive girls are generally the first to bind themselves with the
vows of betrothal. Lady Kirkbank had told her of many such cases. The
poor creatures know that their chances will be few, and therefore
gratefully welcome the first wooer.
'But who can the man be?' thought Lesbia. 'Mary has been kept as
secluded as a cloistered nun. There are so few families we have ever
been allowed to mix with. The man must be a curate, who has taken
advantage of grandmother's illness to force his way into the family
circle at Fellside--and who has made love to Mary in some of her lonely
rambles over the hills, I daresay. It is really very wrong to allow a
girl to roam about in that way.'
Sir George and a couple of his horsey friends were waiting for supper
when Lady Kirkbank and her party arrived in Arlington Street. The
dining-room looked a picture of comfort. The oval table, the low lamps,
the clusters of candles under coloured shades, the great Oriental bowl
of wild flowers--eglantine, honeysuckle, foxglove, all the sweet hedge
flowers of midsummer, made a central mass of colour and brightness
against the subdued and even sombre tones of walls and curtains. The
room was old, the furniture old. Nothing had been altered since the time
of Sir George's great grandfather; and the whirligig of time had just
now made the old things precious. Yes, those chairs and tables and
sideboards and bookcases and wine-coolers against which Georgie's soul
had revolted in the early years of her wedded life were now things of
beauty, and Georgie's friends envied her the possession of indisputable
Mr. Mostyn, a distinguished owner of race-horses, with his pretty wife,
made up the party. The gentleman was full of his entries for Liverpool
and Chester, and discoursed mysteriously with Sir George and the horsey
bachelors all supper time. The lady had lately taken up science as a new
form of excitement, not incompatible with frocks, bonnets, Hurlingham,
the Ranelagh, and Sandown. She raved about Huxley and Tyndall, and was
perpetually coming down upon her friends with awful facts about the sun,
and startling propositions about latent heat, or spontaneous generation.
She knew all about gases, and would hardly accept a glass of water
without explaining what it was made of. Drawn by Mr. Smithson for
Lesbia's amusement, the scientific matron was undoubtedly 'good fun.'
The racing men were full of talk. Lesbia and Lady Kirkbank raved about
the play they had just been seeing, and praised Delaunay with an
enthusiasm which was calculated to make the rest of mankind burst with
'Do you know you are making me positively wretched by your talk about
that man?' said Colonel Delville, one of Sir George's racing friends,
and an ancient adorer of the fair Georgie's. 'No, I tell you there was
never anything offered higher than five to four on the mare,'
interjectionally, to Sir George. 'There was a day when I thought I was
your idea of an attractive man. Yes, George, a clear case of roping,'
again interjectionally. 'And to hear you raving about this play-acting
fellow--it is too humiliating.'
Lady Kirkbank simpered, and then sighed.
'We are getting old together,' she murmured. 'I have come to an age when
one can only admire the charm of manner in the abstract--the Beautiful
for the sake of the Beautiful. I think if I were lying in my grave, the
music of Delaunay's voice would thrill me, under six feet of London
clay. Will no one take any more wine? No. Then we may as well go into
the next room and begin our little Nap.'
The adjoining room was Sir George's snuggery; and it was here that the
cosy little round games after supper were always played. Sir George was
not a studious person. He never read, and he never wrote, except an
occasional cheque on account, for an importunate tradesman. His
correspondence was conducted by the telegraph or telephone; and the
room, therefore, was absorbed neither by books nor writing desks. It was
furnished solely with a view to comfort. There was a round table in the
centre, under a large moderator lamp which gave an exceptionally
brilliant light. A divan covered with dark brown velvet occupied three
sides of the room. A few choice pieces of old blue Oriental ware in the
corners enlivened the dark brown walls. Three or four easy chairs stood
about near the broad, old-fashioned fireplace, which had been improved
with a modern-antique brass grate and a blue and white tiled hearth.
'There isn't a room in my house that looks half as comfortable as this
den of yours, George,' said Mr. Smithson, as he seated himself by
Lesbia's side at the card table.
They had agreed to be partners. 'Partners at cards, even if we are not
to be partners for life,' Smithson had whispered, tenderly; and Lesbia's
only reply had been a modest lowering of lovely eyelids, and a faint,
faint blush. Lesbia's blushes were growing fainter every day.
