Part 7 out of 10
because she knew people would not come to Arlington Street to eat bad
ones; but she was not a person who lived only to dine. At luncheon she
gave her healthy appetite full scope, and ate like a ploughman.
She found Lesbia in her white muslin dressing-gown, with cheeks as pale
as the gown she wore. She was sitting in an easy chair, with a low
tea-table at her side, and the two bills were in the tray among the
'Have you any idea how much I owe Seraphine and Cabochon?' she asked,
looking up despairingly at Lady Kirkbank.
'What, have they sent in their bills already?'
'Already! I wish they had sent them before. I should have known how
deeply I was getting into debt.'
'Are they very heavy?'
'They are dreadful! I owe over two thousand pounds. How can I tell Lady
Maulevrier that? Two thousand one hundred pounds! It is awful.'
'There are women in London who would think very little of owing twice as
much,' said Lady Kirkbank, in a comforting tone, though the fact,
seriously considered, could hardly afford comfort. 'Your grandmother
said you were to have _carte blanche_. She may think that you have been
just a little extravagant; but she can hardly be angry with you for
having taken her at her word. Two thousand pounds! Yes, it certainly is
'Seraphine is a cheat!' exclaimed Lesbia, angrily. 'Her prices are
'My dear child, you must not say that. Seraphine is positively moderate
in comparison with the new people.'
'And Mr. Cabochon, too. The idea of his charging me three hundred
guineas for re-setting those stupid old amethysts.'
'My dear, you _would_ have diamonds mixed with them,' said Lady
Lesbia turned away her head with an impatient sigh. She remembered
perfectly that it was Lady Kirkbank who had persuaded her to order the
diamond setting; but there was no use in talking about it now. The thing
was done. She was two thousand pounds in debt--two thousand pounds to
these two people only--and there were ever so many shops at which she
had accounts--glovers, bootmakers, habit-makers, the tailor who made her
Newmarket coats and cloth gowns, the stationer who supplied her with
note-paper of every variety, monogrammed, floral; sporting, illuminated
with this or that device, the follies of the passing hour, hatched by
penniless Invention in a garret, pandering to the vanities of the idle.
'I must write to my grandmother by this afternoon's post,' said Lesbia,
with a heavy sigh.
'Impossible. We have to be at the Ranelagh by four o'clock. Smithson
and some other men are to meet us there. I have promised to drive Mrs.
Mostyn down. You had better begin to dress.'
'But I ought to write to-day. I had better ask for this money at once,
and have done with it. Two thousand pounds! I feel as if I were a thief.
You say my grandmother is not a rich woman?'
'Not rich as the world goes nowadays. Nobody is rich now, except your
commercial magnates, like Smithson. Great peers, unless their money is
in London ground-rents, are great paupers. To own land is to be
destitute. I don't suppose two thousand pounds will break your
grandmother's bank; but of course it is a large sum to ask for at the
end of two months; especially as she sent you a good deal of money while
we were at Cannes. If you were engaged--about to make a really good
match--you could ask for the money as a matter of course; but as it is,
although you have been tremendously admired, from a practical point of
view you are a failure.'
A failure. It was a hard word, but Lesbia felt it was true. She, the
reigning beauty, the cynosure of every eye, had made no conquest worth
talking about, except Mr. Smithson.
'Don't tell your grandmother anything about the bills for a week or
two,' said Lady Kirkbank, soothingly. 'The creatures can wait for their
money. Give yourself time to think.'
'I will,' answered Lesbia, dolefully.
'And now make haste, and get ready for the Ranelagh. My love, your eyes
are dreadfully heavy. You _must_ use a little belladonna. I'll send
Rilboche to you.'
And for the first time in her life, Lesbia, too depressed to argue the
point, consented to have her eyes doctored by Rilboche.
She was gay enough at the Ranelagh, and looked her loveliest at a dinner
party that evening, and went to three parties after the dinner, and went
home in the faint light of early morning, after sitting out a late waltz
in a balcony with Mr. Smithson, a balcony banked round with hot-house
flowers which were beginning to droop a little in the chilly morning
air, just as beauty drooped under the searching eye of day.
Lesbia put the bills in her desk, and gave herself time to think, as
Lady Kirkbank advised her. But the thinking progress resulted in very
little good. All the thought of which she was capable would not reduce
the totals of those two dreadful accounts. And every day brought some
fresh bill. The stationer, the bootmaker, the glover, the perfumer,
people who had courted Lady Lesbia's custom with an air which implied
that the honour of serving fashionable beauty was the first
consideration, and the question of payment quite a minor point--these
now began to ask for their money in the most prosaic way. Every straw
added to Lesbia's burden; and her heart grew heavier with every post.
'One can see the season is waning when these people begin to pester
with their accounts,' said Lady Kirkbank, who always talked of tradesmen
as if they were her natural enemies.
Lesbia accepted this explanation of the avalanche of bills, and never
suspected Lady Kirkbank's influence in the matter. It happened, however,
that the chaperon, having her own reasons for wishing to bring Mr.
Smithson's suit to a successful issue, had told Seraphine and the other
people to send in their bills immediately. Lady Lesbia would be leaving
London in a week or so, she informed these purveyors, and would like to
settle everything before she went away.
Mr. Smithson appeared in Arlington Street almost every day, and was full
of schemes for new pleasures--or pleasures as nearly new as the world of
fashion can afford. He was particularly desirous that Sir George and
Lady Kirkbank, with Lady Lesbia, should stay at his Berkshire place
during the Henley week. He had a large steam launch, and the regatta was
a kind of carnival for his intimate friends, who were not too proud to
riot and batten upon the parvenu's luxurious hospitality, albeit they
were apt to talk somewhat slightingly of his antecedents.
Lady Kirkbank felt that this invitation was a turning point, and that if
Lesbia went to stay at Rood Hall, her acceptance of Mr. Smithson was a
certainty. She would see him at his place in Berkshire in the most
flattering aspect; his surroundings as lord of the manor, and owner of
one of the finest old places in the county, would lend dignity to his
insignificance. Lesbia at first expressed a strong disinclination to go
to Rood Hall. There would be a most unpleasant feeling in stopping at
the house of a man whom she had refused, she told Lady Kirkbank.
'My dear, Mr. Smithson has forgiven you,' answered her chaperon. 'He is
the soul of good nature.'
'One would think he was accustomed to be refused,' said Lesbia. 'I don't
want to go to Rood Hall, but I don't want to spoil your Henley week.
Could not I run down to Grasmere for a week, with Kibble to take care of
me, and see dear grandmother? I could tell her about those dreadful
'Bury yourself at Grasmere in the height of the season! Not to be
thought of! Besides, Lady Maulevrier objected before to the idea of your
travelling alone with Kibble. No! if you can't make up your mind to go
to Rood Hall, George and I must make up our minds to stay away. But it
will be rather hard lines; for that Henley week is quite the jolliest
thing in the summer.'
'Then I'll go,' said Lesbia, with a resigned air. 'Not for worlds would
I deprive you and Sir George of a pleasure.'
In her heart of hearts she rather wished to see Rood Hall. She was
curious to behold the extent and magnitude of Mr. Smithson's
possessions. She had seen his Italian villa in Park Lane, the perfection
of modern art, modern skill, modern taste, reviving the old eternally
beautiful forms, recreating the Pitti Palace--the homes of the
Medici--the halls of dead and gone Doges--and now she was told that Rood
Hall--a genuine old English manor-house, in perfect preservation--was
even more interesting than the villa in Park Lane. At Rood Hall there
were ideal stables and farm, hot-houses without number, rose gardens,
lawns, the river, and a deer park.
So the invitation was accepted, and Mr. Smithson immediately laid
himself at Lesbia's feet, as it were, with regard to all other
invitations for the Henley festival. Whom should he ask to meet
her?--whom would she have?
'You are very good,' she said, 'but I have really no wish to be
consulted. I am not a royal personage, remember. I could not presume to
'But I wish you to dictate. I wish you to be imperious in the expression
of your wishes.'
'Lady Kirkbank has a better right than I, if anybody is to be
consulted,' said Lesbia, modestly.
'Lady Kirkbank is an old dear, who gets on delightfully with everybody.
But you are more sensitive. Your comfort might be marred by an obnoxious
presence. I will ask nobody whom you do not like--who is not thoroughly
_simpatico_. Have you no particular friends of your own choosing whom
you would like me to ask?'
Lesbia confessed that she had no such friends. She liked everybody
tolerably; but she had not a talent for friendship. Perhaps it was
because in the London season one was too busy to make friends.
'I can fancy two girls getting quite attached to each other, out of the
season,' she said, 'but in May and June life is all a rush and a
'And one has no time to gather wayside flowers of friendship,'
interjected Mr. Smithson. 'Still, if there are no people for whom you
have an especial liking, there _must_ be people whom you detest.'
Lesbia owned that it was so. Detestation came of itself, naturally.
'Then let me be sure I do not ask any of your pet aversions,' said Mr.
Smithson. 'You met Mr. Plantagenet Parsons, the theatrical critic, at my
house. Shall we have him?'
'I like all amusing people.'
'And Horace Meander, the poet. Shall we have him? He is brimful of
conceits and affectations, but he's a tremendous joke.'
'Mr. Meander is charming.'
'Suppose we ask Mostyn and his wife? Her scraps of science are rather
'I haven't the faintest objection to the Mostyns,' replied Lesbia. 'But
who are "we"?'
'We are you and I, for the nonce. The invitations will be issued
ostensibly by me, but they will really emanate from you.'
'I am to be the shadow behind the throne,' said Lesbia. 'How
'I would rather you were the sovereign ruler, on the throne,' answered
Smithson, tenderly. 'That throne shall be empty till you fill it.'
'Please go on with your list of people,' said Lesbia, checking this gush
She began to feel somehow that she was drifting from all her moorings,
that in accepting this invitation to Rood Hall she was allowing herself
to be ensnared into an alliance about which she was still doubtful. If
anything better had appeared in the prospect of her life--if any
worthier suitor had come forward, she would have whistled Mr. Smithson
down the wind; but no worthier suitor had offered himself. It was
Smithson or nothing. If she did not accept Smithson, she would go back
to Fellside heavily burdened with debt, and an obvious failure. She
would have run the gauntlet of a London season without definite result;
and this, to a young woman so impressed with her own transcendent
merits, was a most humiliating state of things.
Other people's names were suggested by Mr. Smithson and approved by
Lesbia, and a house party of about fourteen in all was made up. Mr.
Smithson's steam launch would comfortably accommodate that number. He
had a couple of barges for chance visitors, and kept an open table on
board them during the regatta.
