Part 8 out of 10
'Oh, by-the-by, I have something for you,' said her lover, 'something in
the way of ornaments, but I don't suppose you'd care to wear them
to-day. I'll run and get them.'
He went back to the house, leaving Mary sitting on the rustic bench
under the fine old copper beech, a tree that had been standing long
before Lady Maulevrier enlarged the old stone house into a stately
villa. He returned in a few minutes, bringing a morocco bag about the
size of those usually carried by lawyers or lawyers' clerks.
'I don't think I have given you anything since we were engaged, Mary,'
he said, as he seated himself by her side.
Mary blushed, remembering how Clara, the maid, had remarked upon this
'You gave me my ring,' she said, looking down at the massive band of
gold, 'and you have given me ever so many delightful books.'
'Those were very humble gifts, Molly: but to-day I have brought you a
He opened the bag and took out a red morocco case, and then half-a-dozen
more red morocco cases of various shapes and sizes. The first looked
new, but the others were old-fashioned and passing shabby, as if they
had been knocking about brokers' shops for the last quarter of a
'There is my wedding gift, Mary,' he said, handing her the new case.
It contained an exquisitely painted miniature of a very beautiful woman,
in a large oval locket set with sapphires.
'You have asked me for my portrait, dearest,' he said. 'I give you my
mother's rather than my own, because I loved her as I never thought to
love again, till I knew you. I should like you to wear that locket
sometimes, Mary, as a kind of link between the love of the past and the
love of the present. Were my mother living, she would welcome and
cherish my bride and my wife. She is dead, and you and she can never
meet on earth: but I should like you to be familiar with the face which
was once the light of my life.'
Mary's eyes filled with tears as she gazed at the face in the miniature.
It was the portrait of a woman of about thirty--a face of exquisite
refinement, of calm and pensive beauty.
'I shall treasure this picture always, above all things,' she said: but
'why did you have it set so splendidly, Jack? No gems were needed to
give your mother's portrait value in my eyes.'
'I know that, dearest, but I wanted to make the locket worth wearing.
And now for the other cases. The locket is your lover's free gift, and
is yours to keep and to bequeath to your children. These are heirlooms,
and yours only during your husband's lifetime.'
He opened one of the largest cases, and on a bed of black velvet Mary
beheld a magnificent diamond necklace, with a large pendant. He opened
another and displayed a set of sprays for the hair. Another contained
earrings, another bracelets, the last a tiara.
'What are they for?' gasped Mary.
'For my wife to wear.'
'Oh, but I could never wear such things,' she exclaimed, with an idea
that these must be stage jewellery. 'They are paste, of course--very
beautiful for people who like that kind of thing--but I don't.'
She felt deeply shocked at this evidence of bad taste on the part of her
lover. How the things flashed in the sunshine--but so did the crystal
drops in the old Venetian girondoles.
'No, Molly, they are not paste; they are Brazilian diamonds, and, as
Maulevrier would say, they are as good as they make them. They are
heirlooms, Molly. My dear mother wore them in her summer-tide of wedded
happiness. My grandmother wore them for thirty years before her; my
great grandmother wore them at the Court of Queen Charlotte, and they
were worn at the Court of Queen Anne. They are nearly two hundred years
old; and those central stones in the tiara came out of a cap worn by the
Great Mogul, and are the largest table diamonds known. They are
'Why, they must be worth a fortune.'
'They are valued at something over seventy thousand pounds.'
'But why don't you sell them?' exclaimed Mary, opening her eyes wide
with surprise, 'they would give you a handsome income.'
'They are not mine to sell, Molly. Did not I tell you that they are
heirlooms? They are the family jewels of the Countesses of Hartfield.'
'Then what are you?'
'Ronald Hollister, Earl of Hartfield, and your adoring lover!'
Mary gave a cry of surprise, a cry of distress even.
'Oh, that is too dreadful!' she exclaimed; 'grandmother will be so
unhappy. She had set her heart upon Lesbia marrying Lord Hartfield, the
son of the man _she_ loved.'
'I got wind of her wish more than a year ago,' said Hartfield, 'from
your brother; and he and I hatched a little plot between us. He told me
Lesbia was not worthy of his friend's devotion--told me that she was
vain and ambitious--that she had been educated to be so. I determined to
come and try my fate. I would try to win her as plain John Hammond. If
she was a true woman, I told myself, vanity and ambition would be blown
to the four winds, provided I could win her love. I came, I saw her; and
to see was to love her. God knows I tried honestly to win her; but I
had sworn to myself that I would woo her as John Hammond, and I did not
waver in my resolution--no, not when a word would have turned the scale.
She liked me, I think, a little; but she did not like the notion of an
obscure life as the wife of a hardworking professional man. The pomps
and vanities of this world had it against love or liking, and she gave
me up. I thank God that the pomps and vanities prevailed; for this happy
chance gave me Mary, my sweet Wordsworthian damsel, found, like the
violet or the celandine, by the wayside, in Wordsworth's own country.'
'And you are Lord Hartfield!' exclaimed Mary, still lost in wonder, and
with no elation at this change in the aspect of her life. 'I always knew
you were a great man. But poor grandmother! It will be a dreadful
disappointment to her.'
'I think not. I think she has learned my Molly's value; rather late, as
I learned it; and I believe she will be glad that one of her
granddaughters should marry the son of her first lover. Let us go to
her, love, and see if she is reconciled to the idea, and whether the
settlement is ready for execution. Dorncliffe and his clerk were working
at it half through the night.'
'What is the good of a settlement?' asked Mary. 'I'm sure I don't want
'Lady Hartfield must not be dependent upon her husband's whim or
pleasure for her milliner's bill or her private charities,' answered her
lover, smiling at her eagerness to repudiate anything business-like.
'But I would rather be dependent on your pleasure. I shall never have
any milliner's bills; and I am sure you would never deny me money for
'You shall not have to ask me for it, except when you have exceeded your
pin-money I hope you will do that now and then, just to afford me the
pleasure of doing you a favour.'
'Hartfield,' repeated Mary, to herself, as they went towards the house;
'shall I have to call you Hartfield? I don't like the name nearly so
well as Jack.'
'You shall call me Jack for old sake's sake,' said Hartfield, tenderly.
'How did you think of such a name as Jack?'
'Rather an effort of genius, wasn't it. Well, first and foremost I was
christened Ronald John--all the Hollisters are christened John--name of
the founder of the race; and, secondly, Maulevrier and I were always
plain Mr. Morland and Mr. Hammond in our travels, and always called each
other Jack and Jim.'
'How nice!' said Mary; 'would you very much mind our being plain Mr. and
Mrs. Hammond, while we are on our honeymoon trip?'
'I should like it of all things.'
'So should I. People will not take so much notice of us, and we can do
what we like, and go where we like.'
'Delightful! We'll even disguise ourselves as Cook's tourists, if you
like. I would not mind.'
They were at the door of Lady Maulevrier's sitting room by this time.
They went in, and were greeted with smiles.
'Let me look at the Countess of Hartfield that is to be in half an
hour,' said her ladyship. 'Oh, Mary, Mary, what a blind idiot I have
been, and what a lucky girl you are! I told you once that you were wiser
than Lesbia, but I little thought how much wiser you had been.'
'OUR LOVE WAS NEW, AND THEN BUT IN THE SPRING.'
Henley Regatta was over. It had passed like a tale that is told; like
Epsom and Ascot, and all the other glories of the London season. Happy
those for whom the glory of Henley, the grace of Ascot, the fever of
Epsom, are not as weary as a twice-told tale, bringing with them only
bitterest memories of youth that has fled, of hopes that have withered,
of day-dreams that have never been realised. There are some to whom that
mad hastening from pleasure to pleasure, that rush from scene to scene
of excitement, that eager crowding into one day and night of gaieties
which might fairly relieve the placid monotony of a month's domesticity,
a month's professional work--some there are to whom this Vanity Fair is
as a treadmill or the turning of a crank, the felon's deepest
humiliation, purposeless, unprofitable, labour.
The regatta was over, and Lady Kirkbank and her charge hastened back to
Arlington Street. Theirs was the very first departure; albeit Mr.
Smithson pleaded hard for a prolongation of their visit. The weather was
exceptionally lovely, he urged. Water picnics were delightful just
now--the banks were alive with the colour of innumerable wild flowers,
as beautiful and more poetical than the gorgeous flora of the Amazon or
the Paraguay river. And Lady Lesbia had developed a genius for punting;
and leaning against her pole, with her hair flying loose and sleeves
rolled up above the elbow, she was a subject for canvas or marble,
Millais or Adams Acton.
'When we are in Italy I will have her modelled, just in that attitude,
and that dress,' said Mr. Smithson. 'She will make a lovely companion
for my Reading Girl: one all repose and reverie, the other all life and
action. Dear Lady Kirkbank, you really must stay for another week at
least. Why go back to the smoke and sultriness of town? Here we can
almost live on the water; and I will send to London for some people to
make music for us in the evenings, or if you miss your little game at
"Nap," we will play for an hour or so every night. It shall not be my
fault if my house is not pleasant for you.'
'Your house is charming, and I shall be here only too often in the days
to come; you will have more than enough of me _then_, I promise you,'
replied Georgie, with her girlish laugh, 'but we must not stop a day
longer now. People would begin to talk. Besides, we have engagements for
every hour of the week that is coming, and for a fortnight after: and
then I suppose I ought to take Lesbia to the North to see her
grandmother, and to discuss all the preparations and arrangements for
this very serious event in which you and Lesbia are to be the chief
'I shall be very glad to go to Grasmere myself, and to make the
acquaintance of my future grandmother-in-law,' said Mr. Smithson.
'You will be charmed with her. She belongs to the old school--something
of a fossil, perhaps, but a very dignified fossil. She has grown old in
a rustic seclusion, and knows less of _our_ world than a mother abbess;
but she has read immensely, and is wonderfully clever. I am bound to
tell you that she has very lofty ideas about her granddaughter; and I
believe she will only be reconciled to Lesbia's marriage with a commoner
by the notion that you are sure of a peerage. I ventured to hint as much
in my letter to Lady Maulevrier yesterday.'
A shade of sullenness crept over Horace Smithson's visage.
'I should hope that such settlements as I am in a position to make will
convince Lady Maulevrier that I am a respectable suitor for her
granddaughter, ex peerage,' he said, somewhat haughtily.
'My dear Smithson, did I not tell you that poor Lady Maulevrier is a
century behind the times,' exclaimed Lady Kirkbank, with an aggrieved
look. 'If she were one of _us_, of course she would know that wealth is
the paramount consideration, and that you are quite the best match of
the season. But she is dreadfully _arrieree_, poor dear thing; and she
must have amused herself with the day-dream of seeing Lesbia a duchess,
or something of that kind. I shall tell her that Lesbia can be one of
the queens of society without having strawberry leaves on her coach
panels, and that my dear friend Horace Smithson is a much better match
than a seedy duke. So don't look cross, my dear fellow; in me you have a
friend who will never desert you.'