'That is because everything in your house is so confoundedly handsome
and expensive,' retorted Sir George, who did not very much care about
being called George, _tout court_, by a person of Mr. Smithson's obscure
antecedents, but who had to endure the familiarity for reasons known
only to himself and Mr. Smithson. 'No man can expect to be comfortable
in a house in which every room has cost a small fortune. My wife
re-arranged this den half-a-dozen years ago when we took to sittin' here
of an evenin'. She picked up the chairs and the blue pots at Bonham's,
had everythin' covered with brown velvet--nice subdued tone, suit old
people--hung up that yaller curtain, just for a bit of colour, and here
'It's the cosiest room in town,' said Colonel Delville, whereupon Mrs.
Mostyn, while counters were being distributed, explained to the company
on scientific principles _why_ the room was comfortable, expatiating
upon the effect of yellow and brown upon the retina, and some curious
facts relating to the optic machinery of water-fleas, as lately
discovered by a great naturalist.
Unfortunately for science, the game had now begun, and the players were
curiously indifferent as to the visual organs of water-fleas.
The game went on merrily till the pearly lights of dawn began to creep
through the chinks of Lady Kirkbank's yellow curtain. Everybody seemed
gay, yet everybody could not be winning. Fortune had not smiled upon
Lesbia's cards, or on those of her partner. The Smithson and Haselden
firm had come to grief. Lesbia's little ivory purse had been emptied of
its three or four half-sovereigns, and Mr. Smithson had been
capitalising a losing concern for the last two hours. And the play had
been fast and furious, although nominally for small stakes.
'I am afraid to think of how much I must owe you,' said Lesbia, when Mr.
Smithson bade her good night.
'Oh, nothing worth speaking of--sixteen or seventeen pounds, at most.'
Lesbia felt cold and creepy, and hardly knew whether it was the chill of
new-born day, or the sense of owing money to Horace Smithson. Those
three or four half-sovereigns to-night were the end of her last
remittance from Lady Maulevrier. She had had a great many remittances
from that generous grandmother; and the money had all gone, somehow. It
was gone, and yet she had paid for hardly anything. She had accounts
with all Lady Kirkbank's tradesmen. The money had melted away--it had
oozed out of her pockets--at cards, on the race-course, in reckless
gifts to servants and people, at fancy fairs, for trifles bought here
and there by the way-side, as it were, for the sake of buying. If she
had been suddenly asked for an account of her stewardship she could not
have told what she had done with half of the money. And now she must ask
for twenty pounds more, and immediately, to pay Mr. Smithson.
She went up to her room in the clear early light, and stood like a
statue, with fixed thoughtful eyes, while Kibble took off her finery,
the pretty pale yellow gown which set off her dark brown hair, her
violet eyes. For the first time in her life she felt the keen pang of
anxiety about money matters--the necessity to think of ways and means.
She had no idea how much money she had received from her grandmother
since she had begun her career in Scotland last autumn. The cheques had
been sent her as she asked for them; sometimes even before she asked for
them; and she had kept no account. She thought her grandmother was so
rich that expenditure could not matter. She supposed that she was
drawing upon an inexhaustible supply. And now Lady Kirkbank had told her
that Lady Maulevrier was not rich, as the world reckons nowadays. The
savings of a dowager countess even in forty years of seclusion could be
but a small fund to draw upon for the expenses of life at high pressure.
'The sums people spend nowadays are positively appalling,' said Lady
Kirkbank. 'A man with five or six thousand a year is an absolute pauper.
I'm sure our existence is only genteel beggary, and yet we spend over
Enlightened thus by the lips of the worldly-wise, Lesbia thought
ruefully of the bills which her grandmother would have to pay for her at
the end of the season, bills of the amount whereof she could not even
make an approximate guess. Seraphine's charges had never been discussed
in her hearing--but Lady Kirkbank had admitted that the creature was
'SWIFT SUBTLE POST, CARRIER OF GRISLY CARE.'