The visit arranged, the next question was gowns. Lesbia had gowns enough
to have stocked a draper's shop; but then, as she and Lady Kirkbank
deplored, the difficulty was that she had worn them all, some as many as
three or four times. They were doubtless all marked and known. Some of
them had been described in the society papers. At Henley she would be
expected to wear something distinctly new, to introduce some new fashion
of gown or hat or parasol. No matter how ugly the new thing might be, so
long as it was startling; no matter how eccentric, provided it was
'What am I to do?' asked Lesbia, despairingly.
'There is only one thing that can be done. We must go instantly to
Seraphine and insist upon her inventing something. If she has no idea
ready she must telegraph Worth and get him to send something over. Your
old things will do very well for Rood Hall. You have no end of pretty
gowns for morning and evening; but you must be original on the race
days. Your gowns will be in all the papers.'
'But I shall be only getting deeper into debt,' said Lesbia, with a
'That can't be helped. If you go into society you must be properly
dressed. We'll go to Clanricarde Place directly after luncheon, and see
what that old harpy has to show us.'
Lesbia had a rather uncomfortable feeling about facing the fair
Seraphine, without being able to give her a cheque upon account of that
dreadful bill. She had quite accepted Lady Kirkbank's idea that bills
never need be discharged in full, and that the true system of finance
was to give an occasional cheque on account, as a sop to Cerberus. True,
that while Cerberus fattened on the sops the bill seemed always growing;
and the final crash, when Cerberus grew savage and sops could be no more
accepted, was too awful to be thought about.
Lesbia entered Seraphine's Louis-seize drawing-room with a faint
expectation of unpleasantness; but after a little whispering between
Lady Kirkbank and the dressmaker, the latter came to Lesbia smiling
graciously, and seemingly full of eagerness for new orders.
'Miladi says you want something of the most original--_tant soit peu
risque_--for 'Enley,' she said. 'Let us see now,' and she tapped her
forehead with a gold thimble which nobody had ever seen her use, but
which looked respectable. 'There is ze dresses that Chaumont wear in zis
new play, _Une Faute dans le Passe_. Yes, zere is the watare dress--a
boating party at Bougival, a toilet of the most new, striking,
_ecrasant_, what you English call a "screamer."'
'What a genius you are, Fifine,' exclaimed Lady Kirkbank, rapturously.
'The _Faute dans le Passe_ was only produced last week. No one will have
thought of copying Chaumont's gowns yet awhile. The idea is an
'What is the boating costume like?' asked Lady Lesbia, faintly.
'An exquisite combination of simplicity with _vlan_,' answered the
dressmaker. 'A skin-tight indigo silk Jersey bodice, closely studded
with dark blue beads, a flounced petticoat of indigo and amber foulard,
an amber scarf drawn tightly round the hips, and a dark blue toque with
a largo bunch of amber poppies. Tan-coloured mousquetaire gloves, and
Hessian boots of tan-coloured kid.'
'Hessian boots!' ejaculated Lesbia.
'But, yes, Miladi. The petticoat is somewhat short, you comprehend, to
escape the damp of the deck, and, after all, Hessians are much less
indelicate than silk stockings, legs _a cru_, as one may say.'
'Lesbia, you will look enchanting in yellow Hessians,' said Lady
Kirkbank, 'Let the dress be put in hand instantly, Seraphine.'
Lesbia was inclined to remonstrate. She did not admire the description
of the costume, she would rather have something less outrageous.
'Outrageous! It is only original,' exclaimed her chaperon. 'If Chaumont
wears it you may be sure it is perfect.'
'But on the stage, by gaslight, in the midst of unrealities,' argued
Lesbia. 'That makes such a difference.'
'My dear, there is no difference nowadays between the stage and the
drawing-room. Whatever Chaumont wears you may wear. And now let us think
of the second day. I think as your first costume is to be nautical, and
rather masculine, your second should be somewhat languishing and
_vaporeux_. Creamy Indian muslin, wild flowers, a large Leghorn hat.'
'And what will Miladi herself wear?' asked the French woman of Lady
Kirkbank. 'She must have something of new.'
'No, at my age, it doesn't matter. I shall wear one of my cotton frocks,
and my Dunstable hat.'
Lesbia shuddered, for Lady Kirkbank in her cotton frock was a spectacle
at which youth laughed and age blushed. But after all it did not matter
to Lesbia. She would have liked a less rowdy chaperon; but as a foil to
her own fresh young beauty Lady Kirkbank was admirable.
They drove down to Rood Hall early next week, Sir George conveying them
in his drag, with a change of horses at Maidenhead. The weather was
peerless; the country exquisite, approached from London. How different
that river landscape looks to the eyes of the traveller returning from
the wild West of England, the wooded gorges of Cornwall and Devon, the
Tamar and the Dart. Then how small and poor and mean seems silvery
Thames, gliding peacefully between his willowy bank, singing his lullaby
to the whispering sedges; a poor little river, a flat commonplace
landscape, says the traveller, fresh from moorland and tor, from the
rocky shore of the Atlantic, the deep clefts of the great, red hills.
To Lesbia's eyes the placid stream and the green pastures, breathing
odours of meadow-sweet and clover, seemed passing lovely. She was
pleased with her own hat and parasol too, which made her graciously
disposed towards the landscape; and the last packet of gloves from North
Audley Street fitted without a wrinkle. The glovemaker was beginning to
understand her hand, which was a study for a sculptor, but which had its
Nor was she ill-disposed to Mr. Smithson, who had come up to town by an
early train, in order to lunch in Arlington Street and go back by coach,
seated just behind Lady Lesbia, who had the box seat beside Sir George.
The drive was delightful. It was a few minutes after five when the coach
drove past the picturesque old gate-house into Mr. Smithson's Park, and
Rood Hall lay on the low ground in front of them, with its back to the
river. It was an old red brick house in the Tudor style, with an
advanced porch, and four projecting wings, three stories high, with
picturesque spire roofs overtopping the main building. Around the house
ran a boldly-carved stone parapet, bearing the herons and bulrushes
which were the cognisance of the noble race for which the mansion was
built. Numerous projecting mullioned windows broke up the line of the
park front. Lesbia was fain to own that Rood Hall was even better than
Park Lane. In London Mr. Smithson had created a palace; but it was a new
palace, which still had a faint flavour of bricks and mortar, and which
was apt to remind the spectator of that wonderful erection of Aladdin,
the famous Parvenu of Eastern story. Here, in Berkshire, Mr. Smithson
had dropped into a nest which had been kept warm for him for three
centuries, aired and beautified by generations of a noble race which had
obligingly decayed and dwindled in order to make room for Mr. Smithson.
Here the Parvenu had bought a home mellowed by the slow growth of years,
touched into poetic beauty by the chastening fingers of time. His artist
friends told him that every brick in the red walls was 'precious,' a
mystery of colour which only a painter could fitly understand and value.
Here he had bought associations, he had bought history. He had bought
the dust of Elizabeth's senators, the bones of her court beauties. The
coffins in the Mausoleum yonder in the ferny depths of the Park, the
village church just outside the gates--these had all gone with the
Lesbia went up the grand staircase, through the long corridors, in a
dream of wonder. Brought up at Fellside, in that new part of the
Westmoreland house which had been built by her grandmother and had no
history, she felt thrilled by the sober splendour of this fine old
manorial mansion. All was sound and substantial, as if created
yesterday, so well preserved had been the goods and chattels of the
noble race; and yet all wore such unmistakeable marks of age. The deep
rich colouring of the wainscot, the faded hues of the tapestry, the
draperies of costliest velvet and brocade, were all sobered by the
passing of years.
Mr. Smithson had shown his good taste in having kept all things as Sir
Hubert Heronville, the last of his race, had left them; and the
Heronvilles had been one of those grand old Tory races which change
nothing of the past.
Lady Lesbia's bedroom was the State chamber, which had been occupied by
kings and queens in days of yore. That grandiose four-poster, with the
carved ebony columns, cut velvet curtains, and plumes of ostrich
feathers, had been built for Elizabeth, when she deigned to include Rood
Hall in one of her royal progresses. Charles the First had rested his
weary head upon those very pillows, before he went on to the Inn at
Uxbridge, where he was to be lodged less luxuriously. James the Second
had stayed there when Duke of York, with Mistress Anne Hyde, before he
acknowledged his marriage to the multitude; and Anne's daughter had
occupied the same room as Queen of England forty years later; and now
the Royal Chamber, with adjacent dressing-room, and oratory, and
spacious boudoir all in the same suite, was reserved for Lady Lesbia
'I'm afraid you are spoiling me,' she told Mr. Smithson, when he asked
if she approved of the rooms that had been allotted to her. 'I feel
quite ashamed of myself among the ghosts of dead and gone queens.'
'Why so? Surely the Royalty of beauty has as divine a right as that of
an anointed sovereign.'
'I hope the Royal personages don't walk,' exclaimed Lady Kirkbank, in
her girlish tone; 'this is just the house in which one would expect
Whereupon Mrs. Mostyn hastened to enlighten the company upon the real
causes of ghost-seeing, which she had lately studied in Carpenter's
'Mental Physiology,' and favoured them with a diluted version of the
views of that authority.
This was at afternoon tea in the library, where the brass-wired
bookcases, filled with mighty folios and handsome octavos in old
bindings, looked as if they had not been opened for a century. The
literature of past ages furnished the room, and made a delightful
background. The literature of the present lay about on the tables, and
testified that the highest intellectual flight of the inhabitants of
Rood Hall was a dip into the _Contemporary_ or the _Nineteenth Century_,
or the perusal of the last new scandal in the shape of Reminiscences or
Autobiography. One large round table was consecrated to Mudie, another
to Rolandi. On the one side you had Mrs. Oliphant, on the other Zola,
exemplifying the genius of the two nations.
After tea Mr. Smithson's visitors, most of whom had arrived in Sir
George's drag, explored the grounds. These were lovely beyond expression
in the low afternoon light. Cedars of Lebanon spread their broad shadows
on the velvet lawn, yews and Wellingtonias of mighty growth made an
atmosphere of gloom in some parts of the grounds. One great feature was
the Ladies' Garden, a spot apart, a great square garden surrounded with
a laurel wall, eight feet high, containing a rose garden, where the
choicest specimens grew and flourished, while in the centre there was a
circular fish-pond with a fountain. There was a Lavender Walk too,
another feature of the grounds at Rood Hall, an avenue of tall lavender
bushes, much affected by the stately dames of old.
Modern manners preferred the river terrace, as a pleasant place on which
to loiter after dinner, to watch the boats flashing by in the evening
light, or the sun going down behind a fringe of willows on the opposite
bank. This Italian terrace, with its statues, and carved vases filled
with roses, fuchsias, and geraniums, was the great point of rendezvous
at Rood Hall--an ideal spot whereon to linger in the deepening twilight,
from which to gaze upon the moonlit river later on in the night.
The windows of the drawing-room, and music-room, and ballroom opened on
to this terrace, and the royal wing--the tower-shaped wing now devoted
to Lady Lesbia, looked upon the terrace and the river.
