Phantom Fortune, A Novel
M. E. Braddon
Part 5 out of 10
some quiet part of London, while Mr. Hammond works at literature or
politics. I am not afraid of poverty or trouble, I am willing to endure
both for his sake.'
'You are a fool!' said her grandmother sternly. 'And I have nothing more
to say to you. Go away, and send Maulevrier to me.'
Mary did not obey immediately. She went over to her grandmother's couch
and knelt by her side, and kissed the poor maimed hand which lay on the
'Dear grandmother,' she said gently. 'I am very sorry to rebel against
you. But this is a question of life or death with me. I am not like
Lesbia. I cannot barter love and truth for worldly advantage--for pride
of race. Do not think me so weak or so vain as to be won by a few fine
speeches from an adventurer. Mr. Hammond is no adventurer, he has made
no fine speeches--but, I will tell you a secret, grandmother. I have
liked and admired him from the first time he came here. I have looked up
to him and reverenced him; and I must be a very foolish girl if my
judgment is so poor that I can respect a worthless man.'
'You _are_ a very foolish girl,' answered Lady Maulevrier, more kindly
than she had spoken before, 'but you have been very good and dutiful to
me since I have been ill, and I don't wish to forget that. I never said
that Mr. Hammond was worthless; but I say that he is no fit husband for
you. If you were as yielding and obedient as Lesbia it would be all the
better for you; for then I should provide for your establishment in life
in a becoming manner. But as you are wilful, and bent upon taking your
own way--well--my dear, you must take the consequence; and when you are
a struggling wife and mother, old before your time, weighed down with
the weary burden of petty cares, do not say, "My grandmother might have
saved me from this martyrdom."'
'I will run the risk, grandmother. I will be answerable for my own
'So be it, Mary. And now send Maulevrier to me.'
Mary went down to the billiard room, where she found her brother and her
lover engaged in a hundred game.
'Take my cue and beat him if you can, Molly,' said Maulevrier, when he
had heard Mary's message. 'I'm fifteen ahead of him, for he has been
falling asleep over his shots. I suppose I am going to get a lecture.'
'I don't think so,' said Mary.
'Well, my dearest, how did you fare in the encounter?' asked Hammond,
directly Maulevrier was gone.
'Oh, it was dreadful! I made the most rebellious speeches to poor
grandmother, and then I remembered her affliction, and I asked her to
forgive me, and just at the last she was ever so much kinder, and I
think that she will let me marry you, now she knows I have made up my
mind to be your wife--in spite of Fate.'
'My bravest and best.'
'And do you know, Jack'--she blushed tremendously as she uttered this
familiar name--'I have made a discovery!'
'I find that I am to have five hundred a year when I am married. It is
not much. But I suppose it will help, won't it? We can't exactly starve
if we have five hundred a year. Let me see. It is more than a pound a
day. A sovereign ought to go a long way in a small house; and, of
course, we shall begin in a very wee house, like De Quincey's cottage
over there, only in London.'
'Yes, dear, there are plenty of such cottages in London. In Mayfair, for
instance, or Belgravia.'
'Now, you are laughing at my rustic ignorance. But the five hundred
pounds will be a help, won't it?'
'Yes, dear, a great help.'
'I'm so glad.'
She had chalked her cue while she was talking, but after taking her aim,
she dropped her arm irresolutely.
'Do you know I'm afraid I can't play to-night,' she said.
'Helvellyn and the fog and the wind have quite spoilt my nerve. Shall we
go to the drawing-room, and see if Fraeulein has recovered from her
'I would rather stay here, where we are free to talk; but I'll do
whatever you like best.'
Mary preferred the drawing-room. It was very sweet to be alone with her
lover, but she was weighed down with confusion in his presence. The
novelty, the wonderment of her position overpowered her. She yearned for
the shelter of Fraeulein Mueller's wing, albeit the company of that most
prosaic person was certain death to romance.
Miss Mueller was in her accustomed seat by the fire, knitting her
customary muffler. She had appropriated Lady Maulevrier's place, much to
Mary's disgust. It irked the girl to see that stout, clumsy figure in
the chair which had been filled by her grandmother's imperial form. The
very room seemed vulgarised by the change.
Fraeulein looked up with a surprised air when Mary and Hammond entered
together, the girl smiling and happy. She had expected that Mary would
have left her ladyship's room in tears, and would have retired to her
own apartment to hide her swollen eyelids and humiliated aspect. But
here she was, after the fiery ordeal of an interview with her offended
grandmother, not in the least crestfallen.
'Are we not to have any tea to-night?' asked Mary, looking round the
'I think you are unconscious of the progress of time, Lady Mary,'
answered Fraeulein, stiffly. 'The tea has been brought in and taken out
'Then it must be brought again, if Lady Mary wants some,' said Hammond,
ringing the bell in the coolest manner.
Fraeulein felt that things were coming to a pretty pass, if Maulevrier's
humble friend was going to give orders in the house. Quiet and
commonplace as the Hanoverian was, she had her ambition, and that was to
grasp the household sceptre which Lady Maulevrier must needs in some
wise resign, now that she was a prisoner to her rooms. But so far
Fraeulein had met with but small success in this endeavour. Her
ladyship's authority still ruled the house. Her ladyship's keen
intellect took cognisance even of trifles: and it was only in the most
insignificant details that Fraeulein felt herself a power.
'Well, your ladyship, what's the row?' said Maulevrier marching into his
grandmother's room with a free and easy air. He was prepared for a
skirmish, and he meant to take the bull by the horns.
'I suppose you know what has happened to-day?' said her ladyship.
'Molly and Hammond's expedition, yes, of course. I went part of the way
with them, but I was out of training, got pumped out after a couple of
miles, and wasn't such a fool as to go to the top.'
'Do you know that Mr. Hammond made Mary an offer, while they were on the
hill, and that she accepted him?'
'A queer place for a proposal, wasn't it? The wind blowing great guns
all the time. I should have chosen a more tranquil spot.'
'Maulevrier, cannot you be serious? Do you forget that this business of
to-day must affect your sister's welfare for the rest of her life?'
'No, I do not. I will be as serious as a judge after he has put on the
black cap,' said Maulevrier, seating himself near his grandmother's
couch, and altering his tone altogether. 'Seriously I am very glad that
Hammond has asked Mary to be his wife, and still more glad that she is
tremendously in love with him. I told you some time ago not to put your
spoke in that wheel. There could not be a happier or a better marriage
'You must have rather a poor opinion, of your sister's attractions,
personal or otherwise, if you consider a penniless young man--of no
family--good enough for her.'
'I do not consider my sister a piece of merchandise to be sold to the
highest bidder. Granted that Hammond is poor and a nobody. He is an
honourable man, highly gifted, brave as a lion, and he is my dearest
friend. Can you wonder that I rejoice at my sister's having won him for
her adoring lover?'
'Can he really care for her, after having loved Lesbia?'
'That was the desire of the eye, this is the love of the heart. I know
that he loves Mary ever so much better than he loved Lesbia. I can
assure your ladyship that I am not such a fool as I look. I am very fond
of my sister Mary, and I have not been blind to her interests. I tell
you on my honour that she ought to be very happy as John Hammond's
'I am obliged to believe what you say about his character,' said Lady
Maulevrier. 'And I am willing to admit that the husband's character has
a great deal to do with the wife's happiness, from a moral point of
view; but still there are material questions to be considered. Has your
friend any means of supporting a wife?'
'Yes, he has means; quite sufficient means for Mary's views, which are
'You mean to say he would keep her in decent poverty? Cannot you be
explicit, Maulevrier, and say what means the man has, whether an income
or none? If you cannot tell me I must question Mr. Hammond himself.'
'Pray do not do that,' exclaimed her grandson urgently. 'Do not take all
the flavour of romance out of Molly's love story, by going into pounds,
shillings, and pence. She is very young. You would hardly wish her to
'Not for the next year, at the very least.'
'Then why enter upon this sordid question of ways and means. Make
Hammond and Mary happy by consenting to their engagement, and trust the
rest to Providence, and to me. Take my word for it, Hammond is not a
beggar, and he is a man likely to make his mark in the world. If a year
hence his income is not enough to allow of his marrying, I will double
Mary's allowance out of my own purse. Hammond's friendship has steadied
me, and saved me a good deal more than five hundred a year.'
'I can quite believe that. I believe Mr. Hammond is a worthy man, and
that his influence has been very good for you; but that does not make
him a good match for Mary. However, you seem to have settled the
business among you, and I suppose I must submit. You had better all
drink tea with me to morrow afternoon; and I will receive your friend as
Mary's future husband.'
'That is the best and kindest of grandmothers.'
'But I should like to know more of his antecedents and his relations.'
'His antecedents are altogether creditable. He took honours at the
University; he has been liked and respected everywhere. He is an orphan,
and it is better not to talk to him of his family. He is sensitive on
that point, like most men who stand alone in the world.'
'Well, I will hold my peace. You have taken this business into your
hands, Maulevrier; and you must be responsible for the result.'
Maulevrier left his grandmother soon after this, and went downstairs,
whistling for very joyousness. Finding the billiard-room deserted he
repaired to the drawing-room, where he found Mary playing scraps of
melody to her lover at the shadowy end of the room, while Fraeulein sat
by the fire weaving her web as steadily as one of the Fatal Sisters, and
with a brow prophetic of evil.
Maulevrier crept up to the piano, and came stealthily behind the lovers.
'Bless you, my children,' he said, hovering over them with outspread
hands. 'I am the dove coming back to the ark. I am the bearer of happy
tidings. Lady Maulevrier consents to your acquiring the legal right to
make each other miserable for the rest of your lives.'
'God bless you, Maulevrier,' said Hammond, clasping him by the hand.
'Only as this sister of mine is hardly out of the nursery you will have
to wait for her at least a year. So says the dowager, whose word is like
the law of the Modes and Persians, and altereth not.'
'I would wait for her twice seven years, as Jacob waited, and toil for
her, as Jacob toiled,' answered Hammond, 'but I should like to call her
my own to-morrow, if it were possible.'
Nothing could be happier or gayer than the tea-drinking in Lady
Maulevrier's room on the following afternoon. Her ladyship having once
given way upon a point knew how to make her concession gracefully. She
extended her hand to Mr. Hammond as frankly as if he had been her own
'I cannot refuse my granddaughter to her brother's dearest friend,' she
said, 'but I think you are two most imprudent young people.'
'Providence takes care of imprudent lovers, just as it does of the birds
in their nests,' answered Hammond, smiling.
'Just as much and no more, I fear. Providence does not keep off the cat
or the tax-gatherer.'
'Birds must take care of their nests, and husbands must work for their
homes,' argued Hammond. 'Heaven gives sweet air and sunlight, and a
beautiful world to live in.'
'I think,' said Lady Maulevrier, looking at him critically, 'you are
just the kind of person who ought to emigrate. You have ideas that would
do for the Bush or the Yosemite Valley, but which are too primitive for
an over-crowded country.'
'No, Lady Maulevrier, I am not going to steal your granddaughter. When
she is my wife she shall live within call. I know she loves her native
land, and I don't think either of us would care to put an ocean between
us and rugged old Helvellyn.'