Maulevrier called in Arlington Street before twelve o'clock next day,
and found Lesbia just returning from her early ride, looking as fresh
and fair as if there had been no such thing as Nap or late hours in the
story of her life. She was reposing in a large easy chair by the open
window, in habit and hat, just as she had come from the Row, where she
had been laughing and chatting with Mr. Smithson, who jogged demurely by
her side on his short-legged hunter, dropping out envenomed little jokes
about the passers by. People who saw him riding by her side upon this
particular morning fancied there was something more than usual in the
gentleman's manner, and made up their minds that Lady Lesbia Haselden
was to be mistress of the fine house in Park Lane. Mr. Smithson had
fluttered and fluttered for the last five seasons; but this time the
flutterer was caught.
In her newly-awakened anxiety about money matters, Lesbia had forgotten
Mary's engagement: but the sight of Maulevrier recalled the fact.
'Come over here and sit down,' she said, 'and tell me this nonsense
about Mary. I am expiring with curiosity. The thing is too absurd.'
'Why absurd?' asked Maulevrier, sitting where she bade him, and
studiously perusing the name in his hat, as if it were a revelation.
'Oh, for a thousand reasons,' answered Lesbia, switching the flowers in
the balcony with her light little whip. 'First and foremost it is absurd
to think of any one so buried alive as poor Mary is finding an admirer;
and secondly--well--I don't want to be rude to my own sister--but Mary
is not particularly attractive.'
'Mary is the dearest girl in the world.'
'Very likely. I only said that she is not particularly attractive.'
'And do you think there is no attraction in goodness, in freshness and
innocence, candour, generosity--?'
'I don't know. But I think that if Mary's nose had been a thought
longer, and if she had kept her skin free from freckles she would have
been almost pretty.'
'Do you really? Luckily for Mary the man who is going to marry her
thinks her lovely.'
'I suppose he likes freckles. I once heard a man say he did. He said
they were so original--so much character about them. And, pray, who is
'Your old adorer, and my dear friend, John Hammond.'
Lesbia turned as pale as death--pale with rage and mortification. It was
not jealousy, this pang which rent her shallow soul. She had ceased to
care for John Hammond. The whirlpool of society had spun that first
fancy out of her giddy brain. But that a man who had loved the highest,
who had worshipped her, the peerless, the beautiful, should calmly
transfer his affections to her younger sister, was to the last degree
'Your friend Mr. Hammond must be a fickle fool,' she exclaimed, 'who
does not know his own mind from day to day.'
'Oh, but it was more than a day after you rejected him that he engaged
himself to Molly. It was all my doing, and I am proud of my work. I took
the poor fellow back to Fellside last March, bruised and broken by your
cruel treatment, heartsore and depressed. I gave him over to Molly, and
Molly cured him. Unconsciously, innocently, she won that noble heart.
Ah, Lesbia, you don't know what a heart it is which you so nearly
'Girls in our rank of life can't afford to marry noble hearts,' said
Lesbia, scornfully. 'Do you mean to tell me that Lady Maulevrier
consented to the engagement?'
'She cut up rather rough at first; but Molly held her own like a young
lioness--and the grandmother gave way. You see she has a fixed idea that
Molly is a very second-rate sort of person compared with you, and that a
husband who was not nearly good enough for you might pass muster for
Molly; and so she gave way, and there isn't a happier young woman in
the three kingdoms than Mary Haselden.'
'What are they to live upon?' asked Lesbia, with an incredulous air.
'Mary will have her five hundred a year. And Hammond is a very clever
fellow. You may be sure he will make his mark in the world.'
'And how are they to live while he is making his mark? Five hundred a
year won't do more than pay for Mary's frocks, if she goes into
'Perhaps they will live without society.'
'In some horrid little hovel in one of those narrow streets off
Ecclestone Square,' suggested Lesbia, shudderingly. 'It is too dreadful
to think of--a young woman dooming herself to life-long penury, just
because she is so foolish as to fall in love.'
'Your days for falling in love are over, I suppose, Lesbia?' said
Maulevrier, contemplating his sister with keen scrutiny.
The beautiful face, so perfect in line and colour, curiously recalled
that other face at Fellside; the dowager's face, with its look of marble
coldness, and the half-expressed pain under that, outward calm. Here was
the face of one who had not yet known pain or passion. Here was the cold
perfection of beauty with unawakened heart.
'I don't know; I am too busy to think of such things.'
'You have done with love; and you have begun to think of marriage, of
establishing yourself properly. People tell me you are going to marry
'People tell you more about me than I know about myself.'
'Come now, Lesbia, I have a right to know the truth upon this point.