'Lovely, as your house is altogether, I think this river view is the
best part of it,' said Lady Lesbia, as she strolled with Mr. Smithson on
the terrace after dinner, dressed in Indian muslin which was almost as
poetical as a vapour, and with a cloud of delicate lace wrapped round
her head. 'I think I shall spend half of my life at my boudoir window,
gloating over that delicious landscape.'
Horace Meander, the poet, was discoursing to a select group upon that
peculiar quality of willows which causes them to shiver, and quiver, and
throw little lights and shadows on the river, and on the subtle,
ineffable beauty of twilight, which perhaps, however utterly beautiful
in the abstract, would have been more agreeable to him personally if he
had not been surrounded by a cloud of gnats, which refused to be
buffeted off his laurel-crowned head.
While Mr. Meander poetised in his usual eloquent style, Mrs. Mostyn, as
a still newer light, discoursed as eloquently to little a knot of women,
imparting valuable information upon the anatomical structure and
individual peculiarities of those various insects which are the pests of
a summer evening.
'You don't like gnats!' exclaimed the lady; 'how very extraordinary. Do
you know I have spent days and weeks upon the study of their habits and
dear little ways. They are the most interesting creatures--far superior
to _us_ in intellect. Do you know that they fight, and that they have
tribes which are life-long enemies--like those dreadful Corsicans--and
that they make little sepulchres in the bark of trees, and bury each
other--alive, if they can; and they hold vestries, and have burial
boards. They are most absorbing creatures, if you only give yourself up
to the study of them; but it is no use to be half-hearted in a study of
that kind. I went without so much as a cup of tea for twenty-four hours,
watching my gnats, for fear the opening of the door should startle them.
Another time I shall make the nursery governess watch for me.'
'How interesting, how noble of you,' exclaimed the other ladies; and
then they began to talk about bonnets, and about Mr. Smithson, to
speculate how much money this house and all his other houses had cost
him, and to wonder if he was really rich, or if he were only one of
those great financial windbags which so often explode and leave the
world aghast, marvelling at the ease with which it has been deluded.
They wondered, too, whether Lady Lesbia Haselden meant to marry him.
'Of course she does, my dear,' answered Mrs. Mostyn, decisively.
'You don't suppose that after having studied the habits of _gnats_ I
cannot read such a poor shallow creature as a silly vain girl. Of course
Lady Lesbia means to marry Mr. Smithson's fine houses; and she is only
amusing herself and swelling her own importance by letting him dangle in
a kind of suspense which is not suspense; for he knows as well as she
does that she means to have him.'
The next day was given up, first to seeing the house, an amusement which
lasted very well for an hour or so after breakfast, and then to
wandering in a desultory manner, to rowing and canoeing, and a little
sailing, and a good deal of screaming and pretty timidity upon the blue
bright river; to gathering wild flowers and ferns in rustic lanes, and
to an _al fresco_ luncheon in the wood at Medmenham, and then dinner,
and then music, an evening spent half within and half without the
music-room, cigarettes sparkling, like glowworms on the terrace, tall
talk from Mr. Meander, long quotations from his own muse and that of
Rossetti, a little Shelley, a little Keats, a good deal of Swinburne.
The festivities were late on this second evening, as Mr. Smithson had
invited a good many people from the neighbourhood, but the house party
were not the less early on the following morning, which was the first
It was a peerless morning, and all the brasswork of Mr. Smithson's
launch sparkled and shone in the sun, as she lay in front of the
terrace. A wooden pier, a portable construction, was thrown out from the
terrace steps, to enable the company to go on board the launch without
the possibility of wet feet or damaged raiment.
Lesbia's Chaumount costume was a success. The women praised it, the men
stared and admired. The dark-blue silken jersey, sparkling with closely
studded indigo beads, fitted the slim graceful figure as a serpent's
scales fit the serpent. The coquettish little blue silk toque, the
careless cluster of gold-coloured poppies, against the glossy brown
hair, the large sunshade of old gold satin lined with indigo, the
flounced petticoat of softest Indian silk, the dainty little
tan-coloured boots with high heels and pointed toes, were all perfect
after their fashion; and Mr. Smithson felt that the liege lady of his
life, the woman he meant to marry willy nilly, would be the belle of the
race-course. Nor was he disappointed. Everybody in London had heard of
Lady Lesbia Haselden. Her photograph was in all the West-End windows,
was enshrined in the albums of South Kensington and Clapham, Maida Vale
and Haverstock Hill. People whose circles were far remote from Lady
Lesbia's circle, were as familiar with her beauty as if they had known
her from her cradle. And all these outsiders wanted to see her in the
flesh, just as they always thirst to behold Royal personages. So when it
became known that the beautiful Lady Lesbia Haselden was on board Mr.
Smithson's launch, all the people in the small boats, or on neighbouring
barges, made it their business if have a good look at her. The launch
was almost mobbed by those inquisitive little boats in the intervals
between the races.
'What are the people all staring and hustling one another for?' asked
Lesbia, innocently. She had seen the same hustling and whispering and
staring in the hall at the opera, when she was waiting for her carriage;
but she chose to affect unconsciousness. 'What do they all want?'
'I think they want to see you,' said Mr. Smithson, who was sitting by
her side. 'A very natural desire.'
Lesbia laughed, and lowered the big yellow sunshade, so as to hide
herself altogether from the starers.
'How silly!' she exclaimed. 'It is all the fault of those horrid
photographers: they vulgarise everything and everybody. I will never be
'Oh yes, you will, and in that frock. It's the prettiest thing I've seen
for a long time. Why do you hide yourself from those poor wretches, who
keep rowing backwards and forwards in an obviously aimless way, just to
get a peep at you _en passant_? What happiness for us who live near you,
and can gaze when we will, without all those absurd manoeuvres. There
goes the signal--and now for a hard-fought race.'
Lesbia pretended to be interested in the racing--she pretended to be
gay, but her heart was as heavy as lead. The burden of debt, which had
been growing ever since Seraphine sent in her bill, was weighing her
down to the dust.
She owed three thousand pounds. It seemed incredible that she should owe
so much, that a girl's frivolous fancies and extravagances could amount
to such a sum within so short a span. But thoughtless purchases,
ignorant orders, had run on from week to week, and the main result was
an indebtedness of close upon three thousand pounds.
Three thousand pounds! The sum was continually sounding in her ears like
the cry of a screech owl. The very ripple of the river flowing so
peacefully under the blue summer sky seemed to repeat the words. Three
thousand pounds! 'Is it much?' she wondered, having no standard of
comparison. 'Is it very much more than my grandmother will expect me to
have spent in the time? Will it trouble her to have to pay those bills?
Will she be very angry?'
These were questions which Lesbia kept asking herself, in every pause of
her frivolous existence; in such a pause as this, for instance, while
the people round her were standing breathless, open-mouthed, gazing
after the boats. She did not care a straw for the boats, who won, or who
lost the race. It was all a hollow mockery. Indeed it seemed just now
that the only real thing in life was those accursed bills, which would
have to be paid somehow.
She had told Lady Maulevrier nothing about them as yet. She had allowed
herself to be advised by Lady Kirkbank, and she had taken time to think.
But thought had given her no help. The days were gliding onward, and
Lady Maulevrier would have to be told.
She meditated perplexedly about her grandmother's income. She had never
heard the extent of it, but had taken for granted that Lady Maulevrier
was rich. Would three thousand pounds make a great inroad on that
income? Would it be a year's income?--half a year's? Lesbia had no idea.
Life at Fellside was carried on in an elegant manner--with considerable
luxury in house and garden--a luxury of flowers, a lavish expenditure of
labour. Yet the expenditure of Lady Maulevrier's existence, spent always
on the same spot, must be as nothing to the money spent in such a life
as Lady Kirkbank's, which involved the keeping up of three or four
houses, and costly journeys to and fro, and incessant change of attire.
No doubt Lady Maulevrier had saved money; yes, she must have saved
thousands during her long seclusion, Lesbia argued. Her grandmother had
told her that she was to look upon herself as an heiress. This could
only mean that Lady Maulevrier had a fortune to leave her; and this
being so, what could it matter if she had anticipated some of her
portion? And yet there was in her heart of hearts a terrible fear of
that stern dowager, of the cold scorn in those splendid eyes when she
should stand revealed in all her foolishness, her selfish, mindless,
vain extravagances. She, who had never been reproved, shrank with a
sickly dread from the idea of reproof. And to be told that her career as
a fashionable beauty had been a failure! That would be the bitterest
pang of all.
Soon came luncheon, and Heidseck, and then an afternoon which was gayer
than the morning had been, inasmuch as every one babbled and laughed
more after luncheon. And then there was five o'clock tea on deck, under
the striped Japanese awning, to the jingle of banjos, enlivened by the
wit of black-faced minstrels, amidst wherries and canoes and gondolas,
and ponderous houseboats, and snorting launches, crowding the sides of
the sunlit river, in full view of the crowd yonder in front of the Red
Lion, and here on this nearer bank, and all along either shore, fringing
the green meadows with a gaudy border of smartly-dressed humanity.
It was a gay scene, and Lesbia gave herself up to the amusement of the
hour, and talked and chaffed as she had learned to talk and chaff in one
brief season, holding her own against all comers.
Rood Hall looked lovely when they went back to it in the gloaming, an
Elizabethan pile crowned with towers. The four wings with their conical
roofs, the massive projecting windows, grey stone, ruddy brickwork,
lattices reflecting the sunlight, Italian terrace and blue river in the
foreground, cedars and yews at the back, all made a splendid picture of
an English ancestral home.
'Nice old place, isn't it?' asked Mr. Smithson, seeing Lesbia's
admiring gaze as the launch neared the terrace. They two were standing
in the bows, apart from all the rest.
'Nice! it is simply perfect.'
'Oh no, it isn't. There is one thing wanted yet.'
'What is that?'
'A wife. You are the only person who can make any house of mine perfect.
Will you?' He took her hand, which she did not withdraw from his grasp.
He bent his head and kissed the little hand in its soft Swedish glove.
'Will you, Lesbia?' he repeated earnestly; and she answered softly,
That one brief syllable was more like a sigh than a spoken word, and it
seemed to her as if in the utterance of that syllable the three thousand
pounds had been paid.
'KIND IS MY LOVE TO-DAY, TO-MORROW KIND.'
While Lady Lesbia was draining the cup of London folly and London care
to the dregs, Lady Mary was leading her usual quiet life beside the
glassy lake, where the green hill-sides and sheep walks were reflected
in all their summer verdure under the cloudless azure of a summer sky. A
monotonous life--passing dull as seen from the outside--and yet Mary was
very happy, happy even in her solitude, with the grave deep joy of a
satisfied heart, a mind at rest. All life had taken a new colour since
her engagement to John Hammond. A sense of new duties, an awakening
earnestness had given a graver tone to her character. Her spirits were
less wild, yet not less joyous than of old. The joy was holier, deeper.