'Of course having made idiots of yourselves up there in the fog and the
storm you are going to worship the mountain for ever afterwards,' said
her ladyship laughing.
Never had she seemed gayer or brighter. Perhaps in her heart of hearts
she rejoiced at getting Mary engaged, even to so humble a suitor as
fortuneless John Hammond. Ever since the visit of the so-called Rajah
she had lived as Damocles lived, with the sword of destiny--the avenging
sword--hanging over her by the finest hair. Every time she heard
carriage wheels in the drive--every time the hall-door bell rang a
little louder than usual, her heart seemed to stop beating and her whole
being to hang suspended on a thread. If the thread were to snap, there
would come darkness and death. The blow that had paralysed one side of
her body must needs, if repeated, bring total extinction. She who
believed in no after life saw in her maimed and wasting arm the
beginning of death. She who recognised only the life of the body felt
that one half of her was already dead. But months had gone by, and Louis
Asoph had made no sign. She began to hope that his boasted documents and
witnesses were altogether mythical. And yet the engines of the law are
slow to put in motion. He might be working up his case, line upon line,
with some hard-headed London lawyer; arranging and marshalling his
facts; preparing his witnesses; waiting for affidavits from India;
working slowly but surely, underground like the mole; and all at once,
in an hour, his case might be before the law courts. His story and the
story of Lord Maulevrier's infamy might be town talk again; as it had
been forty years ago, when the true story of that crime had been happily
Yes, with the present fear of this Louis Asoph's revelations, of a new
scandal, if not a calamity, Lady Maulevrier felt that it was a good
thing to have her younger granddaughter's future in some measure
secured. John Hammond had said of himself to Lesbia that he was not the
kind of man to fail, and looking at him critically to-day Lady
Maulevrier saw the stamp of power and dauntless courage in his
countenance and bearing. It is the inner mind of a man which moulds the
lines of his face and figure; and a man's character may be read in the
way he walks and holds himself, the action of his hand, his smile, his
frown, his general outlook, as clearly as in any phrenological
development. John Hammond had a noble outlook: bold, without impudence
or self-assertion; self-possessed, without vanity. Yes, assuredly a man
to wrestle with difficulty, and to conquer fate.
When that little tea-drinking was over and Maulevrier and his friend
were going away to dress for dinner, Lady Maulevrier detained Mary for a
minute or two by her couch. She took her by the hand with unaccustomed
'My child, I congratulate you,' she said. 'Last night I thought you a
fool, but I begin to think that you are wiser than Lesbia. You have won
the heart of a noble young man.'
'A YOUNG LAMB'S HEART AMONG THE FULL-GROWN FLOCKS.'
For three most happy days Mary rejoiced in her lover's society,
Maulevrier was with them everywhere, by brookside and fell, on the lake,
in the gardens, in the billiard-room, playing propriety with admirable
patience. But this could not last for ever. A man who has to win name
and fortune and a home for his young wife cannot spend all his days in
the primrose path. Fortunes and reputations are not made in dawdling
beside a mountain stream, or watching the play of sunlight and shadow on
a green hill-side; unless, indeed, one were a new Wordsworth, and even
then fortune and renown are not quickly made.
And again, Maulevrier, who had been a marvel of good-nature and
contentment for the last eight weeks, was beginning to be tired of this
lovely Lakeland. Just when Lakeland was daily developing into new
beauty, Maulevrier began to feel an itching for London, where he had a
comfortable nest in the Albany, and which was to his mind a metropolis
expressly created as a centre or starting point for Newmarket, Epsom,
Ascot and Goodwood.
So there came a morning upon which Mary had to say good-bye to those two
companions who had so blest and gladdened her life. It was a bright
sunshiny morning, and all the world looked gay; which seemed very unkind
of Nature, Mary thought. And yet, even in the sadness of this parting,
she had much reason to be glad. As she stood with her lover in the
library, in the three minutes of _tete-a-tete_ She stolen from the
argus-eyed Fraeulein, folded in his arms, looking up at his manly face,
it seemed to her that the mere knowledge that she belonged to him and
was beloved by him ought to sustain and console her even in long years
of severance. Yes, even if he were one of the knights of old, going to
the Holy Land on a crusade full of peril and uncertainty. Even then a
woman ought to be brave, having such a lover.
But her parting was to be only for a few months. Maulevrier promised to
come back to Fellside for the August sports, and Hammond was to come
with him. Three months--or a little more--and they were to meet again.
Yet in spite of these arguments for courage, Mary's face blanched and
her eyes grew unutterably sad as she looked up at her lover.
'You will take care of yourself, Jack, for my sake, won't you, dear?'
she murmured. 'If you should be ill while you are in London! If you
'Life is very uncertain, love, but I don't feel like sickness or death
just at present,' answered Hammond cheerily. 'Indeed, I feel that the
present is full of sweetness, and the future full of hope. Don't
suppose, dear, that I am not grieved at this good-bye; but before we
are a year older I hope the time will have come when there will be no
more farewells for you and me. I shall be a very exacting husband,
Molly. I shall want to spend all the days and hours of my life with you;
to have not a fancy or a pursuit in which you cannot share, or with
which you cannot sympathise. I hope you will not grow tired of me!'
Then came silence, and a long farewell kiss, and then the voice of
Maulevrier shouting in the hall, just in time to warn the lovers, before
Miss Mueller opened the door and exclaimed,
'Oh, Mr. Hammond, we have been looking for you _everywhere_. The luggage
is all in the carriage, and Maulevrier says there is only just time to
get to Windermere!'
In another minute or so the carriage was driving down the hill; and Mary
stood in the porch looking after the travellers.
'It seems as if it is my fate to stand here and see everybody drive
away,' she said to herself.
And then she looked round at the lovely gardens, bright with spring
flowers, the trees glorious with their young, fresh foliage, and the
vast panorama of hill and dale, and felt that it was a wicked thing to
murmur in the midst of such a world. And she remembered the great
unhoped-for bliss that had come to her within the last four days, and
the cloud upon her brow vanished, as she clasped her hands in child-like
'God bless you, dear old Helvellyn,' she exclaimed, looking up at the
sombre crest of the mountain. 'Perhaps if it had not been for you he
would have never proposed.'
But she was obliged to dismiss this idea instantly; for to suppose John
Hammond's avowal of his love an accident, the mere impulse of a weak
moment, would be despair. Had he not told her how she had grown nearer
and nearer to his heart, day by day, and hour by hour, until she had
become part of his life? He had told her this--he, in whom she believed
as in the very spirit of truth.
She wandered about the gardens for an hour after the carriage had
started for Windermere, revisiting every spot where she and her lover
had walked together within the last three days, living over again the
rapture of those hours, repeating to herself his words, recalling his
looks, with the fatuity of a first girlish love. And yet amidst the
silliness inseparable from love's young dream, there was a depth of true
womanly feeling, thoughtful, unselfish, forecasting a future which was
not to travel always along the primrose path of dalliance--a future in
which the roses were not always to be thornless.
John Hammond was going to London to work for a position in the world, to
strive and labour among the seething mass of strugglers, all pressing
onward for the same goal--independence, wealth, renown. Little as Mary
know of the world by experience, she had at least heard the wiseacres
talk; and that which she had heard was calculated to depress rather than
to inspire industrious youth. She had heard how the professions were all
over-crowded: how a mighty army of young men were walking the hospitals,
all intent on feeling the pulses and picking the pockets of the rising
generation: how at the Bar men were growing old and grey before they saw
their first brief: how competitors were elbowing and hustling each other
upon every road, thronging at every gate. And while masculine youth
strove and wrestled for places in the race, aunts and sisters and
cousins were pressing into the same arena, doing their best to crowd out
the uncles and the brothers and the nephews.
'Poor Jack,' sighed Mary, 'at the worst we can go to the Red River
country and grow corn.'
This was her favourite fancy, that she and her lover should find their
first dwelling in the new world, live as humbly as the peasants lived
round Grasmere, and patiently wait upon fortune. And yet that would not
be happiness, unless Maulevrier were to come and stay with them every
autumn. Nothing could reconcile Mary to being separated from Maulevrier
for any lengthened period.
There were hours in which she was more hopeful, and defied the
wiseacres. Clever young men had succeeded in the past--clever men whose
hair was not yet grey had come to the front in the present. Granted that
these were the exceptional men, the fine flower of humanity. Did she not
know that John Hammond was as far above average youth as Helvellyn was
above yonder mound in her grandmother's shrubbery?
Yes, he would succeed in literature, in politics, in whatever career he
had chosen for himself. He was a man to do the thing he set himself to
do, were it ever so difficult. To doubt his success would be to doubt
his truth and his honesty; for he had sworn to her he would make her
life bright and happy, and that evil days should never come to her; and
he was not the man to promise that which he was not able to perform.
The house seemed terribly dull now that the two young men were gone.
There was an oppressive silence in the rooms which had lately resounded
with Maulevrier's frank, boyish laughter, and with his friend's deep,
manly tones--a silence broken only by the click of Fraeulein Mueller's
The Fraeulein was not disposed to be sympathetic or agreeable about Lady
Mary's engagement. Firstly, she had not been consulted about it. The
thing had been done, she considered, in an underhand manner; and Lady
Maulevrier, who had begun by strenuously opposing the match, had been
talked over in a way that proved the latent weakness of that great
lady's character. Secondly, Miss Mueller, having herself for some reason
missed such joys as are involved in being wooed and won, was disposed to
look sourly upon all love affairs, and to take a despondent view of all
She did not say anything openly uncivil to Mary Haselden; but she let
the damsel see that she pitied her and despised her infatuated
condition; and this was so unpleasant that Mary was fain to fall back
upon the society of ponies and terriers, and to take up her pilgrim's
staff and go wandering over the hills, carrying her happy thoughts into
solitary places, and sitting for hours in a heathery hollow, steeped in
a sea of summer light, and trying to paint the mountain side and the
rush of the waterfall. Her sketch-book was an excuse for hours of
solitude, for the indulgence of an endless day-dream.
Sometimes she went among her humble friends in the Grasmere cottages, or
in the villages of Great and Little Langdale; and she had now a new
interest in these visits, for she had made up her mind that it was her
solemn duty to learn housekeeping--not such housekeeping as might have
been learnt at Fellside, supposing she had mustered the courage to ask
the dignified upper-servants in that establishment to instruct her; but
such domestic arts as are needed in the dwellings of the poor. The art
of making a very little money go a great way; the art of giving grace,
neatness, prettiness to the smallest rooms and the shabbiest furniture;
the art of packing all the ugly appliances and baser necessities of
daily life, the pots and kettles and brooms and pails, into the
narrowest compass, and hiding them from the aesthetic eye. Mary thought
that if she began by learning the homely devices of the villagers--the
very A B C of cookery and housewifery--she might gradually enlarge upon
this simple basis to suit an income of from five to seven hundred a
year. The house-mothers from whom she sought information were puzzled at
this sudden curiosity about domestic matters. They looked upon the thing
as a freak of girlhood which drifted into eccentricity, from sheer
idleness; yet they were not the less ready to teach Mary anything she
desired to learn. They told her those secret arts by which coppers and
brasses are made things of beauty, and meet adornment for an old oak
mantelshelf. They allowed her to look on at the milking of the cow, and
at the churning of the butter; and at bread making, and cake making, and
pie and pudding making; and some pleasant hours were spent in the
acquirement of this useful knowledge. Mary did not neglect the invalid
during this new phase of her existence. Lady Maulevrier was a lover of
routine, and she liked her granddaughter to go to her at the same hour
every day. From eleven to twelve was the time for Mary's duty as
amanuensis. Sometimes there were no letters to be written. Sometimes
there were several; but her ladyship rarely allowed the task to go
beyond the stroke of noon. At noon Mary was free, and free till five
o'clock, when she was generally in attendance, ready to give Lady
Maulevrier her afternoon tea, and sit and talk with her, and tell her
any scraps of local news which she had gathered in the day.