'Thanks,' said Smithson, inwardly resolving that, so soon as this
little transaction of his marriage were over, he would see as little of
Georgie Kirkbank and her cotton frocks and schoolgirl hats as bare
civility would allow.
He had promised her that she should be the richer by a neat little
bundle of fat and flourishing railway stock when his happiness was
secured, and he was not going to break his promise. But he did not mean
to give George and Georgie free quarters at Rood Hall, or at Cowes, or
Deauville; and he meant to withdraw his wife altogether from Lady
Kirkbank's pinchbeck set.
What were Lesbia's feelings in the early morning after the last day of
the regatta, as she slowly paced the lavender walk in the Ladies'
Garden, alone?--for happily Mr. Smithson was not so early a riser as the
Grasmere-bred damsel, and she had this fresh morning hour to herself. Of
what was she thinking as she paced slowly up and down the broad gravel
walk, between two rows of tall old bushes, on which masses of purple
blossom stood up from the pale grey foliage, silvery where the summer
breeze touched it?
Well, she was thinking first what a grand old place Rood Hall was, and
that it was in a manner hers henceforward. She was to be mistress of
this house, and of other houses, each after its fashion as perfect as
Rood Hall. She was to have illimitable money at her command, to spend
and give away as she liked. She, who yesterday had been tortured by the
idea of owing a paltry three thousand pounds, was henceforward to count
her thousands by the hundred. Her senses reeled before that dazzling
vision of figures with rows of ciphers after them, one cipher more or
less meaning the difference between thousands and millions. Everybody
had agreed in assuring her that Mr. Smithson was inordinately rich.
Everybody had considered it his or her business to give her information
about the gentleman's income; clearly implying thereby that in the
opinion of society Mr. Smithson's merits as a suitor were a question of
so much bullion.
Could she doubt--she who had learned in one short season to know what
the world was made of and what it most valued--could she, steeped to the
lips in the wisdom of Lady Kirkbank's set, doubt for an instant that she
was making a better match in the eye of society, than if she had married
a man of the highest lineage in all England, a peer of the highest rank,
without large means? She knew that money was power, that a man might
begin life as a pot-boy or a greengrocer, a knacker or a dust
contractor, and climb to the topmost pinnacles, were he only rich
enough. She knew that society would eat such a man's dinners and dance
at his wife's balls, and pretend to think him an altogether exceptional
man, make believe to admire him for his own sake, to think his wife most
brilliant among women, if he were only rich enough. And could she doubt
that society would bow down to her as Lady Lesbia Smithson? She had
learned a great deal in her single season, and she knew how society was
influenced and governed, almost as well as Sir Robert Walpole knew how
human nature could be moulded and directed at the will of a shrewd
diplomatist. She knew that in the fashionable world every man and every
woman, every child even, has his or her price, and may be bought and
sold at pleasure. She had her price, she, Lesbia, the pearl of Grasmere;
and the price having been fairly bidden she had surrendered to the
'I suppose I always meant to marry him,' she thought, pausing in her
promenade to gaze across the verdant landscape, a fertile vale, against
a background of low hills. All the landscape, to the edge of those
hills, belonged to Mr. Smithson. 'Yes, I must have meant to give way at
last, or I should hardly have tolerated his attentions. It would have
been a pity to refuse such a place as this; and, he is quite
gentlemanlike; and as I have done with all romantic ideas, I do not see
why I should not learn to like him very much.'
She dismissed the idea of Smithson lightly, with this conclusion, which
she believed very virtuous; and then as she resumed her walk her
thoughts reverted to the Park Lane Palace.
'I hardly know whether I like it,' she mused languidly; 'beautiful as it
is, it is only a reproduction of bygone splendour, and it is painfully
excruciating now. For my own part I would much rather have the shabbiest
old house which had belonged to one's ancestors, which had come to one
as a heritage, by divine right as it were, instead of being bought with
newly made money. To my mind it would rank higher. Yet I doubt if
anybody nowadays sets a pin's value upon ancestors. People ask, Who is
he? but they only mean, How much has he? And provided a person is not
absolutely in trade, not actually engaged in selling soap, or matches,
or mustard, society doesn't care a straw how his money has been made.
The only secondary question is, How long will it last? And that is of
Musing thus, wordly wisdom personified, the maiden looked up and saw her
lover entering at the light little iron gate which gave entrance to this
feminine Eden. She went to meet him, looking all simplicity and
freshness in her white morning gown and neat little Dunstable hat. It
seemed to him as he gazed at her almost as if this delicate, sylph-like
beauty were some wild white flower of the woods personified.
She gave him her hand graciously, but he drew her to his breast and
kissed her, with the air of a man who was exercising an indisputable
right. She supposed that it was his right, and she submitted, but
released herself as quickly as possible.
'My dearest, how lovely you look in this morning light,' he exclaimed,
'while all the other women are upstairs making up their faces to meet
the sun, and we shall see every shade of bismuth by-and-by, from pale
mauve to purple.'
'It is very uncivil of you to say such a thing of your guests,'
'But they all indulge in bismuth--you must be quite aware of that. They
call the stuff by different names--Blanc Rosati, Creme de l'Imperatrice,
Milk of Beauty, Perline, Opaline, Ivorine--but it means bismuth all the
same. Expose your fashionable beauty to the fumes of sewer-gas, and that
dazzling whiteness would turn to a dull brown hue, or even black. Thank
heaven, my Lesbia wears real lilies and roses. Have you been here long?'
'About half an hour'
'I only wish I had known. I should not have dawdled so long over my
'I am very glad you did not know,' Lesbia answered coolly.
'Do you suppose I never want to be alone? Life in London is perpetual
turmoil; one's eyes grow weary with ever-moving crowds, one's ears ache
with trying to distinguish one voice among the buzz of voices.'
'Then why go back to town? Why go back to the turmoil and the treadmill?
It is only a kind of treadmill, after all, though we choose to call it
pleasure. Stay here, Lesbia, and let us live upon the river, and among
the flowers,' urged Smithson, with as romantic an air as if he had never
heard of contango, or bulling and bearing; and yet only half an hour
ago, while his valet was shaving him, he was debating within himself
whether he should be bear or bull in his influence upon certain stock.
It was supposed that he never went near the city, that he had shaken the
dust of Lombard Street and the House off his shoes, that his fortune was
made, and he had no further need of speculation. Yet the proverb holds
good with the stock-jobber. 'He who has once drunk will drink again.' Of
that fountain there is no satiety.
'Stay and hear the last of the nightingales,' he murmured; 'we are famous
for our nightingales.'
'I wonder you don't order a _fricassee_ of their tongues, like that
loathsome person in Roman history.'
'I hope I shall never resemble any loathsome person. Why can you not
'Why, because it is not etiquette, Lady Kirkbank says.'
'Lady Kirkbank, eh? _la belle farce_, Lady Kirkbank standing out for
'Don't laugh at my chaperon, sir. Upon what rock can a poor girl lean if
you undermine her faith in her chaperon, sir.'
'I hope you will have a better guardian before you are a month older. I
mean to be a very strong rock, Lesbia. You do not know how firmly I
shall stand between you and all the perils of society. You have been but
poorly guarded hitherto.'
'You talk as if you mean to be an abominable tyrant,' said Lesbia. 'If
you don't take care I shall change my mind, and recall my promise.'
'Not on that account, Lesbia: every woman likes a man who stands up for
his own. It is only your invertebrate husband whose wife drifts into the
divorce court. I mean to keep and hold the prize I have won. When is it
to be, dearest--our wedding day?'
'Not for ages, I hope--some time next summer, at the earliest.'
'You would not be so cruel as to keep me waiting a year?'
'You would not ask that if you loved me.'
'You are asking too much,' said Lesbia, with a flash of defiance. 'There
has been nothing said about love yet. You asked me to be your wife, and
I said yes--meaning that at some remote period such a thing might be.'
She knew that the man was her slave--slave to her beauty, slave to her
superior rank--and she was determined not to lessen the weight of his
chain by so much as a feather.
'Did not that promise imply something like love?' he asked, earnestly.
'Perhaps it implied a little gratitude for your devotion, which I have
neither courted nor encouraged a little respect for your talents, your
perseverance--a little admiration for your wonderful success in life.
Perhaps love may follow these sentiments, naturally, easily, if you are
very patient; but if you talk about our being married before next year,
you will simply make me hate you.'
'Then I will say very little, except to remind you that there is no
earthly reason why we should not be married next month. October and
November are the best months for Rome, and I heard you say last night
you were pining to see Rome.'
'What then--cannot Lady Kirkbank take me to Rome?'
'And introduce you to the rowdiest people in the city,' cried Mr.
Smithson. 'Lesbia, I adore you. It is the dream of my life to be your
husband: but if you are going to spend a winter in Italy with Lady
Kirkbank, I renounce my right, I surrender my hope. You will not be the
wife of my dreams after that.'
'Do you assert a right to control my life during our engagement?'
'Some little right; above all, the privilege of choosing your friends.
And that is one reason why I most fervently desire our marriage should
not be delayed. You would find it difficult, impossible perhaps, to get
out of Lady Kirkbank's claws while you are single; but once my wife,
that amiable old person can be made to keep her distance.'
'Lady Kirkbank's claws! What a horrible way in which to speak of a
friend. I thought you adored Lady Kirkbank.'
'So I do. We all adore her, but not as a guide for youth. As a specimen
of the elderly female of the latter half of the nineteenth century, she
is perfect. Such gush, such juvenility, such broad views, such an utter
absence of starch; but as a lamp for the footsteps of girlhood--no
_there_ we must pause.'
'You are very ungrateful. Do you know that poor Lady Kirkbank has been
most strenuous in your behalf?'
'Oh, yes, I know that.'
'And you are not grateful?'
'I intend to be very grateful, so grateful as to entirely satisfy Lady
'You are horribly cynical. That reminds me, there was a poor girl whom
Lady Kirkbank had under her wing one season--a Miss Trinder, to whom I
am told you behaved shamefully.'
'There was a parson's daughter who threw herself at my head in a most
audacious way, and who behaved so badly, egged on by Lady Kirkbank, that
I had to take refuge in flight. Do you suppose I am the kind of man to
marry the first adventurous damsel who takes a fancy to my town house,
and thinks it would be a happy hunting ground for a herd of brothers and
sisters? Miss Trinder was shocking bad style, and her designs were
transparent from the very beginning! I let her flirt as much as she
liked; and when she began to be seriously sentimental I took wing for
'Was she pretty?' asked Lesbia, not displeased at this contemptuous
summing up of poor Belle Trinder's story.
'If you admire the Flemish type, as illustrated by Rubens, she was
lovely. A complexion of lilies and roses--cabbage roses, _bien entendu_,
which were apt to deepen into peonies after champagne and mayonaise at
Ascot or Sandown--a figure--oh--well--a tremendous figure--hair of an
auburn that touched perilously on the confines of red--large,
serviceable feet, and an appetite--the appetite of a ploughman's
daughter reared upon short commons.'