Her lover's letters were the chief delight of her lonely days. To read
them again and again, and ponder upon them, and then to pour out all her
heart and mind in answering them. These were pleasures enough for her
young like. Hammond's letters were such as any woman might be proud to
receive. They were not love-letters only. He wrote as friend to friend;
not descending from the proud pinnacle of masculine intelligence to the
lower level of feminine silliness; not writing down to a simple country
girl's capacity; but writing-fully and fervently, as if there were no
subject too lofty or too grave for the understanding of his betrothed.
He wrote as one sure of being sympathised with, wrote as to his second
self: and Mary showed herself not unworthy of the honour thus rendered
to her intellect.
There was one world which had newly opened to Mary since her
engagement, and that was the world of politics. Hammond had told her
that his ambition was to succeed as a politician--to do some good in his
day as one of the governing body; and of late she had made it her
business to learn how England and the world outside England were
She had no natural leaning to the study of political economy. Instead,
she had always imagined any question relating to the government of her
country to be inherently dry-as-dust and uninviting. But had John
Hammond devoted his days to the study of Coptic manuscripts, or the
arrow headed inscriptions upon Assyrian tablets, she would have toiled
her hardest in the endeavour to make herself a Coptic scholar, or an
adept in the cuneiform characters. If he had been a student of Chinese,
she would not have been discomfited by such a trifle as the fifty
thousand characters in the Chinese alphabet.
And so, as he was to make his name in the arena of public life, she set
herself to acquire a proper understanding of the science of politics;
and to this end she gorged herself with English history,--Hume, Hallam,
Green, Justin McCarthy, Palgrave, Lecky, from the days of Witenagemote
to the Reform Bill; the Repeal of the Corn Laws, the Disestablishment of
the Irish Church, Ballot, Trade Unionism, and unreciprocated Free Trade.
No question was deep enough to repel her; for was not her lover
interested in the dryest thereof; and what concerned him and his welfare
must needs be full of interest for her.
To this end she read the debates religiously day by day; and she one day
ventured shyly to suggest that she should read them aloud to Lady
'Would it not be a little rest for you if I were to read your Times
aloud to you every afternoon, grandmother?' she asked. 'You read so many
books, French, English, and German, and I think your eyes must get a
little tired sometimes.'
Mary ventured the remark with some timidity, for those falcon eyes were
fixed upon her all the time, bright and clear and steady as the eyes of
youth. It seemed almost an impertinence to suggest that such eyes could
'No, Mary, my sight, holds out wonderfully for an old woman,' replied
her ladyship, gently. 'The new theory of the last oculist whose book I
dipped into--a very amusing and interesting book, by-the-bye--is that
the sight improves and strengthens by constant use, and that an
agricultural labourer, who hardly uses his eyes at all, has rarely in
the decline of life so good a sight as the watchmaker or the student. I
have read immensely all my life, and find myself no worse for that
indulgence. But you may read the debates to me if you like, my dear, for
if my eyes are strong, I myself am very tired. Sick to death, Mary, sick
The splendid eyes turned from Mary, and looked away to the blue sky, to
the hills in their ineffable beauty of colour and light--shifting,
changing with every moment of the summer day. Intense weariness, a
settled despair, were expressed in that look--tearless, yet sadder than
'It must be very monotonous, very sad for you,' murmured Mary, her own
eyes brimming over with tears. 'But it will not be always so, dear
grandmother. I hope a time will come when you will be able to go about
again, to resume your old life.'
'I do not hope, Mary. No, child, I feel and know that time will never
come. My strength is ebbing slowly day by day. If I live for another
year, live to see Lesbia married, and you, too, perhaps--well, I shall
die at peace. At peace, no; not----' she faltered, and the thin,
semi-transparent hand was pressed upon her brow. 'What will be said of
me when I am dead?'
Mary feared that her grandmother's mind was wandering. She came and
knelt beside the couch, laid and her head against the satin pillows,
'Dear grandmother, pray be calm,' she murmured.
'Mary, do not look at me like that, as if you would read my heart. There
are hearts that must not be looked into. Mine is like a charnel-house.
Monotonous, yes; my life has been monotonous. No conventual gloom was
ever deeper than the gloom of Fellside. My boy did nothing to lighten it
for me, and his son followed in his father's footsteps. You and Lesbia
have been my only consolation. Lesbia! I was so proud of her beauty, so
proud and fond of her, because she was like me, and recalled my own
youth. And see how easily she forgets me. She has gone into a new world,
in which my age and my infirmities have no part; and I am as nothing to
Mary changed from red to pale, so painful was her embarrassment. What
could she say in defence of her sister? How could she deny that Lesbia
was an ingrate, when those rare and hurried letters, so careless in
their tone, expressing the selfishness of the writer in every syllable,
told but too plainly of forgetfulness and ingratitude?
'Dear grandmother, Lesbia has so much to do--her life is so full of
engagements,' she faltered feebly.
'Yes, she goes from party to party--she gives herself up heart and mind
and soul to pleasures which she ought to consider only as the trivial
means to great ends; and she forgets the woman who reared her, and cared
for her, and watched over her from her infancy, and who tried to inspire
her with a noble ambition.--Yes, read to me, child, read. Give me new
thoughts, if you can, for my brain is weary with grinding the old ones.
There was a grand debate in the Lords last night, and Lord Hartfield
spoke. Let me hear his speech. You can read what was said by the man
before him; never mind the rest.'
Mary read Lord Somebody's speech, which was passing dull, but which
prepared the ground for a magnificent and exhaustive reply from Lord
Hartfield. The question was an important one, affecting the well-being
of the masses, and Lord Hartfield spoke with an eloquence which rose in
force and fire as he wound himself like a serpent into the heart of his
subject--beginning quietly, soberly, with no opening flashes of
rhetoric, but rising gradually to the topmost heights of oratory.
'What a speech!' cried Lady Maulevrier, delighted, her cheeks glowing,
her eyes kindling; 'what a noble fellow the speaker must be! Oh, Mary, I
must tell you a secret. I loved that man's father. Yes, my dear, I loved
him fondly, dearly, truly, as you love that young man of yours; and he
was the only man I ever really loved. Fate parted us. But I have never
forgotten him--never, Mary, never. At this moment I have but to close my
eyes and I can see his face--see him looking at me as he looked the last
time we met. He was a younger son, poor, his future quite hopeless in
those days; but it was not my fault we were parted. I would have married
him--yes, wedded poverty, just as you are going to marry this Mr.
Hammond; but my people would not let me; and I was too young, too
helpless, to make a good fight. Oh, Mary, if I had only fought hard
enough, what a happy woman I might have been, and how good a wife.'
'You were a good wife to my grandfather, I am sure,' faltered Mary, by
way of saying something consolatory.
A dark frown came over Lady Maulevrier's face, which had softened to
deepest tenderness just before.
'A good wife to Maulevrier,' she said, in a mocking tone. Well, yes, as
good a wife as such a husband deserved. 'I was better than Caesar's
wife, Mary, for no breath of suspicion ever rested upon my name. But if
I had married Ronald Hollister, I should have been a happy woman; and
that I have never been since I parted from him.'
'You have never seen the present Lord Hartfield, I think?'
'Never; but I have watched his career, I have thought of him. His father
died while he was an infant, and he was brought up in seclusion by a
widowed mother, who kept him tied to her apron-strings till he went to
Oxford. She idolised him, and I am told she taught herself Latin and
Greek, mathematics even, in order to help him in his boyish, studies,
and, later on, read Greek plays and Latin poetry with him, till she
became an exceptional classic for a woman. She was her son's companion
and friend, sympathised with his tastes, his pleasures, his friendships;
devoted every hour of her life, every thought of her mind to his
welfare, his interests, walked with him, rode with him, travelled half
over Europe, yachted with him. Her friends all declared that the lad
would grow up an odious milksop; but I am told that there never was a
manlier man than Lord Hartfield. From his boyhood he was his mother's
protector, helped to administer her affairs, acquired a premature sense
of responsibility, and escaped almost all those vices which make young
men detestable. His mother died within a few months of his majority. He
was broken-hearted at losing her, and left Europe immediately after her
death. From that time he has been a great traveller. But I suppose now
that he has taken his seat in the House of Lords, and has spoken a good
many times, he means to settle down and take his place among the
foremost men of his day. I am told that he is worthy to take such a
'You must feel warmly interested in watching his career,' said Mary,
'I am interested in everything that concerns him. I will tell you
another secret, Mary. I think I am getting into my dotage, my dear, or I
should hardly talk to you like this,' said Lady Maulevrier, with a touch
Mary was sitting on a stool by the sofa, close to the invalid's pillow.
She clasped her grandmother's hand and kissed it fondly.
'Dear grandmother, I think you are talking to me like this to-day
because you are beginning to care for me a little,' she said, tenderly.
'Oh, my dear, you are very good, very sweet and forgiving to care for me
at all, after my neglect of you,' answered Lady Maulevrier, with a
sigh. 'I have kept you out in the cold so long, Mary. Lesbia--well,
Lesbia has been a kind of infatuation for me, and like all infatuations
mine has ended in disappointment and bitterness. Ambition has been the
bane of my life, Mary; and when I could no longer be ambitious for
myself--when my own existence had become a mere death in life, I began
to dream and to scheme for the aggrandisement of my granddaughter.
Lesbia's beauty, Lesbia's elegance seemed to make success certain--and
so I dreamt my dream--which may never be fulfilled.'
'What was your dream, grandmother? May I know all about it?'
'That was the secret I spoke of just now. Yes, Mary, you may know, for I
fear the dream will never be realised. I wanted my Lesbia to become Lord
Hartfield's wife. I would have brought them together myself, could I
have but gone to London; but, failing that, I fancied Lady Kirkbank
would have divined my wishes without being told them, and would have
introduced Hartfield to Lesbia; and now the London season is drawing to
a close, and Hartfield and Lesbia have never met. He hardly goes
anywhere, I am told. He devotes himself exclusively to politics; and he
is not in Lady Kirkbank's set. A terrible disappointment to me, Mary!'
'It is a pity,' said Mary. 'Lesbia is so lovely. If Lord Hartfield were
fancy-free he ought to fall in love with her, could they but meet. I
thought that in London all fashionable people knew each other, and were
'It used to be so in my day, Mary. Almack's was a common ground, even if
there had been no other. But now there are circles and circles, I
believe, rings that touch occasionally, but never break and mingle. I am
afraid poor Georgie's set is not quite so nice as I could have wished.
Yet Lesbia writes as if she were in raptures with her chaperon, and with
all the people she meets. And then Georgie tells me that this Mr.