There were days on which her ladyship preferred to take her tea alone,
and Mary was left free to follow her own devices till dinner-time.
'I do not feel equal even to your society to-day, my dear,' her ladyship
would say; 'go and enjoy yourself with your dogs and your tennis;'
forgetting that there was very seldom anybody on the premises with whom
Lady Mary could play tennis.
But in these lonely days of Mary Haselden's life there was one crowning
bliss which was almost enough to sweeten solitude, and take away the
sting of separation; and that was the delight of expecting and receiving
her lover's letters. Busily as Mr. Hammond must be engaged in fighting
the battle of life, he was in no way wanting in his duty as a lover. He
wrote to Mary every other day; but though his letters were long, they
told her hardly anything of himself or his occupation. He wrote about
pictures, books, music, such things as he knew must be interesting to
her; but of his own struggles not a word.
'Poor fellow,' thought Mary. 'He is afraid to sadden me by telling me
how hard the struggle is.'
Her own letters to her betrothed were simple outpourings of girlish
love, breathing that too flattering-sweet idolatry which an innocent
girl gives to her first lover. Mary wrote as if she herself were of the
least possible value among created things.
With one of Mr. Hammond's earlier letters came the engagement ring; no
half-hoop of brilliants or sapphires, rubies or emeralds, no gorgeous
triple circlet of red, white, and green; but only a massive band of dead
gold, on the inside of which was engraved this posy--'For ever.'
Mary thought it the loveliest ring she had ever seen in her life.
May was half over and the last patch of snow had vanished from the crest
of Helvellyn, from Eagle's Crag and Raven's Crag, and Coniston Old Man.
Spring--slow to come along these shadowy gorges--had come in real
earnest now, spring that was almost summer; and Lady Maulevrier's
gardens were as lovely as dreamland. But it was an unpeopled paradise.
Mary had the grounds all to herself, except at those stated times when
the Fraeulein, who was growing lazier and larger day by day in her
leisurely and placid existence, took her morning and afternoon
constitutional on the terrace in front of the drawing-room, or solemnly
perambulated the shrubberies.
On fine days Mary lived in the garden, save when she was far afield
learning the domestic arts from the cottagers. She read French and
German, and worked conscientiously at her intellectual education, as
well as at domestic economy. For she told herself that accomplishments
and culture might be useful to her in her married life. She might be
able to increase her husband's means by giving lessons abroad, or taking
pupils at home. She was ready to do anything. She would teach the
stupidest children, or scrub floors, or bake bread. There was no service
she would deem degrading for his sake. She meant when she married to
drop her courtesy title. She would not be Lady Mary Hammond, a poor
sprig of nobility, but plain Mrs. Hammond, a working man's wife.
Lesbia's presentation was over, and had realised all Lady Kirkbank's
expectations. The Society papers were unanimous in pronouncing Lord
Maulevrier's sister the prettiest _debutante_ of the season. They
praised her classical features, the admirable poise of her head, her
peerless complexion. They described her dress at the drawing-room; they
described her 'frocks' in the Park and at Sandown. They expatiated on
the impression she had made at great assemblies. They hinted at even
Royal admiration. All this, frivolous fribble though it might be, Lady
Maulevrier read with delight, and she was still more gratified by
Lesbia's own account of her successes. But as the season advanced
Lesbia's letters to her grandmother grew briefer--mere hurried scrawls
dashed off while the carriage was at the door, or while her maid was
brushing her hair. Lady Maulevrier divined, with the keen instinct of
love, that she counted for very little in Lesbia's life, now that the
whirligig of society, the fret and fever of fashion, had begun.
One afternoon in May, at that hour when Hyde Park is fullest, and the
carriages move slowly in triple rank along the Lady's Mile, and the
mounted constables jog up and down with a business-like air which sets
every one on the alert for the advent of the Princess of Wales, just at
that hour when Lesbia sat in Lady Kirkbank's barouche, and distributed
gracious bows and enthralling smiles to her numerous acquaintance, Mary
rode slowly down the Fell, after a rambling ride on the safest and most
venerable of mountain ponies. The pony was grey, and Mary was grey, for
she wore a neat little homespun habit made by the local tailor, and a
neat little felt hat with, a ptarmigan's feather.
All was very quiet at Fellside as she went in at the stable gate. There
was not an underling stirring in the large old stable-yard which had
remained almost unaltered for a century and a half; for Lady Maulevrier,
whilst spending thousands on the new part of the house, had deemed the
existing stables good enough for her stud. They were spacious old
stables, built as solidly as a Norman castle, and with all the virtues
and all the vices of their age.
Mary looked round her with a sigh. The stillness of the place was
oppressive, and within doors she knew there would be the same stillness,
made still more oppressive by the society of the Fraeulein, who grew
duller and duller every day, as it seemed to Mary.
She took her pony into the dusky old stable, where four other ponies
began rattling their halters in the gloom, by way of greeting. A bundle
of purple tares lay ready in a corner for Mary to feed her favourites;
and for the next ten minutes or so she was happily employed going from
stall to stall, and gratifying that inordinate appetite for green meat
which seems natural to all horses.
Not a groom or stable-boy appeared while she was in the stable; and she
was just going away, when her attention was caught by a flood of
sunshine streaming into an old disused harness-room at the end of the
stable--a room with one small window facing the Fell.
Whence could that glow of western light come? Assuredly not from the
low-latticed window which faced eastward, and was generally obscured by
a screen of cobwebs. The room was only used as a storehouse for lumber,
and it was nobody's business to clean the window.
Mary looked in, curious to solve the riddle. A door which she had often
noticed, but never seen opened, now stood wide open, and the old
quadrangular garden, which was James Steadman's particular care, smiled
at her in the golden evening light. Seen thus, this little old Dutch
garden seemed to Mary the prettiest thing she had ever looked upon.
There were beds of tulips and hyacinths, ranunculus, narcissus,
tuberose, making a blaze of colour against the old box borders, a foot
high. The crumbling old brick walls of the outbuildings, and that
dungeon-like wall which formed the back of the new house, were clothed
with clematis and wistaria, woodbine and magnolia. All that loving
labour could do had been done day by day for the last forty years to
make this confined space a thing of beauty. Mary went out of the dark
stable into the sunny garden, and looked round her, full of admiration
for James Steadman's work.
'If ever Jack and I can afford to have a garden, I hope we shall be able
to make it like this,' she thought. 'It is such a comfort to know that
so small a garden can be pretty: for of course any garden we could
afford must be small.'
Lady Mary had no idea that this quadrangle was spacious as compared with
the narrow strip allotted to many a suburban villa calling itself 'an
In the centre of the garden there was an old sundial, with a stone bench
at the base, and, as she came upon an opening in the circular yew tree
hedge which environed this sundial, and from which the flower beds
radiated in a geometrical pattern, Lady Mary was surprised to see an old
man--a very old man--sitting on this bench, and basking in the low light
of the westering sun.
His figure was shrunken and bent, and he sat with his chin resting on
the handle of a crutched stick, and his head leaning forward. His long
white hair fell in thin straggling locks over the collar of his coat. He
had an old-fashioned, mummyfied aspect, and Mary thought he must be
very, very old.
Very, very old! In a flash there came back upon her the memory of John
Hammond's curiosity about a hoary and withered old man whom he had met
on the Fell in the early morning. She remembered how she had taken him
to see old Sam Barlow, and how he had protested that Sam in no wise
resembled the strange-looking old man of the Fell. And now here, close
to the Fell, was a face and figure which in every detail resembled that
ancient stranger whom Hammond had described so graphically.
It was very strange. Could this person be the same her lover had seen
two months ago? And, if so, had he been living at Fellside all the time;
or was he only an occasional visitor of Steadman's?
While she stood for a few moments meditating thus, the old man raised
his head and looked up at her, with eyes that burned like red-hot coals
under his shaggy white brows. The look scared her. There was something
awful in it, like the gaze of an evil spirit, a soul in torment, and she
began to move away, with side-long steps, her eyes riveted on that
'Don't go,' said the man, with an authoritative air, rattling his bony
fingers upon the bench. 'Sit down here by my side, and talk to me. Don't
be frightened, child. You wouldn't, if you knew what they say of me
indoors.' He made a motion of his head towards the windows of the old
wing--'"Harmless," they say, "quite harmless. Let him alone, he's
harmless." A tiger with his claws cut and his teeth drawn--an old,
grey-bearded tiger, ghastly and grim, but harmless--a cobra with the
poison-bag plucked out of his jaw! The venom grows again, child--the
snake's venom--but youth never comes back: Old, and helpless, and
Again Mary tried to move away, but those evil eyes held her as if she
were a bird riveted by the gaze of a serpent.
'Why do you shrink away?' asked the old man, frowning at her. 'Sit down
here, and let me talk to you. I am accustomed to be obeyed'
Old and feeble and shrunken as he was, there was a power in his tone of
command which Mary was unable to resist. She felt very sure that he was
imbecile or mad. She knew that madmen are apt to imagine themselves
great personages, and to take upon themselves, with a wonderful power of
impersonation, the dignity and authority of their imaginary rank; and
she supposed that it must be thus with this strange old man. She
struggled against her sense of terror. After all there could be no real
danger, in the broad daylight, within the precincts of her own home,
within call of the household.
She seated herself on the bench by the unknown, willing to humour him a
little; and he turned himself about slowly, as if every bone in his body
were stiff with age, and looked at her with a deliberate scrutiny.
'NOW NOTHING LEFT TO LOVE OR HATE.'
The old man sat looking at Mary in silence for some moments; not a great
space of time, perhaps, as marked by the shadow on the dial behind them,
but to Mary that gaze was unpleasantly prolonged. He looked at her as if
he could read every pulsation in every fibre of her brain, and knew
exactly what it meant.
'Who are you?' he asked, at last.
'My name is Mary Haselden.'
'Haselden,' he repeated musingly, 'I have heard that name before.'
And then he resumed his former attitude, his chin resting on the handle
of his crutch-stick, his eyes bent upon the gravel path, their unholy
brightness hidden under the penthouse brows.
'Haselden,' he murmured, and repeated the name over and over again,
slowly, dreamily, with a troubled tone, like some one trying to work out
a difficult problem. 'Haselden--when? where?'
And then with a profound sigh he muttered, 'Harmless, quite harmless.
You may trust him anywhere. Memory a blank, a blank, a blank, my lord!'
His head sank lower upon his breast, and again he sighed, the sigh of a
spirit in torment, Mary thought. Her vivid imagination was already
interested, her quick sympathies were awakened.