'You are very cruel to a girl who evidently admired you.'
'A fig for her admiration! She wanted to live in my house and spend my
'There goes the gong,' exclaimed Lesbia; 'pray let us go to breakfast.
You are hideously cynical, and I am wofully tired of you.'
And as they strolled back to the house, by lavender walk and rose
garden, and across the dewy lawn, Lesbia questioned herself as to
whether she was one whit better or more dignified than Isabella Trinder.
She wore her rue with a difference, that was all.
'ALL FANCY, PRIDE, AND FICKLE MAIDENHOOD.'
The return to Arlington Street meant a return to the ceaseless whirl of
gaiety. Even at Rood Hall life had been as near an approach to perpetual
motion as one could hope for in this world; but the excitement and the
hurrying and scampering in Berkshire had a rustic flavour; there were
moments that were almost repose, a breathing space between the blue
river and the blue sky, in a world that seemed made of green fields and
hanging woods, the plashing of waters, and the song of the lark. But in
London the very atmosphere was charged with hurry and agitation; the
freshness was gone from the verdure of the parks; the glory of the
rhododendrons had faded; the Green Park below Lady Kirkbank's mansion
was baked and rusty; the towers of the Houses of Parliament yonder were
dimly seen in a mist of heat. London air tasted of smoke and dust,
vibrated with the incessant roll of carriages, and the trampling of
There are women of rank who can take the London season quietly, and live
their own lives in the midst of the whirl and the riot--women for whom
that squirrel-like circulation round and round the fashionable wheel has
no charm--women who only receive people they like, only go into society
that is congenial. But Lady Kirkbank was not one of these. The advance
of age made her only more keen in the pursuit of pleasure. She would
have abandoned herself to despair had the glass over the mantelpiece in
her boudoir ceased to be choked and littered with cards--had her book of
engagements shown a blank page. Happily there were plenty of people--if
not all of them the best people--who wanted Sir George and Lady Kirkbank
at their parties. The gentleman was sporting and harmless, the lady was
good-natured, and just sufficiently eccentric to be amusing without
degenerating into a bore. And this year she was asked almost everywhere,
for the sake of the beauty who went under her wing. Lesbia had been as a
pearl of price to her chaperon, from a social point of view; and now
that she was engaged to Horace Smithson she was likely to be even more
Mr. Smithson had promised Lady Kirkbank, sportively as it were, and upon
the impulse of the moment, as he would have offered to wager a dozen of
gloves, that were he so happy as to win her _protegee's_ hand he would
find her an investment for, say, a thousand, which would bring her in
twenty per cent.; nay, more, he would also find the thousand, which
would have been the initial difficulty on poor Georgie's part. But this
little matter was in Georgie's mind a detail, compared with the
advantages to accrue to her indirectly from Lesbia's union with one of
the richest men in London.
Lady Kirkbank had brought about many good matches, and had been too
often rewarded with base ingratitude upon the part of her _protegees_,
after marriage; but there was a touch of Arcady in the good soul's
nature, and she was always trustful. She told herself that Lesbia would
not be ungrateful, would not basely kick down the ladder by which she
had mounted to heights empyrean, would not cruelly shelve the friend who
had pioneered her to high fortune. She counted upon making the house in
Park Lane as her own house, upon being the prime mover of all Lesbia's
hospitalities, the supervisor of her visiting list, the shadow behind
There were balls and parties nightly, dinners, luncheons,
garden-parties; and yet there was a sense of waning in the glory of the
world--everybody felt that the fag-end of the season was approaching.
All the really great entertainments were over--the Cabinet dinners, the
Reception at the Foreign Office, the last of the State balls and
concerts. Some of the best people had already left town; and senators
were beginning to complain that they saw no prospect of early
deliverance. There was Goodwood still to look forward to; and after
Goodwood the Deluge--or rather Cowes Regatta, about which Lady
Kirkbank's set were already talking.
Lady Lesbia was to be at Cowes for the Regatta week. That was a settled
thing. Mr. Smithson's schooner-yacht, the Cayman, was to be her hotel.
It was to be Lady Kirkbank and Lady Lesbia's yacht for the nonce; and
Mr. Smithson was to live on shore at his villa, and at that aristocratic
club to which, by Maulevrier's influence, and on the score of his
approaching marriage with an earl's daughter, he had been just selected.
He would be only Lady Kirkbank's visitor on board the Cayman. The severe
etiquette of the situation would therefore not be infringed; and yet Mr.
Smithson would have the happiness of seeing his betrothed sole and
sovereign mistress of his yacht, and of spending the long summer days at
her feet. Even to Lady Lesbia this idea of the yacht was not without its
charm. She had never been on board such a yacht as the Cayman; she was a
good sailor, as testified by many an excursion, in hired sailing boats,
at Tynemouth, and St. Bees; and she knew that she would be the queen of
the hour. She accepted Mr. Smithson's invitation for the Cowes week more
graciously than she was wont to receive his attentions, and was pleased
to say that the whole thing would be rather enjoyable.
'It will be simple enchantment,' exclaimed the more enthusiastic
Georgie Kirkbank. 'There is nothing so rapturous as life on board a
yacht; there is a flavour of adventure, a _sansgene_, a--in short
everything in the world that I like. I shall wear my cotton frocks, and
give myself up to enjoyment, lie on the deck and look up at the blue
sky, too deliciously idle even to read the last horrid thing of Zola's.'
But the Cowes Regatta was nearly three weeks ahead; and in the meantime
there was Goodwood, and the ravelled threads of the London season had to
be wound up. And by this time it was known everywhere that the affair
between Mr. Smithson and Maulevrier's sister was really on. 'It's as
settled a business as the entries and bets for next year's Derby,' said
one lounger to another in the smoking-room of the Haute Gomme. 'Play or
pay, don't you know.'
Lady Kirkbank and Lesbia had both written to Lady Maulevrier, Lesbia
writing somewhat coldly, very briefly, and in a half defiant tone, to
the effect that she had accepted Mr. Smithson's offer, and that she
hoped her grandmother would be pleased with a match which everybody
supposed to be extremely advantageous. She was going to Grasmere
immediately after the Cowes week to see her dear grandmother, and to be
assured of her approval. In the meanwhile she was awfully busy; there
were callers driving up to the door at that very moment, and her brain
was racked by the apprehension that she might not get her new gown in
time for the Bachelor's Ball, which was to be quite one of the nicest
things of the year, so dearest grandmother must excuse a hurried letter,
etc., etc., etc.
Georgie Kirkbank was more effusive, more lengthy. She expatiated upon
the stupendous alliance which her sweetest Lesbia was about to make; and
took credit to herself for having guided Lesbia's footsteps in the right
'Smithson is a most difficult person,' she wrote. 'The least error of
taste on your dear girl's part would have _froissed_ him. Men with that
immense wealth are always suspicious, ready to imagine mercenary
motives, on their guard against being trapped. But Lesbia had _me_ at
her back, and she managed him perfectly. He is positively her slave; and
you will be able to twist him round your little finger in the matter of
settlements. You may do what you like with him, for the ground has been
thoroughly prepared by _me_.'
Lady Maulevrier's reply was not enthusiastic. She had no doubt Mr.
Smithson was a very good match, according to the modern estimate of
matrimonial alliances, in which money seemed to be the Alpha and Omega.
But she had cherished views of another kind. She had hoped to see her
dear granddaughter wear one of those noble and historic names which are
a badge of distinction for all time. She had hoped to see her enter one
of those grand old families which are a kind of royalty. And that Lesbia
should marry a man whose sole distinction consisted of an immense
fortune amassed heaven knows how, was a terrible blow to her pride.
'But it is not the first,' wrote Lady Maulevrier. 'My pride has received
crushing blows in days past, and I ought to be humbled to the dust. But
there is a stubborn resistance in some natures which stands firm against
every shock. You and Lesbia will both be surprised to hear that Mary,
from whom I expected so little, has made a really great match. She was
married yesterday afternoon in my morning room, by special licence, to
the Earl of Hartfield, the lover of her choice, whom we at Fellside have
all known as plain John Hammond. He is an admirable young man, and sure
to make a great figure in the world, as no doubt you know better than I
do, for you are in the way of hearing all about him. His courtship of
Mary is quite an idyll; and the happy issue of this romantic love-affair
has cheered and comforted me more than anything that has happened since
Lesbia left me.'
This letter, written in Fraeulein's niggling little hand, Lady Kirkbank
handed to Lesbia, who read it through in silence; but when she came to
that part of the letter which told of her sister's marriage, her cheek
grew ashy pale, her brow contracted, and she started to her feet and
stared at Lady Kirkbank with wild, dilated eyes, as if she had been
stung by an adder.
'A strange mystification, wasn't it?' said Lady Kirkbank, almost
frightened at the awful look in Lesbia's face, which was even worse than
Belle Trinder's expression when she read the announcement of Mr.
'Strange mystification! It was base treachery--a vile and wicked lie!'
cried Lesbia, furiously. 'What right had he to come to us under false
colours, to pretend to be poor, a nobody--with only the vaguest hope of
making a decent position in the future?--and to offer himself under such
impossible conditions to a girl brought up as I had been--a girl
educated by one of the proudest and most ambitious of women--to force me
to renounce everything except him? How could he suppose that any girl,
so placed, could decide in his favour? If he had loved me he would have
told me the truth--he would not have made it impossible for me to accept
'I believe he is a very high flown young man,' said Lady Kirkbank,
soothingly; 'he was never in _my_ set, you know, dear. And I suppose he
had some old Minerva-press idea that he would find a girl who would
marry him for his own sake. And your sister, no doubt, eager to marry
_anybody_, poor child, for the sake of getting away from that very
lovely dungeon of Lady Maulevrier's, snapped at the chance; and by a
mere fluke she becomes a countess.'
Lesbia ignored these consolatory remarks. She was pacing the room like
a tigress, her delicate cambric handkerchief grasped between her two
hands, and torn and rent by the convulsive action of her fingers. She
could have thrown herself from the balcony on to the spikes of the area
railings, she could have dashed herself against yonder big plate-glass
window looking towards the Green Park, like a bird which shatters his
little life against the glass barrier which he mistakes for the open
sky. She could have flung herself down on the floor and grovelled, and
torn her hair--she could have done anything mad, wicked, desperate, in
the wild rage of this moment.
'Loved me!' she exclaimed; 'he never loved me. If he had he would have
told me the truth. What, when I was in his arms, my head upon his
breast, my whole being surrendered to him, adoring him, what more could
he want? He must have known that this meant real love. And why should he
put it upon me to fight so hard a fight--to brave my grandmother's
anger--to be cursed by her--to face poverty for his sake? I never
professed to be a heroine. He knew that I was a woman, with all a
woman's weakness, a woman's fear of trial and difficulty in the future.
It was a cowardly thing to use me so.'
'It was,' said Lady Kirkbank, in the same soothing tone; 'but if you
liked this Hammond-Hartfield creature--a little in those old days, I
know you have outlived that liking long ago.'