Smithson whom Lesbia has refused is a very important personage, a
millionaire, and very likely to be made a peer.'
'A new peer,' said Mary, making a wry face. 'One would rather have an
old commoner. I always fancy a newly-made peer must be like a
newly-built house, glaring, and staring, and arid and uncongenial.'
'_C'est selon_,' said Lady Maulevrier. 'One would not despise a Chatham
or a Wellington because of the newness of his title; but a man who has
only money to recommend him----'
Lady Maulevrier left her sentence unfinished, save by a shrug; while
Mary made another wry face. She had that grand contempt for sordid
wealth which is common to young people who have never known the want of
'I hope Lesbia will marry some one better than Mr. Smithson,' she said.
'I hope so too, dear; and yet do you know I have an idea that Lesbia
means to accept Mr. Smithson, or she would hardly have consented to go
to his house for the Henley week. Here is a letter from Georgie Kirkbank
which you will have to answer for me to-morrow--a letter full of
raptures about Mr. Smithson's place in Berkshire, Rood Hall. I remember
the house well. I was there nearly fifty years ago, when the Heronvilles
owned it; and now the Heronvilles are all dead or ruined, and this city
person is master of the fine old mansion. It is a strange world, Mary.'
From that time forward Mary and her grandmother were on more
confidential terms, and when, two days later, Fellside was startled into
life by the unexpected arrival of Lord Maulevrier and Mr. Hammond, the
dowager seemed almost as pleased as her granddaughter at the arrival of
the young men.
As for Mary, she was almost beside herself with joy when she heard their
voices from the lawn, and, rushing to the shrubbery, saw them walk up
the hill, as she had seen them on that first evening nearly a year ago,
when John Hammond came as a stranger to Fellside.
She tried to take her joy soberly, though her eyes were dancing with
delight, as she went to the porch to meet them.
'What extraordinary young men you are,' she said, as she emerged
breathless from her lover's embrace. 'The idea of your descending upon
us without a moment's notice. Why did you not write or telegraph, that
your rooms might be ready?'
'Am I to understand that all the spare rooms at Fellside are kept as
damp as at the bottom of the lake?' asked Maulevrier.
'I did not think any preparation was necessary; but we can go back if
we're not wanted, can't we, Jack?'
'You darling,' cried Mary, hanging affectionately upon her brother's
arm. 'You _know_ I was only joking, you _know_ how enraptured I am to
'To have _me_, only me,' said Maulevrier. 'Jack doesn't count, I
'You know how glad I am, and that I want to hide my gladness,' answered
Mary, radiant and blushing like the rich red roses in the porch. 'You
men are so vain. And now come and see grandmother, she will be cheered
by your arrival. She has been so good to me just lately, so sweet.'
'She might have been good and sweet to you all your life,' said Hammond.
'I am not prepared to be grateful to her at a moment's notice for any
crumbs of affection she may throw you.'
'Oh but you must be grateful, sir; and you must love her and pity her,'
retorted Mary. 'Think how sadly she has suffered. We cannot be too kind
to her, or too fond of her, poor dear.'
'Mary is right,' said Hammond, half in jest and half in earnest. 'What
wonderful instincts these young women have.'
'Come and see her ladyship; and then you must have dinner, just as you
had that first evening,' said Mary. 'We'll act that first evening over
again, Jack; only you can't fall in love with Lesbia, as she isn't
'I don't think I surrendered that first evening, Mary. Though I thought
your sister the loveliest girl I had ever seen.'
'And what did you think of me, sir? Tell me that,' said Mary.
'Shall I tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
'Then I freely confess that I did not think about you at all. You were
there--a pretty, innocent, bright young maiden, with big brown eyes and
auburn hair; but I thought no more about you than I did about the
Gainsborough on the wall, which you very much resemble.'
'That is most humiliating,' said Mary, pouting a little in the midst of
'No, dearest, it is only natural,' answered Hammond. 'I believe if all
the happy lovers in this world could be questioned, at least half of
them would confess to having thought very little about each other at
first meeting. They meet, and touch hands, and part again, and never
guess the mystery of the future, which wraps them round like a cloud,
never say of each other, There is my fate; and then they meet again, and
again, as hazard wills, and never know that they are drifting to their
Mary rang bells and gave orders, just as she had done in that summer
gloaming a year ago. The young men had arrived just at the same hour, on
the stroke of nine, when the eight o'clock dinner was over and done
with; for a _tete-a-tete_ meal with Fraeulein Mueller was not a feast to
be prolonged on account of its felicity. Perhaps they had so contrived
as to arrive exactly at this hour.
Lady Maulevrier received them both with extreme cordiality. But the
young men saw a change for the worse in the invalid since the spring.
The face was thinner, the eyes too bright, the flush upon the hollow
cheek had a hectic tinge, the voice was feebler. Hammond was reminded of
a falcon or an eagle pining and wasting in a cage.
'I am very glad to see you, Mr. Hammond,' said Lady Maulevrier, giving
him her hand, and addressing him with unwonted cordiality. 'It was a
happy thought that brought you and Maulevrier here. When an old woman is
as near the grave as I am her relatives ought to look after her. I shall
be glad to have a little private conversation with you to-morrow, Mr.
Hammond, if you can spare me a few minutes.'
'As many hours, if your ladyship pleases,' said Hammond. 'My time is
entirely at your service.'
'Oh, no, you will want to be roaming about the hills with Mary,
discussing your plans for the future. I shall not encroach too much on
your time. But I am very glad you are here.'
'We shall only trespass on you for a few days,' said Maulevrier, 'just a
'How is it that you are not both at Henley?' asked Mary. 'I thought all
the world was at Henley.'
'Who is Henley? what is Henley?' demanded Maulevrier, pretending
'I believe Maulevrier has lost so much money backing, his college boat
on previous occasions that he is glad to run away from the regatta this
year,' said Hammond.
'I have a sister there,' replied his friend. 'That's an all-sufficient
explanation. When a fellow's women-kind take to going to races and
regattas it is high time for _him_ to stop away.'
'Have you seen Lesbia lately?' asked his grandmother.
'About ten days ago.'
'And did she seem happy?'
Maulevrier shrugged his shoulders.
'She was vacillating between the refusal or the acceptance of a million
of money and four or five fine houses. I don't know whether that
condition of mind means happiness. I should call it an intermediate
'Why do you make silly jokes about serious questions? Do you think
Lesbia means to accept this Mr. Smithson?'
'All London thinks so.'
'And is he a good man?'
'Good for a hundred thousand pounds at half an hour's notice.'
'Is he worthy of your sister?'
Maulevrier paused, looked at his grandmother with a curious expression,
and then replied--
'I think he is--quite.'
'Then I am content that she should marry him,' said Lady Maulevrier,
'although he is a nobody.'
'Oh, but he is a very important nobody, a nobody who can get a peerage
next year, backed by the Maulevrier influence, which I suppose would
count for something.'
'Most of my friends are dead,' said Lady Maulevrier, 'but there are a
few survivors of the past who might help me.'
'I don't think there'll be any difficulty or doubt about the peerage.
Smithson stumped up very handsomely at the last General Election, and
the Conservatives are not strong enough to be ungrateful. "These have,
WAYS AND MEANS.
The three days that followed were among the happiest days of Mary
Haselden's young life. Lady Maulevrier had become strangely indulgent. A
softening influence of some kind had worked upon that haughty spirit,
and it seemed as if her whole nature was changed--or it might be, Mary
thought, that this softer side of her character had always been turned
to Lesbia, while to Mary herself it was altogether new. Lesbia had been
the peach on the sunny southern wall, ripening and reddening in a flood
of sunshine; Mary had been the stunted fruit growing in a north-east
corner, hidden among leaves, blown upon by cold winds green and hard and
sour for lack of the warm bright light. And now Mary felt the sunshine,
and grew glad and gay in those glowing beams.
'Dear grandmother, I believe you are beginning to love me,' she said,
bending over to arrange the invalid's pillows in the July morning, the
fresh mountain air blowing in upon old and young from the great open
window, like a caress.
'I am beginning to know you,' answered Lady Maulevrier, gently.
'I think it is the magic of love, Mary, that has sweetened and softened
your nature, and endeared you to me. I think you have grown ever so much
sweeter a girl since your engagement. Or it may be that you were the
same always, and it was I who was blind. Lesbia was all in all to me.
All in all--and now I am nothing to her,' she murmured, to herself
rather than to Mary.
'I am so proud to think that you see an improvement in me since my
engagement,' said Mary, modestly. 'I have tried very hard to improve
myself, so that I might be more worthy of him.'
'You are worthy, Mary, worthy of the best and the highest: and I believe
that, although you are making what the world calls a very bad match, you
are marrying wisely. You are wedding yourself to a life of obscurity;
but what does that matter, if it be a happy life? I have known what it
is to pursue the phantom fortune, and to find youth and hope and
happiness vanish from the pathway which I followed.'
'Dear grandmother, I wish you had been able to marry the man of your
choice,' answered Mary, tenderly.
She was ready to weep over that wasted life of her grandmother's; to
weep for that forced parting of true lovers, albeit the tragedy was half
a century old.
'I should have been a happier woman and a better woman if fate had been
kind to me, Mary,' answered Lady Maulevrier, gravely; 'and now that I am
daily drawing nearer the land of shadows, I will not stand in the way of
faithful lovers. I have a fancy, Mary, that I have not many months to
'Only an invalid's fancy,' said Mary, stooping down to kiss the pale
forehead, so full of thought and care; 'only a morbid fancy, nursed in
the monotony of this quiet room. Maulevrier and Jack and I must find
some way of amusing you.'
'You will never amuse me out of that conviction, my dear. I can see the
shadows lengthening and the sands running out. There are but a few
grains left in the glass, Mary; and while those last I should like to
see you and Mr. Hammond married. I should like to feel that your fate is
settled before I go. God knows what confusion and trouble may follow my
This was said with a sharp ring of despair.
'I am not going to leave you, grandmother,' said Mary.
'Not even for the man you love? You are a good girl, Mary. Lesbia has
forsaken me for a lesser temptation.'
'Grandmother, that is hardly fair. It was your own wish to have Lesbia
presented this season,' remonstrated Mary, loyal to the absent.