She looked at him wonderingly, compassionately. So old, so infirm, and
with a mind astray; and yet there were indications in his speech and
manner that told of reason struggling against madness, like the light
behind storm-clouds. He had tones that spoke of a keen sensitiveness to
pain, not the lunatic's imbecile placidity. She observed him intently,
trying to make out what manner of man he was.
He did not belong to the peasant class: of that she felt assured. The
shrunken, tapering hand had never worked at peasant's work. The profile
turned towards her was delicate to effeminacy. The man's clothes were
shabby and old-fashioned, but they were a gentleman's garments, the
cloth of a finer texture than she had ever seen worn by her brother. The
coat, with its velvet collar, was of an old-world fashion. She
remembered having seen just such a coat in an engraved portrait of Count
d'Orsay, a print nearly fifty years old. No Dalesman born and bred ever
wore such a coat; no tailor in the Dales could have made it.
The old man looked up after a long pause, during which Mary felt afraid
to move. He looked at her again with inquiring eyes, as if her presence
there had only just become known to him.
'Who are you?' he asked again.
'I told you my name just now. I am Mary Haselden.'
'Haselden--that is a name I knew--once. Mary? I think my mother's name
was Mary. Yes, yes, I remember that. You have a sweet face, Mary--like
my mother's. She had brown eyes, like yours, and auburn hair. You don't
recollect her, perhaps?'
'Alas! poor maniac,' thought Mary, 'you have lost all count of time.
Fifty years to you in the confusion of your distraught brain, are but as
'No, of course not, of course not,' he muttered; 'how should she
recollect my mother, who died while I was a boy? Impossible. That must
be half a century ago.'
'Good evening to you,' said Mary, rising with a great effort, so strong
was her feeling of being spellbound by the uncanny old man, 'I must go
He stretched out his withered old hand, small, semi-transparent, with
the blue veins showing darkly under the parchment-coloured skin, and
grasped Mary's arm.
'Don't go,' he pleaded. 'I like your face, child; I like your voice--I
like to have you here. What do you mean by going indoors? Where do you
'There,' said Mary, pointing to the dead wall which faced them. 'In the
new part of Fellside House. I suppose you are staying in the old part
with James Steadman.'
She had made up her mind that this crazy old man must be a relation of
Steadman's to whom he gave hospitality either with or without her
ladyship's consent. All powerful as Lady Maulevrier had ever been in her
own house, it was just possible that now, when she was a prisoner in her
own rooms, certain small liberties might be taken, even by so faithful a
servant as Steadman.
'Staying with James Steadman,' repeated the old man in a meditative
tone. 'Yes, I stay with Steadman. A good servant, a worthy person. It is
only for a little while. I shall be leaving Westmoreland next week. And
you live in that house, do you?' pointing to the dead wall. 'Whose
'Lady Maulevrier's. I am Lady Maulevrier's granddaughter.'
'Lady Mau-lev-rier.' He repeated the name in syllables. 'A good name--an
old title--as old as the conquest. A Norman race those Maulevriers. And
you are Lady Maulevrier's granddaughter! You should be proud. The
Maulevriers were always a proud race.'
'Then I am no true Maulevrier,' answered Mary gaily.
She was beginning to feel more at her ease with the old man. He was
evidently mad, as mad as a March hare; but his madness seemed only the
harmless lunacy of extreme old age. He had flashes of reason, too. Mary
began to feel a friendly interest in him. To youth in its flush of life
and vigour there seems something so unspeakably sad and pitiable in
feebleness and age--the brief weak remnant of life, the wreck of body
and mind, sunning itself in the declining rays of a sun that is so soon
to shine upon its grave.
'What, are you not proud?' asked the old man.
'Not at all. I have been taught to consider myself a very insignificant
person; and I am going to marry a poor man. It would not become me to be
'But you ought not to do that,' said the old man. 'You ought not to
marry a poor man. Poverty is a bad thing, my dear. You are a pretty
girl, and ought to marry a man with a handsome fortune. Poor men have no
pleasure in this world--they might just as well be dead. I am poor, as
you see. You can tell by this threadbare coat'--he looked down at the
sleeve from which the nap was worn in places--'I am as poor as a church
'But you have kind friends, I dare say,' Mary said, soothingly. 'You are
well taken care of, I am sure.'
'Yes, I am well taken care of--very well taken care of. How long is it,
I wonder--how many weeks, or months, or years, since they have taken
care of me? It seems a long, long time; but it is all like a dream--a
long dream. Once I used to try and wake myself. I used to try and
struggle out of that weary dream. But that was ages ago. I am satisfied
now--I am quite content now--so long as the weather is warm, and I can
sit out here in the sun.'
'It is growing chilly now,' said Mary, 'and I think you ought to go
indoors. I know that I must go.'
'Yes, I must go in now--I am getting shivery,' answered the old man,
meekly. 'But I want to see you again, Mary--I like your face--and I like
your voice. It strikes a chord here,' touching his breast, 'which has
long been silent. Let me see you again, child. When can I see you
'Do you sit here every afternoon when it is fine?'
'Yes, every day--all day long sometimes when the sun is warm.'
'Then I will come here to see you.'
'You must keep it a secret, then,' said the old man, with a crafty look.
'If you don't they will shut me up in the house, perhaps. They don't
like me to see people, for fear I should talk. I have heard Steadman say
so. Yet what should I talk about, heaven help me? Steadman says my
memory is quite gone, and that I am childish and harmless--childish and
harmless. I have heard him say that. You'll come again, won't you, and
you'll keep it a secret?'
Mary deliberated for a few minutes.
'I don't like secrets,' she said, 'there is generally something
dishonourable in them. But this would be an innocent secret, wouldn't
it? Well, I'll come to see you somehow, poor old man; and if Steadman
sees me here I will make everything right with him.'
'He mustn't see you here,' said the old man. 'If he does he will shut me
up in my own rooms again, as he did once, years and years ago.'
'But you have not been here long, have you?' Mary asked, wonderingly.
'A hundred years, at least. That's what it seems to me sometimes. And
yet there are times when it seems only a dream. Be sure you come again
'Yes, I promise you to come; good-night.'
Mary went back to the stable. The door was still open, but how could she
be sure that it would be open to-morrow? There was no other access that
she knew of to the quadrangle, except through the old part of the house,
and that was at times inaccessible to her.
She found a key--a big old rusty key--in the inside of the door, so she
shut and locked it, and put the key in her pocket. The door she supposed
had been left open by accident; at any rate this key made her mistress
of the situation. If any question should arise as to her conduct she
could have an explanation with Steadman; but she had pledged her word to
the poor mad old man, and she meant to keep her promise, if possible.
As she left the stable she saw Steadman riding towards the gate on his
grey cob. She passed him as she went back to the house.
Next day, and the day after that, and for many days, Mary used her key,
and went into the quadrangle at sundown to sit for half an hour or so
with the strange old man, who seemed to take an intense pleasure in her
company. The weather was growing warmer as May wore on towards June, and
this evening hour, between six and seven, was deliciously bright and
balmy. The seat by the sundial was screened on every side by the clipped
yew hedge, dense and tall, surrounding the circular, gravelled space, in
the centre of which stood the old granite dial, with its octagonal
pedestal and moss-grown steps. There, as in a closely-shaded arbour,
Lady Mary and her old friend were alone and unobserved. The yew-tree
boundary was at least eight feet high, and Mary and her companion could
hardly have been seen even from the upper windows of the low, old house.
Mary had fallen into the habit of going for her walk or her ride at five
o'clock every day, when she was not in attendance on Lady Maulevrier,
and after her walk or ride she slipped through the stable, and joined
her ancient friend. Stables and courtyard were generally empty at this
hour, the men only appearing at the sound of a big bell, which summoned
them from their snuggery when they were wanted. Most of Lady
Maulevrier's servants had arrived at that respectable stage of long
service in which fidelity is counted as a substitute for hard work.
The old man was not particularly conversational, and was apt to repeat
the same things over and over again, with a sublime unconsciousness of
being prosy; but he liked to hear Mary talk, and he listened with
seeming intelligence. He questioned her about the world outside his
cloistered life--the wars and rumours of wars--and, although the names
of the questions and the men of the day seemed utterly strange to him,
and he had to have them repeated to him again and again, he seemed to
take an intelligent interest in the stirring facts of the time, and
listened intently when Mary gave him a synopsis of her last newspaper
When the news was exhausted, Mary hit upon a more childish form of
amusement, and that was to tell the story of any novel or poem she had
been lately reading. This was so successful that in this manner Mary
related the stories of most of Shakespeare's plays; of Byron's Bride of
Abydos, and Corsair; of Keats's Lamia; of Tennyson's Idylls; and of a
heterogenous collection of poetry and romance, in all of which stories
the old man took a vivid interest.
'You are better to me than the sunshine,' he told Mary one day when she
was leaving him. 'The world grows darker when you leave me.'
Once at this parting moment he took both her hands, and drew her nearer
to him, peering into her face in the clear evening light.
'You are like my mother,' he said. 'Yes, you are very like her. And who
else is it that you are like? There is some one else, I know. Yes, some
one else! I remember! It is a face in a picture--a picture at Maulevrier
'What do you know of Maulevrier Castle?' asked Mary, wonderingly.
Maulevrier was the family seat in Herefordshire, which had not been
occupied by the elder branch for the last forty years. Lady Maulevrier
had let it during her son's minority to a younger branch of the family,
a branch which had intermarried with the world of successful commerce,
and was richer than the heads of the house. This occupation of
Maulevrier Castle had continued to the present time, and was likely
still to continue, Maulevrier having no desire to set up housekeeping in
a feudal castle in the marches.
'How came you to know Maulevrier Castle?' repeated Mary.
'I was there once. There is a picture by Lely, a portrait of a Lady
Maulevrier in Charles the Second's time. The face is yours, my love. I
have heard of such hereditary faces. My mother was proud of resembling
'What did your mother know of Maulevrier Castle?'
The old man did not answer. He had lapsed into that dream-like
condition into which he often sank, when his brain was not stimulated to
attention and coherency by his interest in Mary's narrations.
Mary concluded that this man had once been a servant in the Maulevrier
household, perhaps at the place in Herefordshire, and that all his old
memories ran in one grove--the house of Maulevrier.
The freedom of her intercourse with him was undisturbed for about three
weeks; and at the end of that time she came face to face with James
Steadman as she emerged from the circle of greenery.
'You here, Lady Mary?' he exclaimed with an angry look.
'Yes, I have been sitting talking to that poor old man,' Mary answered,
cheerily, concluding that Steadman's look of vexation arose from his
being detected in the act of harbouring a contraband relation. 'He is a
very interesting character. A relation of yours, I suppose?'
'Yes, he is a relation,' replied Steadman. 'He is very old, and his mind
has long been gone. Her ladyship is kind enough to allow me to give him
a home in her house. He is quite harmless, and he is in nobody's way.'
'Of course not, poor soul. He is only a burden to himself. He talks as
if his life had been very weary. Has he been long in that sad state?'
'Yes, a long time.'
Steadman's manner to Lady Mary was curt at the best of times. She had
always stood somewhat in awe of him, as a person delegated with
authority by her grandmother, a servant who was much more than a
servant. But to-day his manner was more abrupt than usual.