'Of course; but it is a hard thing to know one has been fooled, cheated,
weighed in the balance and found wanting,' said Lesbia, scornfully.
She was taming down a little by this time, ashamed of that outbreak of
violent passion, feeling that she had revealed too much to Lady
'It was a caddish thing to do,' said Georgie; 'and this Hartfield is
just what I always thought him--an insufferable prig. However, my
sweetest girl, there is really nothing to lament in the matter. Your
sister has made a good alliance, which will score high in your favour
by-and-by, and you are going to marry a man who is three times as rich
as Lord Hartfield.'
'Rich, yes; and nothing but rich; while Lord Hartfield is a man of the
very highest standing, belongs to the flower of English nobility. Rich,
yes; Mr. Smithson is rich; but, as Lady Maulevrier says, He has made his
money heaven knows how.'
'Mr. Smithson has not made his money heaven knows how,' answered Lady
Kirkbank, indignantly. 'He has made it in cochineal, in iron, in
gunpowder, in coal, in all kinds of commodities. Everybody in the City
knows how he has made his money, and that he has a genius for turning
everything into gold. If the gold changes back into one of the baser
metals, it is only when Mr. Smithson has made all he wanted to make. And
now he has quite done with the City. The House is the only business of
his life; and he is becoming a power in the House. You have every reason
to be proud of your choice, Lesbia.'
'I will try to be proud of it,' said Lesbia, resolutely. 'I will not be
scorned and trampled upon by Mary.'
'She seemed a harmless kind of girl,' said Lady Kirkbank, as if she had
been talking of a housemaid.
'She is a designing minx,' exclaimed Lesbia, 'and has set her cap at
that man from the very beginning.'
'But she could not have known that he was Lord Hartfield.'
'No; but he was a man; and that was enough for her.'
From this time forward there was a change in Lady Lesbia's style and
manner--a change very much for the worse, as old-fashioned people
thought; but to the taste of some among Lady Kirkbank's set, the change
was an improvement. She was gayer than of old, gay with a reckless
vivacity, intensely eager for action and excitement, for cards and
racing, and all the strongest stimulants of fashionable life. Most
people ascribed this increased vivacity, this electric manner, to the
fact of her engagement to Horace Smithson. She was giddy with her
triumph, dazzled by a vision of the gold which was soon to be hers.
'Egad, if I saw myself in a fair way of being able to write cheques upon
such an account as Smithson's I should be as wild as Lady Lesbia,' said
one of the damsel's military admirers at the Rag. 'And I believe the
young lady was slightly dipped.'
'Who told you that?' asked his friend.
'A mother of mine,' answered the youth, with an apologetic air, as if he
hardly cared to own such a humdrum relationship. 'Seraphine, the
dressmaker, was complaining--wanted to see the colour of Lady Lesbia
Haselden's money--vulgar curiosity--asked my old mother if she thought
the account was safe, and so on. That's how I came to know all about
'Well, she'll be able to pay Seraphine next season.'
Lord Maulevrier came back to London directly after his sister's wedding.
The event, which came off so quietly, so happily, filled him with
unqualified joy. He had hoped from the very first that his Molly would
win the cup, even while Lesbia was making all the running, as he said
afterwards. And Molly had won, and was the wife of one of the best young
men in England. Maulevrier, albeit unused to the melting-mood, shed a
tear or two for very joy as the sister he loved and the friend of his
boyhood and youth stood side by side in the quiet room at Grasmere, and
spoke the solemn words that made them one for ever.
The first news he heard after his return to town was of Lesbia's
engagement, which was common talk at the clubs. The visitors at Rood
Hall had come back to London full of the event, and were proud of giving
a detailed account of the affair to outsiders.
They all talked patronisingly of Smithson, and seemed to think it
rather a wonderful fact that he did not drop his aspirates or eat peas
with a knife.
'A man of stirling metal,' said the gossips, 'who can hold his own with
many a fellow born in the purple.'
Maulevrier called in Arlington Street, but Lady Kirkbank and her
_protegee_ were out; and it was at a cricket match at the Orleans Club
that the brother and sister met for the first time after Lord
Hartfield's wedding, which by this time had been in all the papers; a
very simple announcement:
'On the 29th inst., at Grasmere, by the Reverend Douglass Brooke, the
Earl of Hartfield to Mary, younger daughter of the ninth Earl of
Lesbia was the centre of a rather noisy little court, in which Mr.
Smithson was conspicuous by his superior reserve.
He did not exert himself as a lover, paid no compliments, was not
sentimental. The pearl was won, and he wore it very quietly; but
wherever Lesbia went he went; she was hardly ever out of his sight.
Maulevrier received the coolest possible greeting. Lesbia turned pale
with anger at sight of him, for his presence reminded her of the most
humiliating passage in her life; but the big red satin sunshade
concealed that pale angry look, and nothing in Lesbia's manner betrayed
'Where have you been hiding yourself all this time, and why were you not
at Henley?' she asked.
'I have been at Grasmere.'
'Oh, you were a witness of that most romantic marriage. The Lady of
Lyons reversed, the gardener's son turning out to be an earl. Was it
'It was one of the most solemn weddings I ever saw.'
'Solemn! what, with my Tomboy sister as bride! Impossible!'
'Your sister ceased to be a Tomboy when she fell in love. She is a sweet
and womanly woman, and will make an adorable wife to the finest fellow I
know. I hear I am to congratulate you, Lesbia, upon your engagement with
'If you think _I_ am the person to be congratulated, you are at liberty
to do so. My engagement is a fact.'
'Oh, of course, Mr. Smithson is the winner. But as I hope you intend to
be happy, I wish you joy. I am told Smithson is a really excellent
fellow when one gets to know him; and I shall make it my business to be
better acquainted with him.'
Smithson was standing just out of hearing, watching the bowling.
Maulevrier went over to him and shook hands, their acquaintance hitherto
having been of the slightest, and very shy upon his lordship's part; but
now Smithson could see that Maulevrier meant to be cordial.
There was a dinner party in one of the new houses in Grosvenor Place
that evening, to which Lady Kirkbank and Lesbia had been bidden. The new
house belonged to a new man, who was supposed to have made millions out
of railways, and other gigantic achievements in the engineering line;
and the new man and his wife were friends of Mr. Smithson, and had made
the simple Georgie's acquaintance only within the last three weeks.
'Of course they are stupid, my dear,' she remarked, in response to some
slighting remark of Lesbia's, 'but I am always willing to know rich
people. One drops in for so many good things; and they never want any
return in kind. It is quite enough for them to be allowed to spend their
money _upon us._'
The house was gorgeous in all the glory of the very latest fashions in
upholstery; hall Algerian; dining-room Pompeian; drawing-room Early
Italian; music-room Louis Quatorze; billiard-room mediaeval English. The
dinner was as magnificent as dinner can be made. Three-fourths of the
guests were the _haute gomme_ of the financial world, and perspired
gold. The other third belonged to a class which Mr. Smithson described
somewhat contemptuously as the shake-back nobility. An Irish peer, a
younger son of a ducal house that had run to seed, a political agitator,
a grass widow whose titled husband was governor of an obscure colony, an
ancient dowager with hair which was too luxuriant to be anything but a
wig, and diamonds which were so large as to suggest paste.
Lesbia sat by her affianced at the glittering table, lighted with
clusters of wax candles, which shone upon a level _parterre_ of tea
roses, gardenias, and gloire de Malmaison carnations; from which rose at
intervals groups of silver-gilt dolphins, supporting shallow golden
dishes piled with peaches, grapes, and all the costliest produce of
Conversation was not particularly brilliant, nor had the guests an
elated air. The thermometer was near eighty, and at this period of the
season everybody was tired of this kind of dinner, and would gladly have
foregone the greatest achievements of culinary art, in favour of a
chicken and a salad, eaten under green leaves, in a garden at Wargrave
or Henley, within sound of the rippling river.
On Lesbia's right hand there was a portly personage of Jewish type, dark
to swarthiness, and somewhat oily, whose every word suggested bullion.
He and Mr. Smithson were evidently acquaintances of long standing, and
Mr. Smithson presented him to Lesbia, whereupon he joined in their
conversation now and then.
His talk was of the usual standard. He had seen everything worth seeing
in London and in Paris, between which cities he seemed to oscillate with
such frequency that he might be said to live in both places at once. He
had his stall at Covent Garden, and his stall at the Grand Opera. He was
a subscriber at the Theatre Francais. He had seen all the races at
Longchamps and Chantilly, as well as at Sandown and Ascot. But every now
and then he and Mr. Smithson drifted from the customary talk about
operas and races, pictures and French novels, to the wider world of
commerce and speculation, mines, waterworks, and foreign loans--and
Lesbia leant back in her chair, and fanned herself languidly, with
half-closed eyelids, while two or three courses went round, she giving
the little supercilious look at each entree offered to her, to be
observed on such occasions, as if the thing offered were particularly
She wondered how long the two men were going to prose about mines and
shares, in those subdued half-mysterious voices, telling each other
occult facts in half-expressed phrases, utterly dark to the outside
world; but, while she was languidly wondering, a change in her lover's
manner startled her into keenest curiosity.
'Montesma is in Paris,' said Mr. Sampayo, the dark gentleman; 'I dined
last week with him at the Continental.'
Mr. Smithson's complexion faded curiously, and a leaden darkness came
over his countenance, as of a man whose heart and lungs suddenly refuse
their office. But in a few moments he was smiling feebly.
'Indeed! I thought he was played out years ago.'
'A man of that kind is never played out. Don Gomez de Montesma is as
clever as Satan, as handsome as Apollo, and he bears one of the oldest
names in Castile. Such a man will always come to the front. _C'est un
rastaquouere mais rastaquouere de bon genre_. You knew him intimately
_la bas_, I believe?'
'In Cuba; yes, we were pretty good friends once.'
'And were useful to each other, no doubt,' said Mr. Sampayo, pleasantly.
'Was that Argentiferous Copper Company in sixty-four yours or his?'
'There were a good many people concerned in it.'
'No doubt; it takes a good many people to work that kind of thing, but I
fancy you and Montesma were about the only two who came out of it
pleasantly. And he and you did a little in the shipping line, didn't
you--African produce? However, that's an old song. You have had so many
good things since then.'
'Did Montesma talk of coming to London?'
'He did not talk about it; but he would hardly go back to the tropics
without having a look round on both sides of the Channel. He was always
fond of society, pretty women, dancing, and amusements of all kinds. I
have no doubt we shall see him here before the end of the season.'
Mr. Smithson pursued the subject no further He turned to Lesbia, who had
been curiously interested in this little bit of conversation--interested
first because Smithson had seemed agitated by the mention of the
Spaniard's name; secondly, because of the description of the man, which
had a romantic sound. The very word tropic suggested a romance. And
Lesbia, whose mind was jaded by the monotony of a London season, the
threadbare fabric of society conversation, kindled at any image which
appealed to her fancy.