Your brother--your only brother--should be the first person to be told.'
'When I am engaged, I have no doubt you will be the first person, or the
second person,' answered Lesbia, lightly. 'Lady Kirkbank, living on the
premises, is likely to be the first.'
'Then you are not engaged to Smithson?'
'Didn't I tell you so just now? Mr. Smithson did me the honour to make
me an offer yesterday, at about this hour; and I did myself the honour
to reject him.'
'And yet you were whispering together in the box last night, and you
were riding in the Row with him this morning. I just met a fellow who
saw you together. Do you think it is right, Lesbia, to play fast and
loose with the man--to encourage him, if you don't mean to marry him?'
'How can you accuse me of encouraging a person whom I flatly refused
yesterday morning? If Mr. Smithson likes my society as a friend, must I
needs deny him my friendship, ask Lady Kirkbank to shut her door against
him? Mr. Smithson is very pleasant as an acquaintance; and although I
don't want to marry him, there's no reason I should snub him.'
'Smithson is not a man to be trifled with. You will find yourself
entangled in a web which you won't easily break through.'
'I am not afraid of webs. By-the-bye, is it true that Mr. Smithson is
likely to get a peerage?'
'I have heard people say as much. Smithson has spent no end of money on
electioneering, and is a power in the House, though he very rarely
speaks. His Berkshire estate gives him a good deal of influence in that
county; at the last general election he subscribed twenty thou to the
Conservative cause; for, like most men who have risen from nothing, your
friend Smithson is a fine old Tory. He was specially elected at the
Carlton six years ago, and has made himself uncommonly useful to his
party. He is supposed to be great on financial questions, and comes out
tremendously on colonial railways or drainage schemes, about which the
House in general is in profound ignorance. On those occasions Smithson
scores high. A man with immense wealth has always chances. No doubt, if
you were to marry him, the peerage would be easily managed. Smithson's
money, backed by the Maulevrier influence, would go a long way. My
grandmother would move heaven and earth in a case of that kind. You had
better take pity on Smithson.'
Lesbia laughed. That idea of a possible peerage elevated Smithson in her
eyes. She knew nothing of his political career, as she lived in a set
which ignored politics altogether. Mr. Smithson had never talked to her
of his parliamentary duties; and it was a new thing for her to hear that
he had some kind of influence in public affairs.
'Suppose I were inclined to accept him, would you like him as a
brother-in-law?' she asked lightly. 'I thought from your manner last
night that you rather disliked him.'
'I don't quite like him or any of his breed, the newly rich, who go
about in society swelling with the sense of their own importance,
perspiring gold, as it were. And one has always a faint suspicion of men
who have got rich very quickly, an idea that there must be some kind of
juggling. Not in the case of a great contractor, perhaps, who can point
to a viaduct and docks and railways, and say, "I built that, and that,
and that. These are the sources of my wealth." But a man who gets
enormously rich by mere ciphering! Where can his money come from, except
out of other people's pockets? I know nothing against your Mr. Smithson,
but I always suspect that class of men,' concluded Maulevrier shaking
his head significantly.
Lesbia was not much influenced by her brother's notions, she had never
been taught to think him an oracle. On the contrary, she had been told
that his life hitherto had been all foolishness.'
'When are Mary and Mr. Hammond to be married?' she asked, 'Grandmother
says they must wait a year. Mary is much too young--and so on, and so
forth. But I see no reason for waiting.'
'Surely there are reasons--financial reasons. Mr. Hammond cannot be in a
position to begin housekeeping.'
'Oh, they will risk all that. Molly is a daring girl. He proposed to her
on the top of Helvellyn, in a storm of wind and rain.'
'And she never wrote me a word about it. How very unsisterly!'
'She is as wild as a hawk, and I daresay she was too shy to tell you
anything about it.'
'Pray when did it all occur?'
'Just before I came to London.'
'Two months ago. How absurd for me to be in ignorance all this time!
Well, I hope Mary will be sensible, and not marry till Mr. Hammond is
able to give her a decent home. It would be so dreadful to have a sister
muddling in poverty, and clamouring for one's cast-off gowns.'
Maulevrier laughed at this gloomy suggestion.
'It is not easy to foretell the future,' he said, 'but I think I may
venture to promise that Molly will never wear your cast-off gowns.'