'He spoke of Maulevrier Castle just now,' said Mary, determined not to
be put down too easily. 'Was he once in service there?'
'He was. Pray how did you find your way into this garden, Lady Mary?'
'I came through the stable. As it is my grandmother's garden I suppose I
did not take an unwarrantable liberty in coming,' said Mary, drawing
herself up, and ready for battle.
'It is Lady Maulevrier's wish that this garden should be reserved for my
use,' answered Steadman. 'Her ladyship knows that my uncle walks here of
an afternoon, and that, owing to his age and infirmities, he can go
nowhere else; and if only on that account, it is well that the garden
should be kept private. Lunatics are rather dangerous company, Lady
Mary, and I advise you to give them a wide berth wherever you may meet
'I am not afraid of your uncle,' said Mary, resolutely. 'You said
yourself just now that he is quite harmless: and I am really interested
in him, poor old creature. He likes me to sit with him a little of an
afternoon and to talk to him; and if you have no objection I should like
to do so, whenever the weather is fine enough for the poor old man to be
out in the garden at this hour.'
'I have a very great objection, Lady Mary, and that objection is chiefly
in your interest,' answered Steadman, firmly. 'No one who is not
experienced in the ways of lunatics can imagine the danger of any
association with them--their consummate craftiness, their capacity for
crime. Every madman is harmless up to a certain point--mild,
inoffensive, perhaps, up to the very moment in which he commits some
appalling crime. And then people cry out upon the want of prudence, the
want of common-sense which allowed such an act to be possible. No, Lady
Mary, I understand the benevolence of your motive, but I cannot permit
you to run such a risk.'
'I am convinced that the poor old creature is perfectly harmless,' said
Mary, with suppressed indignation. 'I shall certainly ask Lady
Maulevrier to speak to you on the subject. Perhaps her influence may
induce you to be a little more considerate to your unhappy relation.'
'Lady Mary, I beg you not to say a word to Lady Maulevrier on this
subject. You will do me the greatest injury if you speak of that man. I
But Mary was gone. She passed Steadman with her head held high and her
eyes sparkling with anger. All that was generous, compassionate, womanly
in her nature was up in arms against her grandmother's steward. Of all
other things, Mary Haselden most detested cruelty; and she could see in
Steadman's opposition to her wish nothing but the most cold-hearted
cruelty to a poor dependent on his charity.
She went in at the stable door, shut and locked it, and put the key in
her pocket as usual. But she had little hope that this mode of access
would be left open to her. She knew enough of James Steadman's
character, from hearsay rather than from experience, to feel sure that
he would not easily give way. She was not surprised, therefore, on
returning from her ride on the following afternoon, to find the disused
harness-room half filled with trusses of straw, and the door of
communication completely blocked. It would be impossible for her to
remove that barricade without assistance; and then, how could she be
sure that the door itself was not nailed up, or secured in some way?
It was a delicious sunny afternoon, and she could picture the lonely old
man sitting in his circle of greenery beside the dial, which for him had
registered so many dreary and solitary hours, waiting for the little ray
of social sunlight which her presence shed over his monotonous life. He
had told her that she was like the sunshine to him--better than
sunshine--and she had promised not to forsake him. She pictured him
waiting, with his hand clasped upon his crutch-stick, his chin resting
upon his hands, his eyes poring on the ground, as she had seen him for
the first time. And as the stable clock chimed the quarters he would
begin to think himself abandoned, forgotten; if, indeed, he took any
count of the passage of time of which she was not sure. His mind seemed
to have sunk into a condition which was between dreaming and waking, a
state to which the outside world seemed only half real--a phase of being
in which there was neither past nor future, only the insufferable
monotony of an everlasting _now_.
Pity is so near akin to love that Mary, in her deep compassion for this
lonely, joyless, loveless existence, felt a regard which was almost
affection for this strange old man, whose very name was unknown to her.
True that there was much in his countenance and manner which was
sinister and repellant. He was a being calculated to inspire fear rather
than love; but the fact that he had courted her presence and looked to
her for consolation had touched Mary's heart, and she had become
reconciled to all that was forbidding and disagreeable in the lunatic
physiognomy. Was he not the victim of a visitation which entitled him to
respect as well as to pity?
For some days Mary held her peace, remembering Steadman's vehement
entreaty that she should not speak of this subject to her grandmother.
She was silent, but the image of the old man haunted her at all times
and seasons. She saw him even in her dreams--those happy dreams of the
girl who loves and is beloved, and before whom the pathway of the future
smiles like a vision of Paradise. She heard him calling to her with a
piteous cry of distress, and on waking from this troubled dream she
fancied that he must be dying, and that this sound in her dreams was one
of those ghostly warnings which give notice of death. She was so unhappy
about him, altogether so distressed at being compelled to break her
word, that she could not prevent her thoughts from dwelling upon him,
not even after she had poured out all her trouble to John Hammond in a
long letter, in which her garden adventures and her little skirmish with
Steadman were graphically described.
To her intense discomforture Hammond replied that he thoroughly approved
of Steadman's conduct in the matter. However agreeable Mary's society
might be to the lunatic, Mary's life was far too precious to be put
within the possibility of peril by any such _tete-a-tetes_. If the
person was the same old man whom Hammond had seen on the Fell, he was a
most sinister-looking creature, of whom any evil act might be fairly
anticipated. In a word Mr. Hammond took Steadman's view of the matter,
and entreated his dearest Mary to be careful, and not to allow her warm
heart to place her in circumstances of peril.
This was most disappointing to Mary, who expected her lover to agree
with her upon every point; and if he had been at Fellside the
difference of opinion might have given rise to their first quarrel. But
as she had a few hours' leisure for reflection before the post went out,
she had time to get over her anger, and to remember that promise of
obedience given, half in jest, half in earnest, at the little inn beyond
Dunmail Raise. So she wrote submissively enough, only with just a touch
of reproach at Jack's want of compassion for a poor old man who had such
strong claims upon everybody's pity.
The image of the poor old man was not to be banished from her thoughts,
and on that very afternoon, when her letter was dispatched, Mary went on
a visit of exploration to the stables, to see if by any chance Mr.
Steadman's plans for isolating his unhappy relative might be
She went all over the stables--into loose boxes, harness and saddle
rooms, sheds for wood, and sheds for roots, but she found no door
opening into the quadrangle, save that door by which she had entered,
and which was securely defended by a barricade of straw that had been
doubled by a fresh delivery of trusses since she first saw it. But while
she was prowling about the sweet-scented stable, much disappointed at
the result of her investigations, she stumbled against a ladder which
led to an open trap-door. Mary mounted the ladder, and found herself
amidst the dusty atmosphere of a large hayloft, half in shadow, half in
the hot bright sunlight. A large shutter was open in the sloping roof,
the roof that sloped towards the quadrangle, an open patch admitting
light and air. Mary, light and active as a squirrel, sprang upon a truss
of hay, and in another moment had swung herself in the opening of the
shutter, and was standing with her feet on the wooden ledge at the
bottom of the massive frame, and her figure supported against the slope
of thick thatched roof. Perched, or half suspended, thus, she was just
high enough to look over the top of the yew-tree hedge into the circle
round the sundial.
Yes, there was the unhappy victim of fate, and man's inhumanity to man.
There sat the shrunken figure, with drooping head, and melancholy
attitude--the bent shoulders of feeble old age, the patriarchal locks so
appealing to pity. There he sat with eyes poring upon the ground just as
she had seen him the first time. And while she had sat with him and
talked with him he had seemed to awaken out of that dull despondency,
gleams of pleasure had lighted up his wrinkled face--he had grown
animated, a sentient living instead of a corpse alive. It was very hard
that this little interval of life, these stray gleams of gladness should
be denied to the poor old creature, at the behest of James Steadman.
Mary would have felt less angrily upon the subject had she believed in
Steadman's supreme carefulness of her own safety; but in this she did
not believe. She looked upon the house-steward's prudence as a
hypocritical pretence, an affectation of fidelity and wisdom, by which
he contrived to gratify the evil tendencies of his own hard and cruel
nature. For some reasons of his own, perhaps constrained thereto by
necessity, he had given the old man an asylum for his age and infirmity:
but while thus giving him shelter he considered him a burden, and from
mere perversity of mind refused him all such consolations as were
possible to his afflicted state, mewed him up as a prisoner, cut him off
from the companionship of his fellow-men.
Two years ago, before Mary emerged from her Tomboyhood, she would have
thought very little of letting herself out of the loft window and
clambering down the side of the stable, which was well furnished with
those projections in the way of gutters, drain-pipes, and century-old
ivy, which make such a descent easy. Two years ago Mary's light figure
would have swung itself down among the ivy leaves, and she would have
gloried in the thought of circumventing James Steadman so easily. But
now Mary was a young lady--a young lady engaged to be married, and
impressed with the responsibilities of her position, deeply sensible of
a new dignity, for the preservation of which she was in a manner
answerable to her lover.
'What would _he_ think of me if I went scrambling down the ivy?' she
asked herself; 'and after he has approved of Steadman's heartless
restrictions, it would be rank rebellion against him if I were to do it.
Poor old man, "Thou art so near and yet so far," as Lesbia's song says.'
She blew a kiss on the tips of her fingers towards that sad solitary
figure, and then dropped back into the dusty duskiness of the loft. But
although her new ideas upon the subject of 'Anstand'--or good
behaviour--prevented her getting the better of Steadman by foul means,
she was all the more intent upon having her own way by fair means, now
that the impression of the old man's sadness and solitude had been
renewed by the sight of the drooping figure by the sundial.
She went back to the house, and walked straight to her grandmother's
room. Lady Maulevrier's couch had been placed in front of the open
window, from which she was watching the westward-sloping sun above the
long line of hills, dark Helvellyn, rugged Nabb Scarr, and verdant
Fairfield, with its two giant arms stretched out to enfold and shelter
the smiling valley.
'Heavens! child, what an object you are;' exclaimed her ladyship, as
Mary drew near. 'Why, your gown is all over dust, and your hair is--why
your hair is sprinkled with hay and clover. I thought you had learnt to
be tidy, since your engagement. What have you been doing with yourself?'
'I have been up in the hayloft,' answered Mary, frankly; and, intent on
one idea, she said impetuously, 'Dear grandmother, I want you to do me a
favour--a very great favour. There is a poor old man, a relation of
Steadman's, who lives with him, out of his mind, but quite harmless, and
he is so sad and lonely, so dreadfully sad, and he likes me to sit with
him in the garden, and tell him stories, and recite verses to him, poor
soul, just as if he were a child, don't you know, and it is such a
pleasure to me to be a little comfort to him in his lonely wretched
life, and James Steadman says I mustn't go near him, because he may
change at any moment into a dangerous lunatic, and do me some kind of
harm, and I am not a bit afraid, and I'm sure he won't do anything of
the kind, and, please grandmother, tell Steadman, that I am to be
allowed to go and sit with his poor old prisoner half an hour every
Carried along the current of her own impetuous thoughts, Mary had talked
very fast, and had not once looked at her grandmother while she was
speaking. But now at the end of her speech her eyes sought Lady
Maulevrier's face in gentle entreaty, and she recoiled involuntarily at
the sight she saw there.