Clever as Satan, handsome as Apollo, scion of an old Castilian family,
fresh from the tropics. Her imagination dwelt upon the ideas which these
words had conjured up.
Three days after this she was at the opera with her chaperon, her lover
in attendance as usual. The opera was "Faust," with Nillson as
Marguerite. After the performance they were to drive down to Twickenham
on Mr. Smithson's drag, and to dance and sup at the Orleans. The last
ball of the season was on this evening; and Lesbia had been persuaded
that it was to be a particular _recherche_ ball, and that only the very
nicest people were to be present. At any rate, the drive under the light
of a July moon would be delicious; and if they did not like the people
they found there they could eat their supper and come away immediately
after, as Lady Kirkbank remarked philosophically.
The opera was nearly over--that grand scene of Valentine's death was
on--and Lesbia was listening breathlessly to every note, watching every
look of the actors, when there came a modest little knock at the door of
her box. She darted an angry glance round, and shrugged her shoulders
vexatiously. What Goth had dared to knock during that thrilling scene?
Mr. Smithson rose and crept to the door and quietly opened it.
A dark, handsome man, who was a total stranger to Lesbia, glided in,
shaking hands with Smithson as he entered.
Till this moment Lesbia's whole being had been absorbed in the
scene--that bitter anathema of the brother, the sister's cry of anguish
and shame. Where else is there tragedy so human, so enthralling--grief
that so wrings the spectator's heart? It needed a Goethe and a Gounod to
produce this masterpiece.
In an instant, in a flash, Lesbia's interest in the stage was gone. Her
first glance at the stranger told, her who he was. The olive tint, the
eyes of deepest black, the grand form of the head and perfect chiselling
of the features could belong only to that scion of an old Castilian race
whom she had heard described the other evening--'clever as Satan,
handsome as Apollo.'
Yes, this must be the man, Don Gomez de Montesma. There was nothing in
Mr. Smithson's manner to indicate that the Spaniard was an unwelcome
guest. On the contrary, Smithson received him with a cordiality which in
a man of naturally reserved manner seemed almost rapture. The curtain
fell, and he presented Don Gomez to Lady Kirkbank and Lady Lesbia;
whereupon dear Georgie began to gush, after her wont, and to ask a good
many questions in a manner that was too girlish to seem impertinent.
'How perfectly you speak English!' she exclaimed. 'You must have lived
in England a good deal.'
'On the contrary, it is my misfortune to have, lived here very little,
but I have known a good many English and Americans in Cuba and in
'In Cuba! Do you really come from Cuba? I have always fancied that Cuba
must be an altogether charming place to live in--like Biarritz or Pau,
don't you know, only further away. Do please tell me where it is, and
what kind of a place.'
Geographically, Lady Kirkbank's mind was a blank. It was quite a
revelation to her to find that Cuba was an island.
'It must be a lovely spot!' exclaimed the fervid creature. 'Let me see,
now, what do we get from Cuba?--cigars--and--and tobacco. I suppose in
Cuba everybody smokes?'
'Men, women, and children.'
'How delicious! Would that I were a Cuban! And the natives, are they
'There are no aborigines. The Indians whom Columbus found soon perished
off the face of the island. European civilisation generally has that
effect. But one of our most benevolent captain-generals provided us with
an imported population of niggers.'
'How delightful. I have always longed to live among a slave population,
dear submissive black things dressed in coral necklaces and feathers,
instead of the horrid over-fed wretches we have to wait upon us. And if
the aborigines were not wanted it was just as well for them to die out,
don't you know,' prattled Lady Kirkbank.
'It was very accommodating of them, no doubt. Yet we could employ half a
million of them, if we had them, in draining our swamps. Agriculture
suffered by the loss of Indian labour.'
'I suppose they were like the creatures in Pizarro, poor dear yellow
things with brass bracelets,' said Lady Kirkbank. 'I remember seeing
Macready as Rolla when I was quite a little thing.'
And now the curtain rose for the last act.
'Do you care about staying for the end?' asked Mr. Smithson of Lesbia.
'It will make us rather late at the Orleans.'
'Never mind how late we are,' said Lesbia, imperiously. 'I have always
been cheated out of this last act for some stupid party. Imagine losing
Gounod and Nillson for the sake of struggling through the mob on a
stifling staircase, and being elbowed by inane young men, with gardenias
in their coats.'
Lady Lesbia had a pretty little way of always opposing any suggestion of
her sweetheart. She was resolved to treat him as badly as a future
husband could be treated. In consenting to marry him she had done him a
favour which was a great deal more than such a person had any right to
She leant forward to watch and listen, with her elbow resting on the
velvet cushion--her head upon her hand, and she seemed absorbed in the
scene. But this was mere outward seeming. All the enchantment of music
and acting was over. She only heard and saw vaguely, as if it were a
shadowy scene enacted ever so far away. Every now and then her eyes
glanced involuntarily toward Don Gomez, who stood leaning against the
back of the box, pale, languid, graceful, poetic, an altogether
different type of manhood from that with which she had of late been
Those deep dark eyes of his had a dreamy look. They gazed across the
dazzling house, into space, above Lady Lesbia's head. They seemed to see
nothing; and they certainly were not looking at her.
Don Gomez was the first man she ever remembered to have been presented
to her who did not favour her with a good deal of hard staring, more or
less discreetly managed, during the first ten minutes of their
acquaintance. On him her beauty fell flat. He evidently failed to
recognise her supreme loveliness. It might be that she was the wrong
type for Cuba. Every nation has its own Venus; and that far away spot
beyond the torrid zone might have a somewhat barbarous idea of beauty.
At any rate, Don Gomez was apparently unimpressed. And yet Lesbia
flattered herself that she was looking her best to-night, and that her
costume was a success. She wore a white satin gown, short in the skirt,
for the luxury of freedom in waltzing, and made with Quaker-like
simplicity, the bodice high to the throat, fitting her like a sheath.
Her only ornaments were a garland of scarlet poppies wreathed from
throat to shoulder, and a large diamond heart which Mr. Smithson had
lately given her; 'a bullock's heart,' as Lady Kirkbank called it.
When the curtain fell, and not till then, she rose and allowed herself
to be clad in a brown velvet Newmarket, which completely covered her
short satin gown. She had a little brown velvet toque to match the
Newmarket, and thus attired she would be able to take her seat on the
drag which was waiting on the quietest side of Covent Garden.
'Why should not you go with us, Don Gomez?' exclaimed Lady Kirkbank, in
a gush of hospitality. 'The drive will be charming--not equal to your
tropical Cuba--but intensely nice. And the gardens will be something too
sweet on such a night as this. I knew them when the dear Duc d'Aumale
was there. Ay de mi, such a man!'
Lady Kirkbank sighed, with the air of having known his Altesse Royale
'I should be charmed,' said Don Gomez, 'if I thought my friend Smithson
wanted me. Would you really like to have me, Smithson?'
'I should be enchanted.'
'And there is room on the drag?'
'Room enough for half-a-dozen. I am only taking Sir George Kirkbank and
Colonel Delville--whom we are to pick up at the Haute Gomme--and Mr. and
Mrs. Mostyn, who are in the stalls.'
'A nice snug little party,' exclaimed that charming optimist, Lady
Kirkbank. 'I hate a crowd on a drag. The way some of the members of the
Four-in-hand Club load their coaches on parade reminds me of a
They found Lady Kirkbank's footman and one of Mr. Smithson's grooms
waiting in the hall of the opera house. The groom to conduct them to the
spot where the drag was waiting; the footman to carry wraps and take his
mistress's final orders. There was a Bohemian flavour in the little walk
to the great fruit garden, which was odorous of bruised peaches and
stale salads as they passed it. Waggon-loads of cabbages and other
garden stuff were standing about by the old church; the roadway was
littered with the refuse of the market; and the air was faint and heavy
with the scent of herbs and flowers.
Lesbia mounted lightly to her place of honour on the box-seat; and Lady
Kirkbank was hoisted up after her. Mr. and Mrs. Mostyn followed; and
then Don Gomez took his seat by Lady Kirkbank's side and behind Lesbia,
a vantage point from which he could talk to her as much as he liked. Mr.
Smithson seated himself a minute afterwards, and drove off by King
Street and Leicester Square and on to Piccadilly, steering cleverly
through the traffic of cabs and carriages, which was at its apogee just
now, when all the theatres were disgorging their crowds. Piccadilly was
quieter, yet there were plenty of carriages, late people going to
parties and early people going home, horses slipping and sliding on
stones or wood, half the roadway up, and luminous with lanterns. They
stopped in front of the Haute Gomme, where they picked up Sir George
Kirkbank and Colonel Delville, a big man with a patriarchal head,
supposed to be one of the finest whist players in London, and to make a
handsome income by his play. He had ridden in the Balaclava charge, was
a favourite everywhere, and, albeit no genius, was much cleverer than
his friend and school-fellow, George Kirkbank. They had been at Eton
together, had both made love to the lively Georgie, and had been
inseparables for the last thirty years.
'Couldn't get on without Delville,' said Sir George; 'dooced smart
fellow, sir. Knows the ropes; and does all the thinking for both of us.'
And now they were fairly started, and the team fell into a rattling
pace, with the road pretty clear before them. Hyde Park was one
umbrageous darkness, edged by long lines of golden light. Coolness and
silence enfolded all things in the summer midnight, and Lesbia, not
prone to romance, sank into a dreamy state of mind, as she leaned back
in her seat and watched the shadowy trees glide by, the long vista of
lamps and verdure in front of her. She was glad that no one talked to
her, for talk of any kind must have broken the spell. Don Gomez sat like
a statue in his place behind her. From Lady Kirkbank, the loquacious,
came a gentle sound of snoring, a subdued, ladylike snore, breathed
softly at intervals, like a sigh. Mr. Smithson had his team, and his own
thoughts, too, for occupation,--thoughts which to-night were not
At the back of the coach Mrs. Mostyn was descanting on the evolution of
the nautilus, and the relationship of protoplasm and humanity, to
Colonel Delville, who sat smiling placidly behind an immense cigar, and
accepted the most stupendous facts and the most appalling theories with
a friendly little nod of his handsome head.
Mr. Mostyn frankly slept, as it was his custom to do upon all convenient
occasions. He called it recuperating.
'Frank ought to be delightfully fresh, for he recuperated all the way
down,' said his wife, when they alighted in the dewy garden at
Twickenham, in front of the lamp-lit portico.
'I wouldn't have minded his recuperating if he hadn't snored so
abominably,' remarked Colonel Delville.
