Vixen, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 14

“Kurz ist der Schmerz und ewig ist die Freude.”

Captain Winstanley said no more about Lord Mallow; but Violet had to listen to much plaintive bemoaning from her mother, who could not understand how any well-brought-up young woman could refuse an Irish peer with a fine estate, and the delights of a trousseau made by the renowned Theodore. Upon this latter detail Mrs. Winstanley dwelt at more length than upon that minor circumstance in a marriage — the bridegroom.

“It would have been such a pleasure to me to plan your trousseau, darling,” she said; “such an occupation for my mind in these wretched winter afternoons when there is no possibility of driving or making calls. I should have attended to everything myself. Theodore’s general way is to make a list of what she thinks necessary, allowing her customer to correct it; but I should not have been satisfied with that, even from Theodore, though I admit that her taste is perfect. And then, you know, she is hand in glove with Worth, and that alone is a liberal education, as somebody says somewhere about something. No, dear, I would have done it all myself. I know the exact shades that suit your complexion, the dashes of colour that contrast with and light up your hair, the style that sets off your figure. Your trousseau should be talked about in society, and even described in the fashion magazines. And then Lord Mallow is really so very nice — and has such a charming baritone — what more can you want?”

“Only to love him, mamma dearest, which I do not, and never shall. That frank loud voice of his does not stir a fibre of my heart. I like him extremely, and so I do Mr. Scobel, and Bates the groom. Lord Mallow is no more to me than either of those. Indeed, Bates is much nearer and dearer, for he loved my father.”

“My dear Violet, you have the most republican ideas. Imagine anyone putting Bates on a level with Lord Mallow!”

“I don’t, mamma. I only say he is more to me than Lord Mallow could ever be.”

“Your travelling-dress,” murmured Mrs. Winstanley, her mind still dwelling on the trousseau; “that affords more scope for taste than the wedding-gown. Velvet suits your style, but is too heavy for your age. A soft clinging cashmere, now, one of those delicious neutral tints that have been so fashionable lately, over an underskirt of a warmer colour in poult de soie, a picturesque costume that would faintly recall Lely’s portraits at Hampton Court.”

“Dear mamma, what is the use of talking about dresses I am never going to require? Not for all the finery that Theodore ever made would I marry Lord Mallow, or anybody else. I am happy enough with you, and my horse, and my dog, and all the dear old things, animal and vegetable, that belong to this dear old place. I shall never leave you, or the Forest. Can you not be content to know this and let me alone?”

“You are a very wilful girl, Violet, and ridiculously blind to your own interests,” remarked Mrs. Winstanley, throwing herself back in her chair with a fretful look, “and you put me in an absurd position. The duchess quite congratulated me about your brilliant prospects, when we were chatting together on New Year’s Eve. Anybody could see how devoted Lord Mallow was, she said, and what a splendid match it would be for you.”

“Let the Duchess marry her own daughter, and leave me alone,” cried Vixen scornfully.

This was the kind of thing she had to endure continually during the chill winter months that followed Lord Mallow’s departure. Even her old friends the Scobels worried her about the Irish peer, and lamented her inability to perceive his merits. It was known throughout her particular circle that she had been idiotic enough to refuse Lord Mallow. Mrs. Winstanley had whispered the fact to all her friends, under the seal of strictest secrecy. Of all Vixen’s acquaintance, Roderick Vawdrey was the only one who said no word to her about Lord Mallow; but he was much kinder to her after the Irishman’s departure than he had shown himself during his visit.

Spring put on her green mantle; and when the woods were starred with primroses, and the banks lovely with heaven-hued dog-violets, everyone of any pretension to importance in the social scale began to flee from the Forest as from a loathsome place. Lord Ellangowan’s train of vans and waggons set out for the railway-station with their load of chests and baskets. Julius Caesar’s baggage was as nothing to the Saratoga trunks and bonnet-boxes of Lady Ellangowan. The departure of the Israelites from Egypt was hardly a mightier business than this emigration of the Ellangowan household. The Duke and Duchess, and Lady Mabel Ashbourne, left for the Queen Anne house at Kensington, whereat the fashionable London papers broke out in paragraphs of rejoicing, and the local journals bewailed the extinction of their sun.

The London season had begun, and only the nobodies stayed in the Forest to watch the rosy sunsets glow and fade behind the yellow oaks; to see the purple of the beech-boughs change mysteriously to brightest green; and the bluebells burst into blossom in the untrodden glades and bottoms. Captain Winstanley found a small house in Mayfair, which he hired for six weeks, at a rent which he pronounced exorbitant. He sacrificed his own ideas of prudence to the gratification of his wife; who had made up her mind that she had scarcely the right to exist until she had been presented to her sovereign in her new name. But when Mrs. Winstanley ventured to suggest the Duchess of Dovedale, as her sponsor on this solemn occasion, her husband sternly tabooed the notion.

“My aunt, Lady Susan Winstanley, is the proper person to present you,” he said authoritatively.

“But is she really your aunt, Conrad? You never mentioned her before we were married?”