The classic features were distorted almost as they had been in the worst
period of the paralytic seizure. Lady Maulevrier was ghastly pale, and
her eyes glared with an awful fire as they gazed at Mary. Her whole
frame was convulsed, and she, the cripple, whose right limbs lay numbed
and motionless upon the couch, made a struggling motion as she raised
herself a little with the left arm, as if, by very force of angry will,
she would have lifted herself up erect before the girl who had offended
For a few moments her lips moved dumbly; and there was something
unspeakably awful in those convulsed features, that livid countenance,
and those voiceless syllables trembling upon the white dry lips.
At last speech came.
'Girl, you were created to torment me;' she exclaimed.
'Dear grandmother, what harm have I done?' faltered Mary.
'What harm? You are a spy. Your very existence is a torment and a
danger. Would to God that you were married. Yes, married to a
chimney-sweep, even--and out of my way.'
'If that is your only difficulty,' said Mary, haughtily, 'I dare say Mr.
Hammond would be kind enough to marry me to-morrow, and take me out of
your ladyship's way.'
Lady Maulevrier's head sank back upon her pillows, those velvet and
satin pillows, rich with delicate point lace and crewel-work adornment,
the labour of Mary and Fraeulein, pillows which could not bring peace to
the weary head, or deaden the tortures of memory. The pale face
recovered its wonted calm, the heavy lips drooped over the weary eyes,
and for a few moments there was silence in the room.
Then Lady Maulevrier raised her eyelids, and looked at her granddaughter
'Forgive me, Mary,' she said. 'I don't know what I was saying just now;
but whatever it was, forgive and forget it. I am a wretched old woman,
heart sick, heart sore, worn out by pain and weariness. There are times
when I am beside myself; moments when I am not much saner than
Steadman's lunatic uncle. This is one of my worst days, and you came
bouncing in upon me, and tortured my nerves by your breathless torrent
of words. Pray forgive me, if I said anything rude.'
'If,' thought Mary: but she tried to be charitable, and to believe that
Lady Maulevrier's attack upon her was a new phase of hysteria, so she
murmured meekly, 'There is nothing for me to forgive, grandmother, and I
am very sorry I disturbed you.'
She was going to leave the room, thinking that her absence would be a
relief to the invalid, when Lady Maulevrier called her back.
'You were asking me something--something about that old man of
Steadman's,' she said with a weary air, half indifference, half the
lassitude natural to an invalid who sinks under the burden of monotonous
days. 'What was it all about? I forget.'
Mary repeated her request, but this time in measured tones.
'My dear, I am sure that Steadman was only properly prudent.' answered
Lady Maulevrier, 'and that it would never do for me to interfere in this
matter. It stands to reason that he must know his old kinsman's
temperament much better than you can, after your half-hour interviews
with him in the garden. Pray how long have these garden scenes been
going on, by-the-by?' asked her ladyship, with a searching look at
Mary's downcast face.
The girl had not altogether recovered from the rude shock of her
grandmother's late attack.
'About three weeks,' faltered Mary. 'But it is more than a week now
since I was in the garden. It was quite by accident that I first went
there. Perhaps I ought to explain.'
And Mary, not being gainsayed, went on to describe that first afternoon
when she had seen the old man brooding in the sun. She drew quite a
pathetic picture of his joyless solitude, whilst all nature around and
about him was looking so glad in the spring sunshine. There was a long
silence, a silence of some minutes, when she had done; and Lady
Maulevrier lay with lowered eyelids, deep in thought. Mary began to hope
that she had touched her grandmother's heart, and that her request would
be granted: but she was soon undeceived.
'I am sorry to be obliged to refuse you a favour, Mary, but I must stand
by Steadman,' said her ladyship. 'When I gave Steadman permission to
shelter his aged kinsman in my house, I made it a condition that the old
man should be kept in the strictest care by himself and his wife, and
that nobody in this establishment should be troubled by him. This
condition has been so scrupulously adhered to that the old man's
existence is known to no one in this house except you and me; and you
have discovered the fact only by accident. I must beg you to keep this
secret to yourself. Steadman has particular reasons for wishing to
conceal the fact of his uncle's residence here. The old man is not
actually a lunatic. If he were we should be violating the law by keeping
him here. He is only imbecile from extreme old age; the body has
outlived the mind, that is all. But should any officious functionary
come down upon Fellside, this imbecility might be called madness, and
the poor old creature whom you regard so compassionately, and whose case
you think so pitiable here, would be carried off to a pauper lunatic
asylum, which I can assure you would be a much worse imprisonment than
'Yes, indeed, grandmother,' exclaimed Mary, whose vivid imagination
conjured up a vision of padded cells, strait-waist-coats,
murderously-inclined keepers, chains, handcuffs, and bread and water
diet, 'now I understand why the poor old soul has been kept so
close--why nobody knows of his existence. I beg Steadman's pardon with
all my heart. He is a much better fellow than I thought him.'
'Steadman is a thoroughly good fellow, and as true as steel,' said her
ladyship. 'No one can know that so well as the mistress he has served
faithfully for nearly half a century. I hope, Mary, you have not been
chattering to Fraeulein or any one else about your discovery.'
'No, grandmother, I have not said a word to a mortal, but----'
'Oh, there is a "but," is there? I understand. You have not been so
reticent in your letters to Mr. Hammond.'
'I tell him all that happens to me. There is very little to write about
at Fellside; yet I contrive to send him volumes. I often wonder what
poor girls did in the days of Miss Austen's novels, when letters cost a
shilling or eighteen pence for postage, and had to be paid for by the
recipient. It must have been such a terrible check upon affection.'
'And upon twaddle,' said Lady Maulevrier. 'Well you told Mr. Hammond
about Steadman's old uncle. What did he say?'
'He thoroughly approved Steadman's conduct in forbidding me to go and
see him,' answered Mary. 'I couldn't help thinking it rather unkind of
him; but, of course, I feel that he must be right,' concluded Mary, as
much as to say that her lover was necessarily infallible.
'I always thought Mr. Hammond a sensible young man, and I am glad to
find that his conduct does not belie my good opinion,' said Lady
Maulevrier. 'And now, my dear, you had better go and make yourself
decent before dinner. I am very weary this afternoon, and even our
little talk has exhausted me.'
'Yes, dear grandmother, I am going this instant. But let me ask one
question: What is the poor old man's name?'
'His name!' said her ladyship, looking at Mary with a puzzled air, like
a person whose thoughts are far away. 'His name--oh, Steadman, I
suppose, like his nephew's; but if I ever heard the name I have
forgotten it, and I don't know whether the kinship is on the father's or
the mother's side. Steadman asked my permission to give shelter to a
helpless old relative, and I gave it. That is really all I remember.'
'Only one other question,' pleaded Mary, who was brimful of curiosity
upon this particular subject. 'Has he been at Fellside very long?'
'Oh, I really don't know; a year, or two, or three, perhaps. Life in
this house is all of a piece. I hardly keep count of time.'
'There is one thing that puzzles me very much,' said Mary, still
lingering near her grandmother's couch, the balmy evening air caressing
her as she leaned against the embrasure of the wide Tudor window, the
sun drawing nearer to the edge of the hills, an orb of yellow flame,
soon to change to a gigantic disk of lurid fire. 'I thought from the old
man's talk that he, too, must be an old servant in our family. He talked
of Maulevrier Castle, and said that I reminded him of a picture by Lely,
a portrait of a Lady Maulevrier.
'It is quite possible that he may have been in service there, though I
do not remember to have heard anything about it,' answered her ladyship,
carelessly. 'The Steadmans come from that part of the country, and
theirs is a hereditary service. Good-night, Mary, I am utterly weary.
Look at that glorious light yonder, that mighty world of fire and flame,
without which our little world would be dark and dreary. I often think
of that speech of Macbeth's, "I 'gin to be aweary of the sun." There
comes a time, Mary, when even the sun is a burden.'
'Only for such a man as Macbeth,' said Mary, 'a man steeped in crime.
Who can wonder that he wanted to hide himself from the sun? But, dear
grandmother, there ought to be plenty of happiness left for you, even if
your recovery is slow to come. You are so clever, you have such
resources in your own mind and memory, and you have your grandchildren,
who love you dearly,' added Mary, tenderly.
Her nature was so full of pity that an entirely new affection had grown
up in her mind for Lady Maulevrier since that terrible evening of the
'Yes, and whose love, as exemplified by Lesbia, is shown in a hurried
scrap of a letter scrawled once a week--a bone thrown to a hungry dog,'
said her ladyship, bitterly.
'Lesbia is so lovely, and she is so surrounded by flatterers and
admirers,' murmured Mary, excusingly.
'Oh, my dear, if she had a heart she would not forget me, even in the
midst of her flatterers. Good-night again, Mary. Don't try to console
me. For some natures consolations and soothing suggestions are like
flowers thrown upon a granite tomb. They do just as much and just as
little good to the heart that lies under the stone. Good-night.'
Mary stooped to kiss her grandmother's forehead, and found it cold as
marble. She murmured a loving good-night, and left the mistress of
Fellside in her loneliness.
A footman would come in and light the lamps, and draw the velvet
curtains, presently, and shut out the later glories of sunset. And then
the butler himself would come and arrange the little dinner table by her
ladyship's couch, and would himself preside over the invalid's simple
dinner, which would be served exquisitely, with all that is daintiest
and most costly in Salviati glass and antique silver. Yet better the
dinner of herbs, and love and peace withal, than the choicest fare or
the most perfect service.
Before the coming of the servants and the lamps there was a pause of
silence and loneliness, an interval during which Lady Maulevrier lay
gazing at the declining orb, the lower rim of which now rested on the
edge of the hill. It seemed to grow larger and more dazzling as she
looked at it.
Suddenly she clasped her left hand across her eyes, and said aloud--
'Oh, what a hateful life! Almost half a century of lies and hypocricies
and prevarications and meannesses! For what? For the glory of an empty
name; and for a fortune that may slip from my dead hand to become the
prey of rogues and adventurers. Who can forecast the future?'
Lady Kirkbank's house in Arlington Street was known to half fashionable
London as one of the pleasantest houses in town; and it was known by
repute only, to the other half of fashionable London, as a house whose
threshold was not to be crossed by persons with any regard for their own
dignity and reputation. It was not that Lady Kirkbank had ever actually
forfeited her right to be considered an honest woman and a faithful
wife. People who talked of the lady and her set with a contemptuous
shrug of the shoulders and a dubious elevation of the eyebrows were
ready, when hard pushed in argument, to admit that they knew of no
actual harm in Lady Kirkbank, no overt bad behaviour.
'But--well,' said the punctilious half of society, the Pejinks and
Pernickitys, the Picksomes and Unco-Goods, 'Lady Kirkbank is--Lady
Kirkbank; and I would not allow my girls to visit her, don't you know.'
'Lady Kirkbank is received, certainly,' said a severe dowager. 'She
goes to very good houses. She gets tickets for the Royal enclosure. She
is always at private views, and privileged shows of all kinds; and she
contrives to squeeze herself in at a State ball or a concert about once
in two years; but any one who can consider Lady Kirkbank good style must
have a very curious idea of what a lady ought to be.' 'Lady Kirkbank is
a warm-hearted, nice creature,' said a diplomatist of high rank, and one
of her particular friends, 'but her manners are decidedly--continental!'