It was nearly one o'clock, and the ball had thinned a little, which made
it all the better for those who remained. Mr. Smithson's orders had been
given two days ago, and the very best of the waiters had been told off
for his especial service. The ladies went upstairs to take off their
wrappings and mufflings, and Lesbia emerged dazzling from her brown
velvet Newmarket, while Lady Kirkbank, bending closely over the
looking-glass, like a witch over a caldron, repaired her complexion with
They went through the conservatory to the octagon dining-room, where the
supper was ready, a special supper, on a table by a window, a table
laden with exotics and brilliant with glass and silver. The supper was,
of course, perfect in its way. Mr. Smithson's _chef_ had been down to
see about it, and Mr. Smithson's own particular champagne and the claret
grown in his own particular _clos_ in the Gironde, had been sent down
for the feast. No common cuisine, no common wine could be good enough;
and yet there was a day when the cheapest gargote in Belleville or
Montmartre was good enough for Mr. Smithson. There had been days on
which he did not dine at all, and when the fumes of a _gibelotte_
steaming from a workman's restaurant made his mouth water.
The supper was all life and gaiety. Everyone was hungry and thirsty, and
freshioned by the drive, except Lesbia. She was singularly silent, ate
hardly anything, but drank three or four glasses of champagne.
Don Gomez was not a great talker. He had the air of a prince of the
blood royal, who expects other people to talk and to keep him amused,
But the little he said was to the point. He had a fine baritone, very
low and subdued, and had a languor which was almost insolent, but not
without its charm. There was an air of originality about the manner and
He was the typical _rastaquouere_, a man of finished manners, and
unknown antecedents, a foreigner, apparently rich, obviously
accomplished, but with that indefinable air which bespeaks the
adventurer; and which gives society as fair a warning as if the man wore
a placard on his shoulder with the word _cave_.
But to Lesbia this Spaniard was the first really interesting man she had
met since she saw John Hammond; and her interest in him was much more
vivid than her interest in Hammond had been at the beginning of their
acquaintance. That pale face, with its tint of old ivory, those thin,
finely-cut lips, indicative of diabolical craft, could she but read
aright, those unfathomable eyes, touched her fancy as it had never yet
been touched, awoke within her that latent vein of romance,
self-abnegation, supreme foolishness, which lurks in the nature of every
woman, be she chaste as ice and pure as snow.
The supper was long. It was past two o'clock, and the ballroom was
thinly occupied, when Mr. Smithson's party went there.
'You won't dance to-night, I suppose?' said Smithson, as Lesbia and he
went slowly down the room arm in arm. It was in a pause between two
waltzes. The wide window at the end was opened to the summer night, and
the room was delightfully cool. 'You must be horribly tired?'
'I am not in the least tired, and I mean to waltz, if anyone will ask
me,' replied Lesbia, decisively.
'I ought to have asked you to dance, and then it would have been the
other way,' said Smithson, with a touch of acrimony. 'Surely you have
dancing enough in town, and you might be obliging for once in a way,
and come and sit with me in the garden, and listen to the nightingales.'
'There are no nightingales after June. There is the Manola,' as the band
struck up, 'my very favourite waltz.'
Don Gomez was at her elbow at this moment
'May I have the honour of this waltz with you, Lady Lesbia?' he asked;
and then with a serio-comic glance at his stoutish friend, 'I don't
think Smithson waltzes?'
'I have been told that nobody can waltz who has been born on this side
of the Pyrenees,' answered Lesbia, withdrawing her arm from her lover's,
and slipping, it through the Spaniard's, with the air of a slave who
obeys a master.
Smithson looked daggers, and retired to a corner of the room glowering.
Were a man twenty-two times millionaire, like the Parisian Rothschild,
he could not find armour against the poisoned arrows of jealousy. Don
Gomez possessed many of those accomplishments which make men dangerous,
but as a dancer he was _hors ligne_; and Horace Smithson knew that there
is no surer road to a girl's fancy than the magic circle of a waltz.
Those two were floating round the room in the old slow legato step,
which recalled to Smithson the picture of a still more spacious room in
an island under the Southern Cross--the blue water of the bay shining
yonder under the starlight of the tropics, fire-flies gleaming and
flashing in the foliage beyond the open windows, fire-flies flashing
amidst the gauzy draperies of the dancers, and this same Gomez revolving
with the same slow languid grace, his arm encircling the _svelte_ figure
of a woman whose southern beauty outshone Lesbia's blonde English
loveliness as the tropical stars outshine the lamps that light our
colder skies. Yes, every detail of the scene flashed back into his mind,
as if a curtain had been suddenly plucked back from a long-hidden
picture. The Cuban's tall slim figure, the head gently bent towards his
partner's head, as at this moment, and those dark eyes looking up at
him, intoxicated with that nameless, indefinable fascination which it is
the lot of some men to exercise.
'He robbed me of _her_!' thought Smithson, gloomily. 'Will he rob me of
this one too? Surely not! Havana is Havana--and this one is not a
Creole. If I cannot trust that lovely piece of marble, there is no woman
on earth to be trusted.'
He turned his back upon the dancers, and went out into the garden. His
soul was wrung with jealousy, yet he could watch no longer. There was
too much pain--there were too many bitter memories of shame, and loss,
and ignominy evoked by that infernal picture. If he had been free he
would have asserted his authority as Lesbia's future husband; he would
have taken her away from the Orleans; he would have told her plainly and
frankly that Don Gomez was no fit person for her to know; and he would
have so planned that they two should never meet again. But Horace
Smithson was not free. He was bound hand and foot by those fetters which
the chain of past events had forged--stern facts which the man himself
may forget, or try to forget, but which other people never forget. There
is generally some dark spot in the history of such men as Smithson--men
who climb the giddiest heights of this world with that desperate
rapidity which implies many a perilous leap from crag to crag, many a
moraine skimmed over, and many an awful gulf spanned by a hair-breadth
bridge. Mr. Smithson's history was not without such spots; and the
darkest of all had relation to his career in Cuba. The story had been
known by very few--perhaps completely known only by one man; and that
man was Gomez de Montesma.
For the last fifteen years the most fervent desire of Horace Smithson's
heart had been the hope that tropical nature, in any one of her various
disagreeable forms, would be obliging enough to make an end of Gomez.
But the forces of nature had not worked on Mr. Smithson's side. No
loathsome leprosy had eaten his enemy's flesh; neither cayman nor
crocodile, neither Juba snake nor poisonous spider had marked him for
its prey. The tropical sun had left him unsmitten. He had lived and he
had prospered; and he was here, like a guilty conscience incarnate, to
spoil Horace Smithson's peace.
'I must be diplomatic,' Smithson said to himself, as he walked up and
down an avenue of Irish yews, in a solitary part of the grounds, smoking
his cigarette, and hearing the music swell and sink in the distance. 'I
will give her a hint as to that man's character, and I will keep them
apart as much as I can. But if he forces himself upon me there is no
help for it. I cannot afford to be uncivil to him.'
'Cannot afford' in this instance meant 'dare not,' and Horace Smithson's
thoughts as he paced the yew-tree walk were full of gloom.
During that long meditation he made up his mind on one point, namely,
that, let him suffer what pangs he might, he must not betray his
jealousy. To do that would be to lower himself in Lesbia's eyes, and to
play into his rival's hand; for a jealous man is almost always
contemptible in the sight of his mistress. He would carry himself as if
he were sure of her fidelity; and this very confidence, with a woman of
honour, a girl reared as Lesbia had been reared, would render it
impossible for her to betray him. He would show himself high-minded,
confident, generous, chivalrous, even; and he would trust to chance for
the issue. Chance were Mr. Smithson's only idea of Divinity; and Chance
had hitherto been kind to him. There had been dark hours in his life,
but the darkness had not lasted long; and the lucky accidents of his
career had been of a nature to beguile him into the belief that among
the favourites of Destiny he stood first and foremost.
While Mr. Smithson mused thus, alone and in the darkness, Montesma and
Lady Lesbia were wandering arm in arm in another and lovelier part of
the grounds, where golden lights were scattered like Cuban fire-flies
among the foliage of seringa and magnolia, arbutus and rhododendron,
while at intervals a sudden flush of rosier light was shed over garden
and river, as if by enchantment, surprising a couple here and there in
the midst of a flirtation which had begun in darkness.
The grounds were lovely in the balmy atmosphere of a July night, the
river gliding with mysterious motion under the stars, great masses of
gloom darkening the stream with an almost awful look where the woods of
Petersham and Ham House cast their dense shadows on the water. Don Gomez
and his companion wandered by the river side to a spot where a group of
magnolias sheltered them from the open lawn, and where there were some
rustic chairs close to the balustrade which protected the parapet. In
this spot, which was a kind of island, divided from the rest of the
grounds by the intervening road, they found themselves quite alone, and
in the midst of a summer stillness which was broken only by the low,
lazy ripple of the tide running seawards. The lights of Richmond looked
far away, and the little town with its variety of levels had an Italian
air in the distance.
From the ballroom, faint and fitful, came the music of a waltz.
'I'm afraid I've brought you too far,' said Don Gomez.
'On the contrary, it is a relief to get away from the lights and the
people. How delicious this river is! I was brought up on the shores of a
lake; but after all a lake is horribly tame. Its limits are always
staring one in the face. There is no room for one's imagination to
wander. Now a river like this suggests an infinity of possibilities,
drifting on and on and on into undiscovered regions, by ever-varying
shores. I feel to-night as if I should like to step into that little
boat yonder,' pointing to a light skiff bobbing gently up and down with
the tide, at the bottom of a flight of steps, 'and let the stream take
me wherever it chose.'
'If I could but go with you,' said Gomez, in that deep and musical tone
which made the commonest words seem melody, 'I would ask for neither
compass nor rudder. What could it matter whither the boat took me? There
is no place under the stars which would not be a paradise--with you.'
'Please don't make a dreamy aspiration the occasion for a compliment,'
exclaimed Lesbia, lightly. 'What I said was so silly that I don't wonder
you thought it right to say something just a little sillier. But
moonlight and running water have a curious effect upon me; and I, who am
the most prosaic among women, become ridiculously sentimental.'
'I cannot believe that you are prosaic.'
'I assure you it is perfectly true. I am of the earth, earthy; a woman
of the world, in my first season, ambitious, fond of pleasure, vain,
proud, exacting, all those things which I am told a woman ought not to
'You pain me when you so slander yourself; and I shall make it the
business of my life to find out how much truth there is in that
self-slander. For my own part I do not believe a word of it; but as it
is rude to contradict a lady I will only say that I reserve my opinion.'
'Are you to stay long in England?' asked Lesbia.
She was leaning against the stone balustrade in a careless attitude, as
of one who was weary, her elbow on the stone slab, and her head thrown
hack against her arm. The white satin gown, moulded to her figure, had a
statuesque air, and she looked like a marble statue in the dim light,
every line of the graceful form expressive of repose.
'That will depend. I am not particularly fond of London. A very little
of your English Babylon satisfies me, in a general way; but there are
conditions which might make England enchanting. Where do you go at the
end of the season?'
'First to Goodwood, and then to Cowes. Mr. Smithson is so kind as to
place his yacht at Lady Kirkbank's disposal, and I am to be her guest on
board the Cayman, just as I am in Arlington Street.'
'The Cayman! That name is a reminiscence of Mr. Smithson's South
'No doubt! Was he long in South America?'