'True, my dear. I saw she was very tired of her life here, and I thought
it was better. But I'm sorely afraid London has spoiled her. No, Mary,
you can stay with me to the end, if you like. There is room enough for
you and your husband under this roof. I like this Mr. Hammond. His is
the only face that ever recalled the face of the dead. Yes, I like him;
and although I know nothing about him except what Maulevrier tells
me--and that is of the scantiest--still I feel, somehow, that I can
trust him. Send your lover to me, Mary. I want to have a serious talk
Mary ran off to obey, fluttered, blushing, and trembling. This idea of
marriage in the immediate future was to be the last degree startling. A
year had seemed a very long time; and she had been told that she and her
lover must wait a year at the very least; so that vision of marriage had
seemed afar off in the dim shadowland of the future. She had been told
nothing by her lover of where she was to live, or what her life was to
be like when she was his wife. And now she was told that they were to be
married almost immediately, that they were to live in the house where
she had been reared, in that familiar land of hills and waters, that
they were to roam about the dales and mountains together, they two, as
man and wife. The whole thing was wonderful, bewildering, impossible
This was on the first morning after Mr. Hammond's arrival. Maulevrier
had gone off to hunt the Rotha for otters, and was up to his waist in
the water, no doubt, by this time. Hammond was strolling up and down the
terrace in front of the house, looking at the green expanse of
Fairfield, the dark bulk of Seat Sandal, the nearer crests of Helm Crag
and Silver Howe.
'You are to come to her ladyship directly, please,' said Mary, going up
He took both her hands, drew her nearer to him, smiling down at her.
They had been sitting side by side at the breakfast table half-an-hour
ago, he waiting upon her as she poured out the tea; yet by his tender
greeting and the delight in his face it might have been supposed they
had not met for weeks. Such are the sweet inanities of love.
'What does her ladyship want with me, darling? and why are you
blushing?' he asked.
'I--I think she is going to talk about--our--marriage,' faltered Mary.
'"Why, I will talk to her upon this theme until mine eyelids can no
longer wag,"' quoted Hammond. 'Take me to her, Mary. I hope her ladyship
is growing sensible.'
'She is very kind, very sweet. She has changed so much of late.'
Mary went with him to the door of her ladyship's sitting-room, and there
left him to go in alone. She went to the library--that room over which a
gloomy shadow seemed to have hung ever since that awful winter afternoon
when Mary found Lady Maulevrier lying on the floor in the twilight. But
it was a noble room, and in her studious hours Mary loved to sit here,
walled round with books, and able to consult or dip into as many volumes
as she liked. To-day, however, her mind was not attuned to study. She
sat with a volume of Macaulay open before her: but her thoughts were not
with the author. She was wondering what those two were saying in the
room overhead, and finding all attempts at reading futile, she let her
head sink back upon the cushion of her deep luxurious chair, and sat
with her dreamy eyes fixed on the summer landscape and her thoughts with
Lady Maulevrier looked very wan and tired in the bright morning light,
when Mr. Hammond seated himself beside her sofa. The change in her
appearance since the spring was more marked to-day than it had seemed to
him last night in the dim lamplight. Yes, there was need hero for a
speedy settlement of air earthly matters. The traveller was nearing the
mysterious end of the journey. The summons might come at any hour.
'Mr. Hammond, I feel a confidence in your integrity, your goodness of
heart, and high principle which I never thought I could feel for a man
of whom I know so little,' began Lady Maulevrier, gravely. 'All I know
of you or your antecedents is what my grandson has told me--and I must
say that the information so given has been very meagre. And yet I
believe in you--and yet I am going to trust you, wholly, blindly,
implicitly--and I am going to give you my granddaughter, ever so much
sooner than I intended to give her to you. Soon, very soon, if you will
'I will have her to-morrow, if there is time to get a special licence,'
exclaimed Hammond, bending down to kiss the dowager's hand, radiant with
'You shall marry her very soon, if you like, marry her by special
licence, in this room. I should like to see your wedding. I have a
strange impatience to behold one of my granddaughters happily married,
to know that her future is secure, that come weal, come woe, she is safe
in the protection of a brave true man. I am not scared by the idea of a
little poverty. That is often the best education for youth. But while
you and I are alone we may as well talk about ways and means. Perhaps
you may hardly feel prepared to take upon yourself the burden of a wife
'As well this year as next. I am not afraid.'
'Young men are so rash. However, as long as I live your responsibilities
will be only nominal. This house will be Mary's home, and yours whenever
you are able to occupy it. Of course I should not like to interfere with
your professional efforts--but if you are cultivating literature,--why
books can be written at Fellside better than in London. This lakeland of
ours has been the nursery of deathless writers. But I feel that my days
are numbered--and when I am dead--well death is always a cause of change
and trouble of some kind, and Mary will profit very little by my death.
The bulk of my fortune is left to Lesbia. I have taught her to consider
herself my heiress; and it would be unjust to alter my will.'
'Pray do not dream of such a thing--there is no need--Mary will be rich
enough,' exclaimed Hammond, hastily.
'With five hundred a year and the fruits of your industry,' said Lady
Maulevrier. 'Yes, yes, with modest aspirations and simple habits, people
can live happily, honourably, on a few hundreds a year. And if you
really mean to devote yourself to literature, and do not mind burying
yourself alive in this lake district until you have made your name as a
writer, why the problem of ways and means will be easily solved.'
'Dear Lady Maulevrier, I am not afraid of ways and means. That is the
last question which need trouble you. I told Lesbia when I offered
myself to her nearly a year ago, that if she would trust me, if she
would cleave to me, poverty should never touch her, sordid care should
never come near her dwelling. But she could not believe me. She was like
Thomas the twin. I could show her no palpable security for my
promise--and she would not believe for the promise' sake. Mary trusted
me; and Mary shall not regret her confidence.'
'Ah! it was different with Lesbia,' sighed Lady Maulevrier. 'I taught
her to be ambitious. She had been schooled to set a high price upon
herself. I know she cared for you--very much, even. But she could not
face poverty; or, if you like, I will say that she could not face an
obscure existence--sacrifice her ambition, a justifiable ambition in one
so lovely, at the bidding of her first wooer. And then, again, she was
told that if she married you, she would for ever forfeit my regard. You
must not blame her for obeying me.'
'I do not blame her; for I have won the peerless pearl--the jewel above
all price--a perfect woman. And now, dear Lady Maulevrier, give me but
your consent, and I am off to York this afternoon, to interview the
Archbishop, and get the special licence, which will allow me to wed my
darling here by your couch to-morrow afternoon.'
'I have no objection to your getting the licence immediately; but you
must let me write a cheque before you go. A special licence is
expensive--I believe it costs fifty pounds.'
'If it cost a thousand I should not think it dear. But I have a notion
that I shall be able to get the licence--cheap. You have made me wild
'But you must not refuse my cheque.'
'Indeed I must, Lady Maulevrier. I am not quite such a pauper as you
'But fifty pounds and the expenses of the journey; an outlay altogether
unexpected on your part. I begin to fear that you are very reckless. A
spendthrift shall never marry my granddaughter, with my consent.'
'I have never yet spent above half my income.'
Lady Maulevrier looked at him in wonderment and perplexity. Had the
young man gone suddenly out of his mind, overwhelmed by the greatness of
'But I thought you were poor,' she faltered.
'It has pleased you to think so, dear Lady Maulevrier; but I have more
than enough for all my wants, and I shall be able to provide a fitting
home for my Mary, when you can spare her to preside over her own
'Establishment' seemed rather a big word, but Lady Maulevrier supposed
that in this case it meant a cook and housemaid, with perhaps later on a
boy in buttons, to break windows and block the pantry sink with missing
'Well, Mr. Hammond, this is quite an agreeable surprise,' she said,
after a brief silence. 'I really thought you were poor--as poor as a
young man of gentlemanlike habits could be, and yet exist. Perhaps you
will wonder why, thinking this, I brought myself to consent to your
marriage with my granddaughter.'
'It was a great proof of your confidence in me, or in Providence,'
replied Hammond, smiling.
'It was no such thing. I was governed by a sentiment--a memory. It was
my love for the dead which softened my heart towards you, John Hammond.'
'Indeed!' he murmured, softly.
'There was but one man in this world I ever fondly loved--the love of my
youth--my dearest and best, in the days when my heart was fresh and
innocent and unambitious. That man was Ronald Hollister, afterwards Lord
Hartfield. And yours is the only face that ever recalled his to my mind.
It is but a vague likeness--a look now and then; but slight as that
likeness is it has been enough to make my heart yearn towards you, as
the heart of a mother to her son.'
John Hammond knelt beside the sofa, and bent his handsome face over the
pale face on the pillow, imprinting such a kiss as a son might have
given. His eyes were full of tears.
'Dear Lady Maulevrier, think that it is the spirit of the dead which
blesses you for your fidelity to old memories,' he said, tenderly.
BY SPECIAL LICENCE.
After that interview with John Hammond all the arrangements for the
marriage were planned by Lady Maulevrier with a calm and business-like
capacity which seemed extraordinary in one so frail and helpless. For a
little while after Hammond left her she remained lost in a reverie,
deeply affected by the speech and manner of her granddaughter's lover,
as he gave her that first kiss of duty and affection, the affection of
one who in that act declared the allegiance of a close and holy bond.
Yes, she told herself, this marriage, humble as it might be, was
altogether satisfactory. Her own feeling towards the man of her
granddaughter's choice was one of instinctive affection. Her heart had
yearned to him from the beginning of their acquaintance; but she had
schooled herself to hide all indications of her liking for him, she had
made every effort to keep him at a distance, deeming his very merits a
source of danger in a household where there were two fresh
And despite all her caution and care he had succeeded in winning one of
those girls: and she was glad, very glad, that he had so succeeded in
baffling her prudence. And now it was agreeable to discover that he was
not quite such a pauper as she had supposed him to be.
Her heart felt lighter than it had been for some time when she set about
planning the wedding.
The first step in the business was to send for James Steadman. He came
immediately, grave and quiet as of old, and stood with his serious eyes
bent upon the face of his mistress, awaiting her instructions.
'Lady Mary is going to be married to Mr. Hammond, by special licence, in
this room, to-morrow afternoon, if it can be managed so soon,' said Lady
'I am very glad to hear it, my lady,' answered Steadman, without the
faintest indication of surprise.
'Why are you so--particularly glad?' asked his mistress, looking at him
'Because Lady Mary's presence in this house is a source of danger
to--your arrangements. She is very energetic and enterprising--very
shrewd--and--well, she is a woman--so I suppose there can be no harm in
saying she is somewhat inquisitive. Things will be much safer here when
Lady Mary is gone!'
'But she will not be gone--she is not going away--except for a very
brief honeymoon. I cannot possibly do without her. She has become
necessary to my life, Steadman; and there is so little left of that life
now, that there is no need for me to sacrifice the last gleams of
sunshine. The girl is very sweet, and loving, and true. I was not half
fond enough of her in the past; but she has made herself very dear to me
of late. There are many things in this life, Steadman, which we only
find out too late.'
'But, surely, my lady, Lady Mary will leave Fellside to go to a home of
her own after her marriage.'
'No, I tell you, Steadman,' his mistress answered, with a touch of
impatience; 'Lady Mary and her husband will make this house their home
so long as I am here. It will not be long.'
'God grant it may be very long before you cease to be mistress here,'
answered Steadman, with real feeling; and then in a lower tone he went
on: 'Pardon me, my lady, for the suggestion, but do you think it wise to
have Mr. Hammond here as a resident?'