About Sir George, society, adverse or friendly, was without strong
opinions. His friends, the men who shot over his Scotch moor, and filled
the spare rooms in his villa at Cannes, and loaded his drag for Sandown
or Epsom, and sponged upon him all the year round, talked of him as 'an
inoffensive old party,' 'a cheery soul,' 'a genial old boy,' and in like
terms of approval. That half of society which did not visit in Arlington
Street, in whose nostrils the semi-aristocratic, semi-artistic,
altogether Bohemian little dinners, the suppers after the play, the
small hours devoted to Nap or Poker, had an odour as of sulphur, the
reek of Tophet--even this half of the great world was fain to admit that
Sir George was harmless. He had never had an idea beyond the realms of
sport; he had never had a will of his own outside his stable. To shoot
pigeons at Hurlington or Monaco, to keep half a dozen leather-platers,
and attend every race from the Craven to the Leger, to hunt four days a
week, when he was allowed to spend a winter in England, and to saunter
and sleep away all the hours which could not be given to sport,
comprised Sir George's idea of existence. He had never troubled himself
to consider whether there might not possibly be a better way of getting
rid of one's life. He was as God had made him, and was perfectly
satisfied with himself and the universe; save at such times as when a
favourite horse went lame, or his banker wrote to tell him that his
account was overdrawn.
Sir George had no children; he had never had a serious care in his life.
He never thought, he never read. Lady Kirkbank declared that she had
never seen him with a book in his hands since their marriage.
'I don't believe he would know at which end to begin,' she said.
What was the specific charge which the very particular people brought
against Lady Kirkbank? Such charges rarely _are_ specific. The idea that
the lady belonged to the fast and furious section of society, the
Bohemia of the upper ten, was an idea in the air. Everybody knew it. No
one could quite adequately explain it.
From thirty to fifty Lady Kirkbank had been known as a flirty matron.
Wherever she went, a train of men went with her; men young and
middle-aged and elderly; handsome youths from the public offices; War,
Admiralty, Foreign Office, Somerset House young men; attractive men of
mature years, with grey moustachios, military, diplomatic, horsey, what
you will, but always agreeable. At home, abroad, Lady Kirkbank was never
without her court; but the court was entirely masculine. In those days
the fair Georgie did not scruple to say that she hated women, and that
girls were her particular abomination. But as the years rolled on Lady
Kirkbank began to find it very difficult to muster her little court, to
keep her train in attendance upon her. 'The birds were wild,' Sir George
said. Her young adorers found their official duties more oppressive than
hitherto; her elderly swains had threatenings of gout or rheumatism
which prevented their flocking round her as of old at race meeting or
polo match. They were loyal enough in keeping their engagements at the
dinner table, for Lady Kirkbank's cook was one of the best in London;
and the invited guests were rarely missing at the little suppers after
opera or play: but Georgia's box was no longer crowded with men who
dropped in between the acts to see what she thought of the singer or the
piece, and her swains were no longer contented to sit behind her chair
all the evening, seeing an empty corner of the stage across Georgia's
ivory shoulder, and hearing the voices of invisible actors in the brief
pauses of Georgie's subdued babble.
At fifty-five, Georgina Kirkbank told herself sadly enough that her day,
as a bright particular star, all-sufficient in her own radiance, was
gone. She could not live without her masculine circle, men who could
bring her all the news, the gossip of the clubs; where everything seemed
to become known as quickly as if each club had its own Asmodeus,
unroofing all the housetops of the West End for inspection every night.
She could not live without her courtiers; and to keep them about her she
knew that she must make her house pleasant. It was not enough to give
good dinners, elegant little suppers washed down by choicest wines; she
must also provide fair faces to smile upon the feast, and bright eyes to
sparkle in the subdued light of low shaded lamps, and many candles
twinkling under coloured shades.
'I am an old woman now,' Lady Kirkbank said to herself with a sigh, 'and
my own attractions won't keep my friends about me. _C'est trop connu
And now the house in Arlington Street in which feminine guests had been
as one in ten, opened its doors to the young and the fair. Pretty
widows, lively girls, young wives who were not too absurdly devoted to
their husbands, actresses of high standing and good looks, these began
to be welcomed effusively in Arlington Street. Lady Kirkbank began to
hunt for beauties to adorn her rooms, as she had hitherto hunted lions
to roar at her parties. She prided herself on being the first to
discover this or that new beauty. That lovely girl from Scotland with
the large eyes--that sweet young creature from Ireland with the long
eyelashes. She was always inventing new divinities. But even this
change of plan, this more feminine line of politics failed to reconcile
the strict and the stern, the Queen Charlotte-ish elderly ladies, and
the impeccable matrons, to Lady Kirkbank and her sea. The girls who were
launched by Lady Kirkbank never took high rank in society. When they
made good marriages it was generally to be observed that they dropped
Lady Kirkbank soon afterwards. It was not their fault, these ingrates
pleaded piteously; but Edward, or Henry, or Theodore, as the case might
be, had a most cruel prejudice against dear Lady Kirkbank, and the young
wives were obliged to obey.
Others there were, however, the loyal few, who having won the prize
matrimonial in Lady Kirkbank's happy hunting grounds, remained true to
their friend ever afterwards, and defended her character against every
When Lady Maulevrier told her grandson that she had entrusted Lady
Kirkbank with the duty of introducing Lesbia to society, Maulevrier
shrugged his shoulders and held his peace. He knew no actual harm in the
matter. Lady Kirkbank's was rather a fast set; and had he been allowed
to choose it was not to Lady Kirkbank that he would have delegated his
grandmother's duty. In Maulevrier's own phrase it was 'not good enough'
for Lesbia. But it was not in his power to interfere. He was not told of
the plan until everything had been settled. The thing was accomplished;
and against accomplished facts Maulevrier was the last to protest.
His friend John Hammond had not been silent. He knew nothing of Lady
Kirkbank personally; but he knew the position which she held in London
society, and he urged his friend strongly to enlighten Lady Maulevrier
as to the kind of circle into which she was about to entrust her young
granddaughter, a girl brought up in the Arcadia of England.
'Not for worlds would I undertake such a task,' said Maulevrier. 'Her
ladyship never had any opinion of my wisdom, and this Lady Kirkbank is a
friend of her own youth. She would cut up rough if I were to say a word
against an old friend. Besides what's the odds, if you come to think of
it? all society is fast nowadays, or at any rate all society worth
living in. And then again, Lesbia is just one of those cool-headed girls
who would keep herself head uppermost in a maelstrom. She knows on which
side her bread is buttered. Look how easily she chucked you up because
she did not think you good enough. She'll make use of this Lady
Kirkbank, who is a good soul, I am told, and will make the best match of
And now the season had begun, and Lady Lesbia Haselden was circulating
with other aristocratic atoms in the social vortex, with her head
'Old Lady K--has nobbled a real beauty, this time,' said one of the
Arlington Street set to his friend as they lolled on the railings in the
park, 'a long way above any of those plain-headed ones she tried to palm
off upon us last year: the South American girl with the big eyes and a
complexion like a toad, the Forfarshire girl with freckles and
unsophisticated carrots. "Those lovely Spanish eyes," said Lady K----,
"that Titianesque auburn hair!" But it didn't answer. Both the girls
were plain, and they have gone back to their native obscurity spinsters
still. But this is a real thorough-bred one--blood, form, pace, all
'Who is she?' drawled his friend.
'Lord Maulevrier's sister, Lady Lesbia Haselden. Has money, too, I
believe; rich grandmother; old lady buried alive in Westmoreland; horrid
'I shouldn't mind marrying a miser's granddaughter,' said the other. 'So
nice to know that some wretched old idiot has scraped and hoarded
through a lifetime of deprivation and self-denial, in order that one may
spend his money when he is under the sod.'
Lady Lesbia was accepted everywhere, or almost everywhere, as the beauty
of the season. There were six or seven other girls who aspired to the
same proud position, who were asserted by their own particular friends
to have won it; just as there are generally four or five horses which
claim to be first favourites; but the betting was all in favour of Lady
Lady Kirkbank told her that she was turning everyone's head, and Lesbia
was quite willing to believe her. But was Lesbia's own head quite steady
in this whirlpool? That was a question which she did not take the
trouble to ask herself.
Her heart was tranquil enough, cold as marble. No shield and safeguard
so secure against the fire of new love as an old love hardly cold.
Lesbia told herself that her heart was a sepulchre, an urn which held a
handful of ashes, the ashes of her passion for John Hammond. It was a
fire quite burned out, she thought; but that extinguished flame had left
This was Lesbia's own diagnosis of her case: but the real truth was that
among the herd of men she had met, almost all of them ready to fall down
and worship her, there was not one who had caught her fancy. Her nature
was shallow enough to be passing fickle; the passion which she had taken
for love was little more than a girl's fancy; but the man who had power
to awaken that fancy as John Hammond had done had not yet appeared in
Lady Kirkbank's circle.
'What a cold-hearted creature you must be,' said Georgie. 'You don't
seem to admire any of my favourite men.'
'They are very nice,' Lesbia answered languidly; 'but they are all
alike. They say the same things--wear the same clothes--sit in the same
attitude. One would think they were all drilled in a body every morning
before they go out. Mr. Nightshade, the actor, who came to supper the
other night, is the only man I have seen who has a spark of
'You are right,' answered Lady Kirkbank, 'there is an appalling sameness
in men: only it is odd you should find it out so soon. I never
discovered it till I was an old woman. How I envy Cleopatra her Caesar
and her Antony. No mistaking one of those for the other. Mary Stuart
too, what marked varieties of character she had an opportunity of
studying in Rizzio and Chastelard, Darnley and Bothwell. Ah, child, that
is what it is to _live_.'
'Mary is very interesting,' sighed Lesbia; 'but I fear she was not a
'My love, what correct person ever is interesting? History draws a misty
halo round a sinner of that kind, till one almost believes her a saint.
I think Mary Stuart, Froude's Mary, simply perfect.'
Lesbia had begun by blushing at Lady Kirkbank's opinions; but she was
now used to the audacity of the lady's sentiments, and the almost
infantile candour with which she gave utterance to them. Lady Kirkbank
liked to make her friends laugh. It was all she could do now in order to
be admired. And there is nothing like audacity for making people laugh
nowadays. Lady Kirkbank was a close student of all those delightful
books of French memoirs which bring the tittle-tattle of the Regency and
the scandals of Louis the Fifteenth's reign so vividly before us: and
she had unconsciously founded her manners and her ways of thinking and
talking upon that easy-going but elegant age. She did not want to seem
better than women who had been so altogether charming. She fortified the
frivolity of historical Parisian manners by a dash of the British
sporting character. She drove, shot, jumped over five-barred gates,
contrived on the verge of seventy to be as active us a young woman; and
she flattered herself that the mixture of wit, audacity, sport, and
good-nature was full of fascination.
However this might be, it is certain that a good many people liked her,
chiefly perhaps because she was good-natured, and a little on account of
that admirable cook.