'Three or four years.'
'But not in Cuba all that time, I suppose?'
'He had business relations with Cuba all that time, and oscillated
between our island and the main. He was rather fortunate in his little
adventures with us--made almost as much money as General Tacon, of
blessed memory. But I dare say Smithson has told you all his adventures
in that part of the world.'
'No, he very rarely talks about his travels: and I am not particularly
interested in commercial speculations. There is always so much to think
of and talk about in the business of the moment. Are you fond of Cuba?'
'Not passionately. I always feel as if I were an exile there, and yet
one of my ancestors was with Columbus when be discovered the island, and
my race were among the earliest settlers. My family has given three
Captain-generals to Cuba: but I cannot forget that I belong to an older
world, and have forfeited that which ought to have been a brilliant
place in Europe for the luxurious obscurity of a colony.'
'But you must be attached to a place in which your family have lived for
so many generations?'
'I like the stars and the sea, the mountains and savannas, the tropical
vegetation, and the dreamy, half-oriental life; but at best it is a kind
of stagnation, and after a residence of a few months in the island of my
birth I generally spread my wings for the wider world of the old
continent or the new.'
'You must have travelled so much,' said Lesbia, with a sigh. 'I have
been nowhere and seen nothing. I feel like a child who has been shut up
in a nursery all its life, and knows of no world beyond four walls.'
'Not to travel is not to live,' said Don Gomez.
'I am to be in Italy next November, I believe,' said Lesbia, not caring
to own that this Italian trip was to be her honeymoon.
'Italy!' exclaimed the Spaniard, contemptuously. 'Once the finishing
school of the English nobility; now the happy hunting-ground of the
Cockney tourist and the prosperous Yankee. All the poetry of Italy has
been dried up, and the whole country vulgarised. If you want romance in
the old world go to Spain; in the new, try Peru or Brazil, Mexico or
'I am afraid I am not adventurous enough to go so far.'
'No: women cling to beaten tracks.'
'We obey our masters,' answered Lesbia, meekly.
'Ah, I forgot. You are to have a master--and soon. I heard as much
before I saw you to-night.'
Lesbia half rose, as if to leave this cool retreat above the rippling
'Yes, it is all settled,' she said; 'and now I think I must go back.
Lady Kirkbank will be wondering what has become of me.'
'Let her wonder a little longer,' said Don Gomez. 'Why should we hurry
away from this delightful spot? Why break the spell of--the river? Life
has so few moments of perfect contentment. If this is one with you--as
it is with me--let us make the most of it. Lady Lesbia, do you see those
weeds yonder, drifting with the tide, drifting side by side, touching as
they drift? They have met heaven knows how, and will part heaven knows
where, on their way to the sea; but they let themselves go with the
tide. We have met like those poor weeds. Don't let us part till the tide
Lesbia gave a little sigh, and submitted. She had talked of women
obeying their masters; and the implication was that she meant to obey
Mr. Smithson. But there is a fate in these things; and the man who was
to be her master, whose lightest breath was to sway her, whose lightest
look was to rule her, was here at her side in the silence of the summer
They talked long, but of indifferent subjects; and their talk might have
been heard by every member of the Orleans Club, and no harm done. Yet
words and phrases count for very little in such a case. It is the tone,
it is the melody of a voice, it is the magic of the hour that tells.
The tide came, in the person of Mr. Smithson, and parted these two weeds
that were drifting towards the great mysterious ocean of fate.
'I have been hunting for you everywhere,' he said, cheerfully. 'If you
want another waltz, Lady Lesbia, you had better take the next. I believe
it is to be the last. At any rate our party are clamouring to be driven
home. I found poor Lady Kirkbank fast asleep in a corner of the
'Will you give me that last waltz?' asked Don Gomez.
Lady Lesbia felt that the long-suffering Smithson had endured enough.
Womanly instinct constrained her to refuse that final waltz: but it
seemed to her as if she were making a tremendous sacrifice in so doing.
And yet she had waltzed to her heart's content during the season that
was waning, and knew all the waltzes played by all the fashionable
bands. She gave a little sigh, as she said--
'No, I must not indulge myself. I must go and take care of Lady
Mr. Smithson offered his arm, and she took it and went away with him,
leaving Don Gomez to follow at his leisure. There would be some delay no
doubt before the drag started. The lamps had gone out among the foliage,
and the stars were waning a little, and there was a faint cold light
creeping over the garden which meant the advent of morning. Don Gomez
strolled towards the lighted house, smoking a cigarette.
'She is very lovely, and she is--well--not quite spoiled by her
_entourage_, and they tell me she is an heiress--sure to inherit a
fine fortune from some ancient grandmother, buried alive in
Westmoreland,' he mused. 'What a splendid opportunity it would be if--if
the business could be arranged on the square. But as it is--well--as it
is there is the chance of an adventure; and when did a Montesma ever
avoid an adventure, although there were dagger or poison lurking in the
background? And here there is neither poison nor steel, only a lovely
woman, and an infatuated stockbroker, about whom I know enough to
disgrace and ruin an archbishop. Poor Smithson! How very unlucky that I
should happen to come across your pathway in the heyday of your latest
love affair. We have had our little adventures in that line already, and
we have measured swords together, metaphorically, before to-night. When
it comes to a question of actual swords my Smithson declines. _Pas si
LORD HARTFIELD REFUSES A FORTUNE.
A honeymoon among lakes and mountains, amidst the gorgeous confusion of
Borrowdale, in a little world of wild, strange loveliness, shut in and
isolated from the prosaic outer world by the vast and towering masses of
Skiddaw and Blencathara--a world of one's own, as it were, a world
steeped in romance and poetry, dear to the souls of poets. There are
many such honeymoons every summer; indeed, the mountain paths, the
waterfalls and lakes swarm with happy lovers; and this land of hills and
waters seems to have been made expressly for honeymoon travellers; yet
never went truer lovers wandering by lake and torrent, by hill and
valley, than those two whose brief honeymoon was now drawing to a close.
It was altogether a magical time for Mary, this dawn of a new life. The
immensity of her happiness almost frightened her. She could hardly
believe in it, or trust in its continuance.
'Am I really, really, really your wife?' she asked on their last day,
bending down to speak to her husband, as he led her pony up the rough
ways of Skiddaw. 'It is all so dreadfully like a dream.'
'Thank God, it is the very truth,' answered Lord Hartfield, looking
fondly at the fresh young face, brightened by the summer wind, which
faintly stirred the auburn hair under the neat little hat.
'And am I actually a Countess? I don't care about it one little bit, you
know, except as a stupendous joke. If you were to tell me that you had
been only making fun of poor grandmother and me, and that those diamonds
are glass, and you only plain John Hammond, it wouldn't make the
faintest difference. Indeed, it would be a weight off my mind. It is an
awfully oppressive thing to be a Countess.'
'I'm sorry I cannot relieve you of the burden. The law of the land has
made you Lady Hartfield; and I hope you are preparing your mind for the
duties of your position.'
'It is very dreadful,' sighed Mary. 'If her ladyship were as well and as
active as she was when first you came to Fellside, she could have helped
me; but now there will be no one, except you. And you will help me,
won't you Jack?'
'With all my heart.'
'My own true Jack,' with a little fervent squeeze of his sunburnt hand.
'In society I suppose I shall have to call you Hartfield. "Hartfield,
please ring the bell." "Give me a footstool, Hartfield." How odd it
sounds. I shall be blurting out the old dear name.'
'I don't think it will much matter. It will pass for one of Lady
Hartfield's little ways. Every woman is supposed to have little ways,
don't you know. One has a little way of dropping her friends; another
has a little way of not paying her dressmaker; another's little way is
to take too much champagne. I hope Lady Hartfield's little way will be
her devotion to her husband.'
'I'm afraid I shall end by being a nuisance to you, for I shall love you
ridiculously,' answered Mary, gaily; 'and from what you have told me
about society, it seems to me that there can be nothing so unfashionable
as an affectionate wife. Will you mind my being quite out of fashion,
'I should very much object to your being in the fashion.'
'Then I am happy. I don't think it is in my nature to become a woman of
fashion; although I have cured myself, for your sake, of being a hoyden.
I had so schooled myself for what I thought our new life was to be; so
trained myself to be a managing economical wife, that I feel quite at
sea now that I am to be mistress of a house in Grosvenor Square and a
place in Kent. Still, I will bear with it all; yes, even endure the
weight of those diamonds for your sake.'
She laughed, and he laughed. They were quite alone among the
hills--hardy mountaineers both--and they could be as foolish as they
liked. She rested her head upon his shoulder, and he and she and the
pony made one as they climbed the hill, close together.
'Our last day,' sighed Mary, as they went down again, after a couple of
blissful hours in that wild world between earth and sky. 'I shall be
glad to go back to poor grandmother, who must be sadly lonely; but it is
so sweet to be quite alone with you.'
They left the Lodore Hotel in an open carriage, after luncheon next day,
and posted to Fellside, where they arrived just in time to assist at
Lady Maulevrier's afternoon tea. She received them both with warm
affection, and made Hartfield sit close beside her sofa; and every now
and then, in the pauses of their talk, she laid her wasted and too
delicate fingers upon the young man's strong brown hand, with a
'You can never know how sweet it is to me to be able to love you,' she
said tenderly. 'You can never know how my heart yearned to you from the
very first, and how hard it was to keep myself in check and not be too
kind to you. Oh, Hartfield, you should have told me the truth. You
should not have come here under false colours.'
'Should I not, Lady Maulevrier? It was my only chance of being loved
for my own sake; or, at least of knowing that I was so loved. If I had
come with my rank and my fortune in my hand, as it were--one of the good
matches of the year--what security could I ever have felt in the
disinterested love of the girl who chose me? As plain John Hammond I
wooed and was rejected; as plain John Hammond I wooed and won; and the
prize which I so won is a pearl above price. Not for worlds, were the
last year to be lived over again, would I have one day of my life
'Well, I suppose I ought to be satisfied, I wanted you for Lesbia, and I
have got you for Mary. Best of all, I have got you for myself. Ronald
Hollister's son is mine; he is of my kin; he belongs to me; he will not
forsake me in life; he will be near me, God grant, when I die.'
'Dear Lady Maulevrier, as far as in me lies, I will be to you as a son,'
said Lord Hartfield, very solemnly, stooping to kiss her hand.
Mary came away from her tea-table to embrace her grandmother.
'It makes me so happy to have won a little of your regard,' she
murmured, 'and to know that I have married a man whom you can love.'
'Of course you have heard of Lesbia's engagement?' Lady Maulevrier said
presently, when they were taking their tea.
'Maulevrier wrote to us about it.'
'To us.' How nice it sounded, thought Mary, as if they were a firm, and
a letter written to one was written to both.
'And do you know this Mr. Smithson?'
'Not intimately. I have met him at the Carlton.'
'I am told that he is very much esteemed by your party, and that he is
very likely to get a peerage when this Ministry goes out of office.'