'Why should it not be wise? Mr. Hammond is a gentleman.'
'True, my lady; but any accident, such as that which brought Lady Mary
into the old garden----'
'No such accident need occur--it must not occur, Steadman,' exclaimed
Lady Maulevrier, with kindling eyes. She who had so long ruled supreme
was not inclined to have any desire of hers questioned. 'There must have
been gross carelessness that day--carelessness on your part, or that
stable door would never have been left open. The key ought to have been
in your possession It ought not to have been in the power of the
stableman to open that door. As to Mr. Hammond's presence at Fellside, I
cannot see any danger--any reason why harm should come of it, more than
of Lord Maulevrier's presence here in the past.'
'The two gentlemen are so different, my lady,' said Steadman, with a
gloomy brow. 'His lordship is so light-hearted and careless, his mind
taken up with his horses, guns, dogs, fishing, shooting, and all kinds
of sport. He is not a gentleman to take much notice of anything out of
his own line. But this Mr. Hammond is different--a very thoughtful
gentleman, an inquiring mind, as one would say.'
'Steadman, you are getting cowardly in your old age. The danger--such a
risk as you hint at, must be growing less and less every day. After
forty years of security----'
'Security' echoed Steadman, with a monosyllabic laugh which expressed
intense bitterness. 'Say forty years during which I have felt myself
upon the edge of a precipice every day and every hour. Security! But
perhaps you are right, my lady, I am growing old and nervous, a feebler
man than I was a few years ago, feebler in body and mind. Let Mr.
Hammond make his home here, if it pleases your ladyship to have him. So
long as I am well and able to get about there can be no danger of
anything awkward happening.'
Lady Maulevrier looked alarmed.
'But you have no expectation of falling ill, I hope, Steadman; you have
no premonition of any malady?'
'No, my lady, none--except the malady of old age. I feel that I am not
the man I once was, that is all. My brain is getting woolly, and my
sight is clouded now and then. And if I were to fall ill suddenly----'
'Oh, it would be terrible, it would be a dire calamity! There is your
wife, certainly, to look after things, but----'
'My wife would do her best, my lady. She is a faithful creature, but she
is not--yes, without any unkindness I must say that Mrs. Steadman is not
'Oh, Steadman, you must not fail me! I am horror-stricken at the mere
idea,' exclaimed Lady Maulevrier. 'After forty years--great God! it
would be terrible. Lesbia, Mary, Maulevrier! the great, malignant,
babbling world outside these doors. I am hemmed round with perils. For
God's sake preserve your strength. Take care of your health. You are my
strong rock. If you feel that there is anything amiss with you, or that
your strength is failing, consult Mr. Horton--neglect no precaution. The
safety of this house, of the family honour, hangs upon you.'
'Pray do not agitate yourself, my lady,' entreated Steadman. 'I was
wrong to trouble you with my fears. I shall not fail you, be sure.
Although I am getting old, I shall hold out to the end.'
'The end cannot be very far off,' said Lady Maulevrier, gloomily.
'I thought that forty years ago, my lady. But you are right--the end
must be near now. Yes, it must be near. And now, my lady, your orders
about the wedding.'
'It will take place to-morrow, as I told you, in this room. You will go
to the Vicar and ask him to officiate. His two daughters will no doubt
consent to be Lady Mary's bridesmaids. You will make the request in my
name. Perhaps the Vicar will call this afternoon and talk matters over
with me. Lady Mary and her husband will go to Cumberland for a brief
honeymoon--a week at most--and then they will come back to Fellside.
Tell Mrs. Power to prepare the east wing for them. She will make one of
the rooms into a boudoir for Lady Mary; and let everything be as bright
and pretty as good taste can make it. She can telegraph to London for
any new furniture that may be wanted to complete her arrangements. And
now send Lady Mary to me.'
Mary came, fresh from the pine-wood, where she had been walking with her
lover; her lover of to-day, her husband to-morrow. He had told her how
he was to start for York directly after luncheon, and to come back by
the earliest train next day, and how they two were to be married
'It is more wonderful than any dream that I ever dreamt.' exclaimed
Mary. 'But how can it be? I have not even a wedding gown.'
'A fig for wedding gowns! It is Mary I am to wed, not her gown. Were you
clad like patient Grisel I should be content. Besides you have no end of
pretty gowns. And you are to be dressed for travelling, remember; for I
am going to carry you off to Lodore directly we are married, and you
will have to clamber up the rocky bed of the waterfall to see the sun
set behind the Borrowdale hills in your wedding gown. It had better be
one of those neat little tailor gowns which become you so well.'
'I will wear whatever you tell me,' answered Mary. 'I shall always dress
to please you, and not the outside world.'
'Will you, my Griselda. Some day you shall be dressed as Grisel was--
"In a cloth of gold that brighte shone,
With a coroune of many a riche stone."
'Yes, you darling, when you are Lord Chancellor: and till that day comes
I will wear tailor gowns, linsey-wolsey, anything you like,' cried Mary,
She ran to her grandmother's room, ineffably content, without a thought
of trousseau or finery; but then Mary Haselden was one of those few
young women for whom life is not a question of fashionable raiment.
'Mary, I am going to send you off upon your honeymoon to-morrow
afternoon,' said Lady Maulevrier, smiling at the bright, happy face
which was bent over her. 'Will you come back and nurse a fretful old
woman when the honeymoon is over?'
'The honeymoon will never be over,' answered Mary, joyously 'Our wedded
life is to be one long honeymoon. But I will come back in a very few
days, and take care of you. I am not going to let you do without me, now
that you have learnt to love me.'
'And will you be content to stay with me when your husband has gone to
'Yes, but I shall try to prevent his going very often, or staying very
long. I shall try to wind myself into his heart, so that there will be
an aching void there when we are parted.'
Lady Maulevrier proceeded to tell Mary all her arrangements. Three
handsome rooms in the east wing, a bedroom, dressing-room, and boudoir,
were to be made ready for the newly-married, couple. Fraeulein Mueller was
to be dismissed with a retiring pension, in order that Lady Mary and her
husband might feel themselves master and mistress in the lower part of
'And if your husband really means to devote himself to literature, he
can have no better workshop than the library I have put together,' said
'And no better adviser and guide than you, dear grandmother, you who
have read everything that has been written worth reading during the last
'I have read a great deal, Mary, but I hardly know if I am any wiser on
that account,' answered Lady Maulevrier. 'After all, however much of
other people's wisdom we may devour, it is in ourselves that we are
thus, or thus. Our past follies rise up against us at the end of life;
and we see how little our book-learning has helped us to stand against
foolish impulses, against evil passions. "Be good," Mary, "and let who
will be wise," as the poet says. A faithful heart is your only anchor in
the stormy seas of life. My dear, I am so glad you are going to be
'It is very sudden,' said Mary.
'Very sudden; yet in your case that does not much matter. You have quite
made up your mind about Mr. Hammond, I believe.'
'Made up my mind! I began to worship him the first night he came here.'
'Foolish child. Well, there is no deed to wait for settlements. You have
only your allowance as Lord Maulevrier's daughter--a first charge on the
estate, which cannot be made away with or anticipated, and of which no
husband can deprive you.'
'He shall have every sixpence of it,' murmured Mary.
'And Mr. Hammond, though he tells me he is better off than I supposed,
can have nothing to settle. So there will be nothing forfeited by a
marriage without settlements.'
Mary could not enter upon the question. It was even of less importance
than the wedding gown.
The gong sounded for luncheon.
'Steadman's dogcart is to take Mr. Hammond to the station at half-past
two,' said Lady Maulevrier, 'so you had better go and give him his
Mary needed no second bidding. She flew downstairs, and met her lover in
What a happy luncheon it was! Fraeulein 'mounched, and mounched, and
mounched,' like the sailor's wife eating chestnuts: but those two lovers
lunched upon moonshine, upon each other's little words and little looks,
upon their own ineffable bliss. They sat side by side, and helped each
other to the nicest thing's on the table, but neither could eat, and
they got considerably mixed in their way of eating, taking chutnee with
strawberry cream, and currant jelly with asparagus. What did it matter?
Everything tasted of bliss.
'You have had absolutely nothing to eat,' said Mary, piteously, as the
dogcart came grinding round upon the dry gravel.
'Oh, I have done splendidly--thanks. I have just had a macaroon and some
of that capital gorgonzola. God bless you, dearest, and _a revoir, a
'And to-morrow I shall be Mary Hammond,' cried Mary, clasping her hands.
'Isn't it capital fun?'
They were in the porch alone. The servants were all at dinner, save the
groom with the cart, Miss Mueller was still munching at the well-spread
table in the dining-room.
John Hammond folded his sweetheart in his arms for one brief embrace;
there was no time for loitering. In another moment he was springing into
the cart. A shake of the reins, and he was driving slowly down the steep
'Life is full of partings,' Mary said to herself, as she watched the
last glimpse of the dogcart between the trees down in the road below,
'but this one is to be very short, thank God.'
She wondered what she should do with herself for the rest of the
afternoon, and finally, finding that she was not wanted by her
grandmother until afternoon tea, she set out upon a round of visits to
her favourite cottagers, to bid them a long farewell as a spinster.
'You'll be away a long time, I suppose, Lady Mary?' said one of her
humble friends; 'you'll be going to Switzerland or Italy, or some of
those foreign parts where great ladies and gentlemen travel for their
But Mary declared that she would be absent a week at longest She was
coming back to take care of her invalid grandmother; and she was not
going to marry a great gentleman, but a man who would have to work for
She went back to Fellside, and read the _Times_, and poured out Lady
Maulevrier's tea, and sat on her low stool by the sofa, and the old and
the young woman were as happy and confidential together as if they had
been always the nearest and dearest to each other. Her ladyship had seen
Miss Mueller, and had informed that excellent person that her services at
Fellside would no longer be required after Lady Mary's marriage; but
that her devotion to her duties during the last fourteen years should be
rewarded by a pension which, together with her savings, would enable her
to spend the rest of her days in repose. Miss Mueller was duly grateful,
and owned to a tender longing for the _Heimath_, and declared herself
ready to retire from her post whenever her ladyship pleased.
'I shall go back to Germany directly I leave you, and I shall live and
die there, unless I am wanted by one of my old pupils. But should Lady
Lesbia or Lady Mary need my services for their daughters, in days to
come, they can command me. For no one else will I abandon the
The Fraeulein thus easily disposed of, Lady Mary felt that matrimony
would verily mean independence. And yet she was prepared to regard her
husband as her master. She meant to obey him in all meekness and
reverence of spirit.
She spent the rest of the afternoon and the whole of the evening in her
grandmother's sitting-room, dining _tete-a-tete_ with the invalid for
the first time since her illness. Lady Maulevrier talked much of Mary's
future, and of Lesbia's; but it was evident that she was full of
uneasiness upon the latter subject.