'Oh, you think she would be too proud. You don't know, perhaps, how
poverty--genteel poverty--lowers one's pride. I have heard stories from
Lady Kirkbank that would make your hair stand on end. I am beginning to
know the world.'
'I am glad of that. If you are to live in the world it is better that
you should know what it is made of. But if I had a voice or a choice in
the matter I had rather my sisters stayed at Grasmere, and remained
ignorant of the world and all its ways.'
'While you enjoy your life in London. That is just like the selfishness
of a man. Under the pretence of keeping his sisters or his wife secure
from all possible contact with evil, he buries them alive in a country
house, while he has all the wickedness for his own share in London. Oh,
I am beginning to understand the creatures.'
'I am afraid you are beginning to be wise. Remember that knowledge of
evil was the prelude to the Fall. Well, good-bye.'
'Won't you stay to lunch?'
'No, thanks, I never lunch--frightful waste of time. I shall drop in at
the _Haute Gomme_ and take a cup of tea later on.'
The _Haute Gomme_ was a new club in Piccadilly, which Maulevrier and
some of his friends affected.
Lesbia went towards the drawing-room door with her brother, and just as
he reached the door she laid her hand caressingly upon his shoulder. He
turned and stared at her, somewhat surprised, for he and she had never
been given to demonstrations of affection.
'Maulevrier, I want you to do me a favour,' she said, in a low voice,
blushing a little, for the thing she was going to ask was a new thing
for her to ask, and she had a deep sense of shame in making her demand.
'I--I lost money at Nap last night. Only seventeen pounds. Mr. Smithson
and I were partners, and he paid my losses. I want to pay him
'And you are too hard up to do it. I'll write you a cheque this
instant,' said Maulevrier goodnaturedly; but while he was writing the
cheque he took occasion to remonstrate with Lesbia on the foolishness of
'I am obliged to do as Lady Kirkbank does,' she answered feebly. 'If I
were to refuse to play it would be a kind of reproach to her.'
'I don't think that would kill Lady Kirkbank,' replied Maulevrier, with
a touch of scorn. 'She has had to endure a good many implied reproaches
in her day, and they don't seem to have hurt her very much. I wish to
heaven my grandmother had chosen any one else in London for your
'I'm afraid Lady Kirkbank's is rather a rowdy set,' answered Lesbia,
coolly; 'and I sometimes feel as if I had thrown myself away. We go
almost everywhere--at least, there are only just a few houses to which
we are not asked. But those few make all the difference. It is so
humiliating to feel that one is not in quite the best society. However,
Lady Kirkbank is a dear, good old thing, and I am not going to grumble
'I've made the cheque for five-and-twenty. You can cash it at your
milliner's,' said Maulevrier. 'I should not like Smithson to know that
you had been obliged to ask me for the money.'
'_Apropos_ to Mr. Smithson, do you know if he is in quite the best
society?' asked Lesbia.
'I don't know what you mean by quite the best. A man of Smithson's
wealth can generally poke his nose in anywhere, if he knows how to
behave himself. But of course there are people with whom money and fine
houses have no weight. The Conservatives are all civil to Smithson
because he comes down handsomely at General Elections, and is useful to
them in other ways. I believe that Smithson's wife, if she were a
thorough-bred one, could go into any society she liked, and make her
house one of the most popular in London. Perhaps that is what you really
wanted to ask.
'No, it wasn't,' answered Lesbia, carelessly; 'I was only talking for
the sake of talking. A thousand thanks for the cheque, you best of
'It is not worth talking about; but, Lesbia, don't play cards any more.
Believe me, it is not good form.'
'Well, I'll try to keep out of it in future. It is horrid to see one's
sovereigns melting away; but there's a delightful excitement in
'No doubt,' answered Maulevrier, with a remorseful sigh.
He spoke as a reformed plunger, and with many a bitter experience of the
race-course and the card-room. Even now, though he had steadied himself
wonderfully, he could not get on without a little mild gambling--half-crown
pool, whist with half-guinea points--but when he condescended to such small
stakes he felt that he had settled down into a respectable middle-aged
player, and had a right to rebuke the follies of youth.