'That is not improbable. Peerages are to be had if a man is rich enough;
and Smithson is supposed to be inordinately rich.'
'I hope he has character as well as money,' said Lady Maulevrier,
gravely. 'But do you think a man can become inordinately rich in a short
time, with unblemished honour?'
'We are told that nothing is impossible,' answered Hartfield. 'Faith can
remove a mountain; only one does not often see it done. However, I
believe Mr. Smithson's character is fairly good as millionaires go. We
do not inquire too closely into these things nowadays.'
Lady Maulevrier sighed and held her peace. She remembered the day when
she had protested vehemently, passionately, against Lesbia's marriage
with a poor man. And now she had an unhappy feeling about Mr. Smithson's
wealth, a doubt, a dread that all might not be well with those millions,
that some portion of that golden tide might flow from impure sources.
She had lived remote from the world, but she had read the papers
diligently, and she knew how often the splendour of commercial wealth
has been suddenly obscured behind a black cloud of obloquy. She could
not rejoice heartily at the idea of Lesbia's engagement.
'I am to see the man early in August,' she said, as if she were talking
of a butler. 'I hope I may like him. Lady Kirkbank tells me it is a
brilliant marriage, and I must take her word. What can _I_ do for my
granddaughter--a useless log--a prisoner in two rooms?'
'It is very hard,' murmured Mary, tenderly, 'but I do not see any reason
why Lesbia should not be happy. She likes a brilliant life; and Mr.
Smithson can give her as much gaiety and variety as she can possibly
desire. And, after all, yachts, and horses, and villas, and diamonds
_are_ nice things.'
'They are the things for which half the world is ready to cheat or
murder the other half,' said Lady Maulevrier, bitterly. She had told
herself long ago that wealth was power, and she had sacrificed many
things, her own peace, her own conscience among them, in order that her
children and grandchildren should be rich; and, knowing this, she felt
it ill became her to be scrupulous, and to inquire too, closely as to
the sources of Mr. Smithson's wealth. He was rich, and the world had no
fault to find with him. He had attended the last _levee_. He went into
reputable society. And he could give Lesbia all those things which the
world calls good.
Fraeulein Mueller had packed her heavy old German trunks, and had gone
back to the _Heimath_, laden with presents of all kinds from Lady
Maulevrier; so Mary and her husband felt as if Fellside was really their
own. They dined with her ladyship, and left her for the night an hour
after dinner; and then they went down to the gardens, and roamed about
in the twilight, and talked, and talked, and talked, as only true lovers
can talk, be they Strephon and Daphne in life's glad morning, or
grey-haired Darby and Joan; and lastly they went down to the hike, and
rowed about in the moonlight, and talked of King Arthur's death, and of
that mystic sword, Excalibur, 'wrought by the lonely maiden of the
They spent three happy days in wandering about the neighbourhood,
revisiting in the delicious freedom of their wedded life those spots
which they had seen together, when Mary was still in bondage, and the
eye of propriety, as represented by Miss Mueller, was always upon her.
Now they were free to go where they pleased--to linger where they
liked--they belonged to each other, and were under no other dominion.
The dogcart, James Steadman's dogcart, which he had rarely used during
the last six months, was put in requisition and Lord Hartfield drove his
wife about the country. They went to the Langdale Pikes, and to Dungeon
Ghyll; and, standing beside the waterfall, Mary told her husband how
miserable she had felt on that very spot a little less than a year ago,
when she believed that he thought her plain and altogether horrid.
Whereupon he had to console her with many kisses and sweet words, for
the bygone pain on her part, the neglect of his.
'I was a wretch,' he said, 'blind, besotted, imbecile.'
'No, no, no. Lesbia is very lovely--and I could not expect you would
care for me till she was gone away. How glad I am that she went,' added
The sky, which had been cloudless all day, began to darken as Lord
Hartfield drove back to Fellside, and Mary drew a little closer to the
driver's elbow, as if for shelter from an impending tempest.
'You have no waterproof, of course,' he said, looking down at her, as
the first big drops of a thunder shower dashed upon the splash-board.
'No young woman in the Lake country would think of being without a
Mary was duly provided, and with the help of the groom put herself into
a snug little tartan Inverness, while Hartfield sent the cart spinning
along twelve miles an hour.
They were at Fellside before the storm developed its full power, but the
sky was leaden, the landscape dull and blotted, the atmosphere heavy and
stifling. The thunder grumbled hoarsely, far away yonder in the wild
gorges of Borrowdale; and Mary and her husband made up their minds that
the tempest would come before midnight.
Lady Maulevrier was suffering from the condition of the atmosphere. She
had gone to bed, prostrate with a neuralgic headache, and had given
orders that no one but her maid should go near her. So Lord Hartfield
and his wife dined by themselves, in the room where Mary had eaten so
many uninteresting dinners _tete-a-tete_ with Fraeulein; and in spite of
the storm which howled, pelted, and lightened every now and then, Mary
felt as if she were in Paradise.
There was no chance of going out after dinner. The lake looked like a
pool of ink, the mountains were monsters of dark and threatening aspect,
the rain rattled against the windows, and ran from the verandah in
miniature water-spouts. There was nothing to do but stay in doors, in
the sultry, dusky house.
'Let us go to my boudoir,' said Mary. 'Let me enjoy the full privilege
of having a boudoir--my very own room. Wasn't it too good of grandmother
to have it made so smart for me?'
'Nothing can be too good for my Mary,' answered her husband, still in
the doting stage, 'but it was very nice of her ladyship--and the room is
Delightful as the new boudoir might be, they dawdled in the picture
gallery, that long corridor on which all the upper rooms opened, and at
one end of which was the door of Lady Maulevrier's bedroom, at right
angles with that red-cloth door, which was never opened, except to give
egress or ingress to James Steadman, who kept the key of it, as if the
old part of Fellside House had been an enchanted castle. Lord Hartfield
had not forgotten that summer midnight last year, when his meditations
were disturbed by a woman's piercing cry. He thought of it this evening,
as Mary and he lowered their voices on drawing near Lady Maulevrier's
door. She was asleep within there now, perhaps, that strange old woman;
and at any moment an awful shriek, as of a soul in mortal agony, might
startle them in the midst of their bliss.
The lamps were lighted below; but this upper part of the house was
wrapped in the dull grey twilight of a stormy evening. A single lamp
burned dimly at the further end of the corridor, and all the rest was
Mary and her husband walked up and down, talking in subdued tones. He
was explaining the necessity of his being in London next week, and
promising to come back to Fellside directly his business at the House
'It will be delightful to read your speeches,' said Mary; 'but I am
silly and selfish enough to wish you were a country squire, with no
business in London. And yet I don't wish that either, for I am intensely
proud of you.'
'And some day, before we are much older, you will sit in your robes in
the peeress's gallery.'
'Oh, I couldn't,' cried Mary. 'I should make a fool of myself, somehow.
I should look like a housemaid in borrowed plumes. Remember, I have no
_Anstand_--I have been told so all my life.'
'You will be one of the prettiest peeresses who ever sat in that
gallery, and the purest, and truest, and dearest,' protested her
'Oh, if I am good enough for you, I am satisfied. I married _you_, and
not the House of Lords. But I am afraid your friends will all say,
"Hartfield, why in heaven's name did you marry that uncultivated
She stopped suddenly, with her hand on her husband's arm. It was growing
momentarily darker in the corridor. They were at the end near the lamp,
and that other end by Lady Maulevrier's door was in deeper darkness, yet
not too dark for Lord Hartfield to see what it was to which Mary
The red-cloth door was open, and a faint glimmer of light showed within.
A man was standing in the corridor, a small, shrunken figure, bent and
'It is Steadman's uncle,' said Mary 'Do let me go and speak to him,
poor, poor old man.'
'The madman!' exclaimed Hartfield. 'No, Mary; go to your room at once.
I'll get him back to his own den.'
'But he is not mad--at any rate, he is quite harmless. Let me just say a
few words to him. Surely I am safe with you.'
Lord Hartfield was not inclined to dispute that argument; indeed, he
felt himself strong enough to protect his wife from all the lunatics in
Bedlam. He went towards the end of the corridor, keeping Mary well
behind him; but Mary did not mean to lose the opportunity of renewing
her acquaintance with Steadman's uncle.
'I hope you are better, poor old soul,' she murmured, gently, lovingly
almost, nestling at her husband's side.
'What, is it you?' cried the old man, tremulous with joy.
'Oh, I have been looking for you--looking--looking--waiting, waiting for
you. I have been hoping for you every hour and every minute. Why didn't
you come to me, cruel girl?'
'I tried with all my might,' said Mary, 'but people blocked up the door
in the stables, and they wouldn't let me go to you; and I have been
rather busy for the last fortnight,' added Mary, blushing in the
darkness, 'I--I--am married to this gentleman.'
'Married! Ah, that is a good thing. He will take care of you, if he is
an honest man.'
'I thought he was an honest man, but he has turned out to be an earl,'
answered Mary, proudly. 'My husband is Lord Hartfield.'
'Hartfield--Hartfield,' the old man repeated, feebly. 'Surely I have
heard that name before.'
There was no violence in his manner, nothing but imbecility: so Lord
Hartfield made up his mind that Mary was right, and that the old man was
quite harmless, worthy of all compassion and kindly treatment.
This was the same old man whom he had met on the Fell in the bleak March
morning. There was no doubt in his mind about that, although he could
hardly see the man's face in the shadowy corridor.
'Come,' said the man, 'come with me, my dear. You forgot me, but I have
not forgotten you. I mean to leave you my fortune. Come with me, and
I'll show you your legacy. It is all for you--every rupee--every jewel.'
This word rupee startled Lord Hartfield. It had a strange sound from the
lips of a Westmoreland peasant.
'Come, child, come!' said the man impatiently. 'Come and see what I have
left you in my will. I make a new will every day, but I leave everything
to you--every will is in your favour; But if you are married you had
better have your legacy at once. Your husband is strong enough to take
care of you and your fortune.'
'Poor old man,' whispered Mary; 'pray let us humour him.'
It was the usual madman's fancy, no doubt. Boundless wealth, exalted
rank, sanctity, power--these things all belong to the lunatic. He is the
lord of creation, and, fed by such fancies, he enjoys flashes of wild
happiness in the midst of his woe.
'Come, come, both of you,' said the old man, eagerly, breathless with
He led the way across the sacred threshold, looking back, beckoning to
them with his wasted old hand, and Mary for the first time in her life
entered that house which had seemed to her from her very childhood as a
temple of silence and mystery. The passage was dimly lighted by a little
lamp on a bracket. The old man crept along stealthily, looking back,
with a face full of cunning, till he came to a broad landing, from which
an old staircase, with massive oak banisters, led down to the square
hall below. The ceilings were low, the passages were narrow. All things
in the house were curiously different from that spacious mansion which
Lady Maulevrier had built for herself.
A door on the landing stood ajar. The old man pushed it open and went
in, followed by Mary and her husband.