'I don't know what Lesbia is going to do with her life,' she said, with
a sigh. 'Her letters tell me of nothing but gowns and parties; and
Georgina Kirkbank can only expatiate upon Mr. Smithson's wealth, and the
grand position he is going to occupy by-and-by. I should like to see
both my granddaughters married before I die--yes, I should like to see
Lesbia's fate secure, if she were to be only Lady Lesbia Smithson.'
'She cannot fail to make a good match, grandmother,' said Mary.
'I am beginning to lose faith in her future,' answered Lady Maulevrier.
'There seems to be a fatality about the career of particularly
attractive girls. They are too confident of their power to succeed in
life. They trifle with fortune, fascinate the wrong people, and keep the
right people at arm's length. I think if I had been Lesbia's guide in
society her first season would have counted for more than it is likely
to count for under Lady Kirkbank's management. I should have awakened
Lesbia from the dream of dress and dancing--the mere butterfly life of a
girl who never looks beyond the present moment. But now go and give
orders about your packing, Mary. It is past ten, and Clara had better
pack your trunks early to-morrow morning.'
Clara was a modest Easedale damsel, who had been promoted to be Lady
Mary's personal attendant, when the more mature Kibble had gone away
with Lady Lesbia. Mary required very little waiting upon, but she was
not the less glad to have a neat little smiling maiden devoted to her
service, ready to keep her rooms neat and trim, to go on errands to the
cottagers, to arrange the flowers in the old china bowls, and to make
herself generally useful.
It seemed a strange thing to have to furnish a trousseau from the
wardrobe of everyday life--a trousseau in which nothing, except
half-a-dozen pairs of gloves, a pair of boots, and a few odds and ends
of lace and ribbons would be actually new. Mary thought very little of
the matter, but the position of things struck her maid as altogether
extraordinary and unnatural.
'You should have seen the things Miss Freeman had, Lady Mary,' exclaimed
the damsel, 'the daughter of that cotton-spinning gentleman from
Manchester, who lives at The Gables--you should have seen her new gowns
and things when she was married. Mrs. Freeman's maid keeps company with
my brother James--he's in the stables at Freeman's, you know, Lady
Mary--and she asked me in to look at the trousseau two days before the
wedding. I never saw such beautiful dresses--such hats--such
bonnets--such jackets and mantles. It was like going into one of those
grand shops at York, and having all the things in the shop pulled out
for one to look at--such silks and satins--and trimmed--ah! how those
dresses was trimmed. The mystery was how the young lady could ever get
herself into them, or sit down when she'd got one of them on.'
'Instruments of torture, Clara. I should hate such gowns, even if I were
going to marry a rich man, as I suppose Miss Freeman was.'
'Not a bit of it, Lady Mary. She was only going to marry a Bolton doctor
with a small practice; but her maid told me she was determined she'd get
all she could out of her pa, in case he should lose all his money and go
bankrupt. They said that trousseau cost two thousand pounds.'
'Well, Clara, I'd rather have my tailor gowns, in which I can scramble
about the ghylls and crags just as I like.' There was a pale yellow
Indian silk, smothered with soft yellow lace, which would serve for a
wedding gown; for indifferent as Mary was to the great clothes question,
she wanted to look in some wise as a bride. A neat chocolate-coloured
cloth, almost new from the tailor's hands, with a little cloth toque to
match, would do for the wedding journey. All the details of Mary's
wardrobe were the perfection of neatness. She had grown very neat and
careful in her habits since her engagement, anxious to be industrious
and frugal in all things--a really handy housewife for a hard-worked
bread-winner. And now she was told that Mr. Hammond was not so poor as
she had thought. She would not be obliged to stint herself, and manage,
as she had supposed when she went about among the cottagers, taking
lessons in household economy. It was almost a disappointment.
She and Clara finished the packing that night, Mary being much too
excited for the possibility of sleep. There was not much to pack, only
one roomy American trunk--a trunk which held everything--a Gladstone bag
for things that might possibly be wanted in a hurry, and a handsome
dressing-bag, Maulevrier's last birthday gift to his sister.
Mary had received no gifts from her lover, save the plain gold
engagement ring, and a few new books sent straight from the publishers.
Clara took care to inform her young mistress that Miss Freeman's
sweetheart had sent her all manner of splendid presents, scent bottles,
photograph albums, glove boxes, and other things of beauty, albeit his
means were supposed to be _nil_. It was evident that Clara disapproved
of Mr. Hammond's conduct in this matter, and even suspected him of
'He did ought to have sent you his photograph, Lady Mary,' said Clara,
with a reproachful air.
'I daresay he would have done so, Clara, but he has been photographed
only once in his life.'
'Lawk a mercy, Lady Mary! Why most young gentlemen have themselves
photographed in every new place they go to; and as Mr. Hammond has been
a traveller, like his lordship, I made sure he'd have been photographed
in knickerbockers and every other kind of attitude.'
Mary had not refrained from asking for her lover's portrait; and he had
told her that he had carefully abstained from having his countenance
reproduced in any manner since his fifteenth year, when he had been
photographed at his mother's desire.
'The present fashion of photographs staring out of every stationer's
window makes a man's face public property,' he told Mary. 'I don't want
every street Arab in London to recognise me.'
'But you are not a public man,' said Mary. 'Your photograph would not be
in all the windows; although, in my humble opinion, you are a very
Hammond blushed, laughed, and turned the conversation, and Mary had to
exist without any picture of her lover.
'Millais shall paint me in his grand Reynolds manner by-and-by,' he told
'Millais! Oh, Jack! When will you and I be able to give a thousand or so
for a portrait?'
'Ah, when, indeed? But we may as well enjoy our day-dreams, like
Alnaschar, without smashing our basket of crockery.'
And now Mary, who had managed to exist without the picture, was to have
the original. He was to be all her own--her master, her lord, her love,
after to-morrow--unto eternity, in life, and in the grave, and in the
dim hereafter beyond the grave, they two were to be one. In heaven there
was to be no marrying or giving in marriage, Mary was told; but her own
heart cried aloud to her that the happily wedded must remain linked in
heaven. God would not part the blessed souls of true lovers.
A short sleep, broken by happy dreams, and it was morning, Mary's
wedding morning, fairest of summer days, July in all her beauty. Mary
went to her grandmother's room, and waited upon her at breakfast.
Lady Maulevrier was in excellent spirits.
'Everything is arranged, Mary, I have had a telegram from Hammond, who
has got the licence, and will come at half-past one. At three the Vicar
will come to marry you, his daughters, Katie and Laura, acting as your
'Bridesmaids!' exclaimed Mary. 'I forgot all about bridesmaids. Am I
really to have any?'
'You will have two girls of your own age to bear you company, at any
rate. I have asked dear old Horton to be present; and he, Fraeulein, and
Maulevrier will complete the party. It will not be a brilliant wedding,
Mary, or a costly ceremonial, except for the licence.'
'And poor Jack will have to pay for that,' said Mary, with a long face.
'Poor Jack refused to let me pay for it,' answered Lady Maulevrier. 'He
is vastly independent, and I fear somewhat reckless.'
'I like him for his independence; but he mustn't be reckless,' said
He was to be the master in all things! and yet she was to exercise a
restraining influence, she was to guard him against his own weaknesses,
his too generous impulses. Her voice was to be the voice of prudence.
This is how Mary understood the marriage tie.
Under ordinary conditions Mary would have been in the avenue, lying in
wait for her lover, eager to get the very first glimpse of him when he
arrived, to see him before he had brushed the dust of the journey from
his raiment. But to-day she hung back. She stayed in her grandmother's
room and sat beside the sofa, shy, and even a little downcast. This
lover who was so soon to be transformed into a husband was a formidable
personage. She dare not rush forth to greet him. Perhaps he had changed
his mind by this time, and was sorry he had ever asked her to marry him.
Perhaps he thought he was being hustled into a marriage. He had been
told that he was to wait at least a year. And now, all in a moment, he
was sent off to get a special licence. How could she be quite sure that
he liked this kind of treatment?
If there is any faith to be placed in the human countenance, Mr. Hammond
was in no wise an unwilling bridegroom; for his face teamed with happy
light as he came into the room presently, followed by an elderly man
with grey hair and whiskers, and in a strictly professional frock coat,
whom the butler announced as Mr. Dorncliffe. Lady Maulevrier looked
startled, somewhat offended even at this intrusion, and she gave Mr.
Dorncliffe a very haughty salutation, which was almost more crushing
than no salutation at all.
Mary stood up by her grandmother's sofa, and looked rather frightened.
'Dear Lady Maulevrier,' said Hammond, 'I ventured to telegraph to my
lawyer to meet me at York last night, and come on here with me this
morning. He has prepared a settlement, which I should like you to hear
him read, and which he will explain to you, if necessary, while Molly
and I go for a stroll in the grounds.'
He had never called her Molly before. He put his arm round her with a
proud air of possession, even under her grandmother's eyes. And she
nestled close up to his side, forgetting everything but the delight of
belonging to him.
They went downstairs, and through the billiard room to the terrace, and
from the terrace to the tennis lawn, where John Hammond sat reading
Heine nearly a year ago, just before he proposed to Lesbia.
'Do you remember that day?' asked Mary, looking at him, solemnly.
'I remember every day and every hour we have spent together since I began
to love you,' answered Hammond.
'Ah, but this was before you began to love me,' said Mary, with a
piteous little grimace. 'This was while you were loving Lesbia as hard
as ever you could. Don't you remember the day you proposed to her--a
lovely summer day like this, the lake just as blue, the sun shining upon
Fairfield just as it is shining now, and you sat there reading
Heine--those sweet, sweet verses, that seemed made of sighs and tears;
and every now and then you paused and looked up at Lesbia, and there was
more love in your eyes than in all Heine's poetry, though that brims
over with love.'
'But how did you know all this, Molly? You were not here.'
'I was not very far off. I was behind those bushes, watching and
listening. I knew you were in love with Lesbia, and I thought you
despised me, and I was very, very wretched; and I listened afterwards
when you proposed to her there--behind the pine trees--and I hated her
for refusing you, and I am afraid I hated you for proposing to her.'
'When I ought to have been proposing to my Molly, blind fool that I
was,' said Hammond, smiling tenderly at her, smiling, though his eyes
were dim with tears. 'My own sweet love, it was a terrible mistake, a
mistake that might have cost me the happiness of a lifetime. But Fate
was very good to me, and let me have my Mary after all. And now let us
sit down under the old red beech and talk till it is time to go and get
ready for our wedding. I suppose one ought to brush one's hair and wash
one's hands for that kind of thing, even when the function is not on a
'I have a prettier gown than this to be married in, although it isn't a
wedding gown,' she said.