Lesbia flew to the piano and sang one of her little German ballads
directly Maulevrier was gone. She felt as if a burden had been lifted
from her soul, now that she was able to pay Mr. Smithson without waiting
to ask Lady Maulevrier for the money. And as she sang she meditated upon
Maulevrier's remarks about Smithson. He knew nothing to the man's
discredit, except that he had grown rich in a short space of time.
Surely no man ought to be blamed for that. And he thought that Mr.
Smithson's wife might make her house the most popular in London. Lesbia,
in her mind's eye, beheld an imaginary Lady Lesbia Smithson giving
dances in that magnificent mansion, entertaining Royal personages. And
the doorways would be festooned with roses, as she had seen them the
other night at a ball in Grosvenor Square; but the house in Grosvenor
Square was a hovel compared with the Smithsonian Palace.
Lesbia was beginning to be a little tired of Lady Kirkbank and her
surroundings. Life taken _prestissimo_ is apt to pall, Lesbia sighed as
she finished her little song. She was beginning to look upon her
existence as a problem which had been given to her to solve, and the
solution just it present was all dark.
As she rose from the piano a footman came in with two letters on a
salver--bulky letters, such packages as Lesbia had never seen before.
She wondered what they could be. She opened the thickest envelope first.
It was Seraphine's bill--such a bill, page after page on creamy Bath
post, written in an elegant Italian hand by one of Seraphine's young
Lesbia looked at it aghast with horror. The total at the foot of the
first page was appalling, ever so much more than she could have supposed
the whole amount of her indebtedness; but the total went on increasing
at the foot of every page, until at sight of the final figures Lesbia
gave a wild shriek, like a wretched creature who has received a telegram
announcing bitterest loss.
The final total was twelve hundred and ninety-three pounds seventeen and
Thirteen hundred pounds for clothes in eight weeks!
No, the thing was a cheat, a mistake. They had sent her somebody else's
bill. She had not had half these things.
She read the first page, her heart beating violently as she pored over
the figures, her eyes dim and clouded with the trouble of her brain.
Yes, there was her court dress. The description was too minute to be
mistaken; and the court dress, with feathers, and shoes, and gloves, and
fan, came to a hundred and thirty pounds. Then followed innumerable
items. The very simplest of her gowns cost five-and-twenty
pounds--frocks about which Seraphine had talked so carelessly, as if two
or three more or less could make no difference. Bonnets and hats, at
five or seven guineas apiece, swelled the account. Parasols and fans
were of fabulous price, as it seemed to Lesbia; and the shoes and
stockings to match her various gowns occurred again and again between
the more important items, like the refrain of an old ballad. All the
useless and unnessary things which she had ordered, because she thought
them pretty or because she was told they were fashionable, rose up
against her in the figures of the bill, like the record of forgotten
sins at the Day of Judgment.
She sank into a chair, pallid with consternation, and sat with the bill
in her lap, turning the pages listlessly, and staring at the figures.
'It cannot be so much,' she cried to herself. 'It must be added up
wrong;' and then she feebly tried to cast up a column; but arithmetic
not being one of those accomplishments which Lady Maulevrier deemed
necessary to a patrician beauty's success in life, Lesbia's education
had been somewhat neglected upon this point, and she flung the bill from
her in a rage, unable to hold the figures in her brain.
She opened the second envelope, her jeweller's account. At the very
first item she gave another scream, fainter than the first, for her mind
was getting hardened against such shocks.
'To re-setting a suite of amethysts, with forty-four finest Brazilian
brilliants, three hundred and fifteen pounds.'
Then followed the trifles she had bought at different visits to the
shop--casual purchases, bought on the impulse of the moment. These
swelled the account to a little over eight hundred pounds. Lesbia sat
like a statue, numbed by despair, appalled at the idea of owing over two
'ROSES CHOKED AMONG THORNS AND THISTLES.'
Lady Lesbia ate no luncheon that day. She went to her own room and had a
cup of tea to steady her nerves, and sent to ask Lady Kirkbank to go to
her as soon as she had finished luncheon. Lady Kirkbank's luncheon was a
serious business, a substantial leisurely meal with which she fortified
herself for the day's work. It enabled her to endure all the fatigues of
visits and park, and to be airily indifferent to the charms of dinner;
for Lady Kirkbank was not one of those matrons who with advanced years
take to _gourmandise_ as a kind of fine art. She gave good dinners,