To Lesbia, who had been weary to loathing of her old life amidst the
hills and waterfalls of Westmoreland, this new life was one perpetual
round of pleasure. She flung herself with all her heart and mind into
the amusement of the moment; she knew neither weariness nor satiety. To
ride in the park in the morning, to go to a luncheon party, a garden
party, to drive in the park for half an hour after the garden party, to
rush home and dress for the fourth or fifth time, and then off to a
dinner, and from dinner to drum, and from drum to big ball, at which
rumour said the Prince and Princess were to be present: and so, from
eleven o'clock in the morning till four or five o'clock next morning,
the giddy whirl went on: and every hour was so occupied by pleasure
engagements that it was difficult to squeeze in an occasional morning
for shopping--necessary to go to the shops sometimes, or one would not
know how many things one really wants--or for an indispensable interview
with the dressmaker. Those mornings at the shops were hardly the least
agreeable of Lesbia's hours. To a girl brought up in one perpetual
_tete-a-tete_ with green hill-sides and silvery watercourses, the West
End shops were as gardens of Eden, as Aladdin Caves, as anything,
everything that is rapturous and intoxicating. Lesbia, the clear-headed,
the cold-hearted, fairly lost her senses when she went into one of those
exquisite shops, where a confusion of brocades and satins lay about in
dazzling masses of richest colour, with here and there a bunch of
lilies, a cluster of roses, a tortoise-shell fan, an ostrich feather, or
a flounce of peerless Point d'Alencon flung carelessly athwart the sheen
of a wine-dark velvet or golden-hued satin.
Lady Maulevrier had said Lesbia was to have _carte blanche_; so Lesbia
bought everything she wanted, or fancied she wanted, or that the
shop-people thought she must want, or that Lady Kirkbank happened to
admire. The shop-people were so obliging, and so deeply obliged by
Lesbia's patronage. She was exactly the kind of customer they liked to
serve. She flitted about their showrooms like a beautiful butterfly
hovering over a flower-bed--her eye caught by every novelty. She never
asked the price of anything: and Lady Kirkbank informed them, in
confidence, that she was a great heiress, with a millionaire grandmother
who indulged her every whim. Other high born young ladies, shopping upon
fixed allowances, and sorely perplexed to make both ends meet, looked
with eyes of envy upon this girl.
And then came the visit to the dressmaker. It happened after all that
Kate Kearney was not intrusted with Lady Lesbia's frocks. Miss Kearney
was the fashion, and could pick and choose her customers; and as she was
a young lady of good business aptitudes, she had a liking for ready
money, or at least half-yearly settlements; and, finding that Lady
Kirkbank was much more willing to give new orders than to pay old
accounts, she had respectfully informed her ladyship that a pressure of
business would prevent her executing any further demands from Arlington
Street, while the necessity of posting her ledger obliged her to request
the favour of an immediate cheque.
The little skirmish--per letter--occurred while Lady Kirkbank was at
Cannes, and Miss Kearney's conduct was stigmatised as insolent and
ungrateful, since had not she, Lady Kirkbank by the mere fact of her
patronage, given this young person her chief claim to fashion?
'I shall drop her,' said Georgie, 'and go back to poor old Seraphine,
who is worth a cartload of such Irish adventuresses.'
So to Madame Seraphine, of Clanricarde Place, Lady Lesbia was taken as
a lamb to the slaughter-house.
Seraphine had made Lady Kirkbank's clothes, off and on for the last
thirty years. Seraphine and Georgia had grown old together. Lady
Kirkbank was always dropping Seraphine and taking her up again,
quarrelling and making friends with her. They wrote each other little
notes, in which Lady Kirkbank called the dressmaker her _cher ange_--her
_bonne chatte_, her _chere vielle sotte_--and all manner of affectionate
names--and in which Seraphine occasionally threatened the lady with the
dire engines of the law, if money were not forthcoming before Saturday
Lady Kirkbank within those thirty years had paid Seraphine many
thousands; but she had never once got herself out of the dear creature's
debt. All her payments were payments on account. A hundred pounds; or
fifty--or an occasional cheque for two hundred and fifty, when Sir
George had been lucky at Newmarket and Doncaster. But the rolling
nucleus of debt went rolling on, growing bigger every year until the
payments on account needed to be larger or more numerous than of old to
keep Seraphine in good humour.
Seraphine was a woman of genius and versatility and had more than one
art at her fingers' ends--those skinny and claw-shaped fingers, the
nails whereof were not always clean. She took charge of her customer's
figures, and made their corsets, and lectured them if they allowed
nature to get the upper hand.
'If Madame's waist gets one quarter of an inch thicker it must be that I
renounce to make her gowns,' she would tell a ponderous matron, with
cool insolence, and the matron would stand abashed before the little
sallow, hooked-nosed, keen eyed Jewess, like a child before a severe
'Oh, Seraphine, do you really think that I am stouter?' the customer
would ask feebly, panting in her tightened corset.
'Is it that I think so? Why that jumps to the eyes. Madame had always
that little air of Reubens, even in the flower of her youth--but now--it
is a Rubens of the Fabourg du Temple.'
And horrified at the idea of her vulgarised charms the meek matron would
consent to encase herself in one of Seraphine's severest corsets, called
in bitterest mockery _a la sante_--at five guineas--in order that the
dressmaker might measure her for a forty-guinea gown.
'A plain satin gown, my dear, with an eighteenpenny frilling round the
neck and sleeves, and not so much trimming as would go round my little
finger. It is positive robbery,' the matron told her friends afterwards,
not the less proud of her skin-tight high shouldered sleeves and the
peerless flow of her train.
Seraphine was an artist in complexions, and it was she who provided her
middle-aged and elderly customers with the lilies and roses of youth.
Lady Kirkbank's town complexion was superintended by Seraphine,
sometimes even manipulated by those harpy-like claws. The eyebrows of
which Lesbia complained were only eyebrows _de province_--eyebrows _de
voyage_. In London Georgie was much more particular; and Seraphine was
often in Arlington Street with her little morocco bag of washes and
creams, and brushes and sponges, to prepare Lady Kirkbank for some great
party, and to instruct Lady Kirkbank's maid. At such times Georgie was
all affection for the little dressmaker.
'_Ma chatte_, you have made me positively adorable,' she would say,
peering at her reflection in the ivory hand-mirror, a dazzling image of
rouge and bismuth, carmined lips, diamonds, and frizzy yellow hair; 'I
verily believe I look under thirty--but do not you think this gown is a
thought too _decolletee--un peu trop de peau, hein?_'
'Not for you, Lady Kirkbank, with your fine shoulders. Shoulders are of
no age--_les epaules sont la vraie fontaine de jouvence pour les jolies
'You are such a witty creature, Seraphine, Fifine. You ought to be a
descendant of that wicked old Madame du Deffand. Rilboche, give Madame
some more chartreuse.'
And Lady Kirkbank and the dressmaker would chink their liqueur glasses
in amity before the lady gathered up her satin train and allowed her
peerless shoulders to be muffled in a plush mantle to go down to her
carriage, fortified by that last glass of green chartreuse.
There were always the finest chartreuse and curacoa in a liqueur cabinet
on Lady Kirkbank's dressing-table. The cabinet formed a companion to the
dressing-case, which contained all those creamy and rose-hued cosmetics,
powders, brushes, and medicaments, which were necessary for the
manufacture of Georgie's complexion. The third bottle in the liqueur
case held cognac, and this, as Rilboche the maid knew, was oftenest
replenished. Yet nobody could accuse Lady Kirkbank of intemperate
habits. The liqueur box only supplied the peg that was occasionally
wanted to screw the superior mind to concert pitch.
'One must always be at concert pitch in society, don't you know, my
dear,' said Georgie to her young protegee.
Thus it happened that, Miss Kearney having behaved badly, Lesbia was
carried off to dear old Seraphine, and delivered over to that modern
witch, as a sacrifice tied to the horns of the altar.
Clanricarde Place is a little nook of Queen Anne houses--genuine Queen
Anne, be it understood--between Piccadilly and St. James's Palace, and
hardly five minutes' walk from Arlington Street. It is a quiet little
_cul de sac_ in the very heart of the fashionable world; and here of an
afternoon might be seen the carriages of Madame Seraphine's customers,
blocking the whole of the carriage way, and choking up the narrow
entrance to the street, which widened considerably at the inner end.
Madame Seraphine's house was at the end, a narrow house, with tall
old-fashioned windows curtained with amber satin. It was a small, dark
house, and exhaled occasional odours of garlic and main sewer: but the
staircase was a gem in old oak, and the furniture in the triple
telescopic drawing rooms, dwindling to a closet at the end, was genuine
Seraphine herself was the only shabby thing in the house--a wizened
little woman, with a wicked old Jewish face, and one shoulder higher
than the other, dressed in a shiny black moire gown, years after moires
had been exploded, and with a rag of old lace upon her sleek black
hair--raven black hair, and the only good thing about her appearance.
One ornament, and one only, had Seraphine ever been guilty of wearing,
and that was an old-fashioned half-hoop ring of Brazilian diamonds,
brilliants of the first water. This ring she called her yard measure;
and she was in the habit of using it as her Standard of purity, and
comparing it with any diamonds which her customers submitted to her
inspection. For the clever little dressmaker had a feeling heart for a
lady in difficulties, and was in the habit of lending money on good
security, and on terms that were almost reasonable as compared with the
usurious rates one reads of in the newspapers.
Lesbia's first sensation upon having this accomplished person presented
to her was one of shrinking and disgust. There was something sinister in
the sallow face, the small shrewd eyes, and long hooked nose, the
crooked figure, and claw-shaped hands. But when Madame Seraphine began
to talk about gowns, and bade her acolytes--smartly-dressed young women
with pleasing countenances--bring forth marvels of brocade and satin,
embroideries, stamped velvets, bullion fringes, and ostrich feather
flouncings, Lesbia became interested, and forgot the unholy aspect of
the high priestess.
Lady Kirkbank and the dressmaker discussed Lesbia's charms as calmly as
if she had been out of the room.
'What do you think of her figure?' asked Lady Kirkbank.
'One cannot criticise what does not exist,' replied the dressmaker, in
French. 'The young lady has no figure. She has evidently been brought up
in the country.'
And then with rapid bird-like movements, and with her head on one side,
Seraphine measured Lesbia's waist and bust, muttering little argotic
expressions _sotto voce_ as she did so.
'Waist three inches too large, shoulders six inches too narrow,' she
said decisively, and she dictated some figures to one of the damsels,
who wrote them down in an order-book.
'What does that mean?' asked Lesbia, not at all approving of such
'Only that Seraphine will make your corsets the right size,' answered
'What? Three inches too small for my waist, and six too wide for my
'My love, you must have a figure,' replied Lady Kirkbank, conclusively.
'It is not what you are, but what you ought to be that has to be
So Lesbia, the cool-headed, who was also the weak-minded, consented to
have her figure adjusted to the regulation mark of absolute beauty, as
understood by Madame Seraphine. It was only when her complexion came
under discussion, and Seraphine ventured to suggest that she would be
all the better for a little accentuation of her eyebrows and darkening
of her lashes, that Lesbia made a stand.
'What would my grandmother think of me if she heard I painted?' she
Lady Kirkbank laughed at her _naivete_.
'My dear child, your grandmother is just half a century behind the age,'
she said. 'I hope you are not going to allow your life in London to be
regulated by an oracle at Grasmere?'
'I am not going to paint my face,' replied Lesbia, firmly.
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