“She is my father’s third cousin by marriage; but we have always called her Aunt. She is the widow or Major–General Winstanley, who distinguished himself in the last war with Tippoo Saïb, and had a place at Court in the reign of William the Fourth.”

“She must be dreadfully old and dowdy,” sighed Mrs. Winstanley, whose only historical idea of the Sailor King’s reign was as a period of short waists and beaver bonnets.

“She is not a chicken, and she does not spend eight hundred a year on her dressmaker,” retorted the Captain. “But she is a very worthy woman, and highly respected by her friends. Why should you ask a favour of the Duchess of Dovedale?”

“Her name would look so well in the papers,” pleaded Mrs. Winstanley.

“The name of your husband’s kinswoman will look much more respectable,” answered the Captain; and in this, as in most matters, he had his own way.

Lady Susan Winstanley was brought from her palatial retirement to spend a fortnight in Mayfair. She was bony, wiggy, and snuffy; wore false teeth and seedy apparel; but she was well-bred and well-informed, and Vixen got on with her much better than with the accomplished Captain. Lady Susan took to Vixen; and these two went out for early walks together in the adjacent Green Park, and perambulated the picture-galleries, before Mrs. Winstanley had braced herself up for the fatigues of a fashionable afternoon.

Sometimes they came across Mr. Vawdrey at a picture-gallery or in the Park; and at the first of these chance meetings, struck by the obvious delight with which the two young people greeted each other, Lady Susan jumped to a conclusion.

“That’s your young man, I suppose, my dear,” she said bluntly, when Rorie had left them.

“Oh, Lady Susan!”

“It’s a vulgar expression, I know, my dear, but it comes natural to me; I hear it so often from our housemaids. I fancied that you and that handsome young fellow must be engaged.”

“Oh no. We are only old friends. He is engaged to Lady Mabel Ashbourne — a very grand match.”

“That’s a pity,” said Lady Susan.

“Why?”

“Well, my dear,” answered the old lady hesitatingly, “because when one hears of a grand match, it generally means that a young man is marrying for the sake of money, and that young old friend of yours looks too good to throw himself away like that.”

“Oh, but indeed, Lady Susan, it is not so in Rorie’s case. He has plenty of money of his own.”

The important day came; and Lady Susan, Mrs. Winstanley, and Violet packed themselves and their finery into a capacious carriage, and set off for St. James’s. The fair Pamela’s costume was an elaborate example of Theodore’s highest art; colours, design, all of the newest — a delicate harmony of half-tints, an indescribable interblending of feathers, lace, and flowers. Violet was simply and elegantly dressed by the same great artist. Lady Susan wore a petticoat and train that must have been made in the time of Queen Adelaide. Yes, the faded and unknown hue of the substantial brocade, the skimpiness of the satin, the quaint devices in piping-cord and feather-stitch — must assuredly have been coeval with that good woman’s famous hat and spencer.

Poor Mrs. Winstanley was horrified when she saw her husband’s kinswoman attired for the ceremony, not a whit less wiggy and snuffy than usual, and with three lean ostrich feathers starting erect from her back hair, like the ladies in the proscenium boxes of Skelt’s Theatre, whose gaily painted effigies were so dear to our childhood.

Poor Pamela felt inclined to shed tears. Even her confidence in the perfection of her own toilet could hardly sustain her against the horror of being presented by such a scarecrow.

The ceremony went off satisfactorily, in spite of Lady Susan’s antiquated garments. Nobody laughed. Perhaps the habitués of St. James’s were accustomed to scarecrows. Violet’s fresh young beauty attracted some little notice as she waited among the crowd of débutantes; but, on its being ascertained that she was nobody in particular, curiosity languished and died.

Mrs. Winstanley wanted to exhibit her court-dress at the opera that evening, but her husband protested against this display as bad style. Vixen was only too glad to throw off her finery, the tulle puffings and festoonings, and floral wreaths and bouquets, which made movement difficult and sitting down almost impossible.

Those six weeks in town were chiefly devoted to gaiety. Mrs. Winstanley’s Hampshire friends called on her, and followed up their calls by invitations to dinner, and at the dinners she generally met people who were on the eve of giving a garden-party, or a concert, or a dance, and who begged to be allowed to send her a card for that entertainment, spoken of modestly as a thing of no account. And then there was a hurried interchange of calls, and Violet found herself meandering about an unknown croquet-lawn, amongst unknown nobodies, under a burning sun, looking at other girls, dressed like herself in dresses à la Theodore, with the last thing in sleeves, and the last cut in trains, all pretending to be amused by the vapid and languid observations of the cavalier told off to them, paired like companions of the chain at Toulon, and as almost as joyous.

Violet Tempest attended no less than eight private concerts during those six weeks, and heard the same new ballad, and the same latest gavotte in C minor, at everyone of them. She was taken to pianoforte recitals in fashionable squares and streets, and heard Bach and Beethoven till her heart ached with pity for the patient labour of the performers, knowing how poorly she and the majority of mankind appreciated their efforts. She went to a few dances that were rather amusing, and waltzed to her heart’s content. She rode Arion in the Row, and horse and rider were admired as perfect after then kind. Once she met Lord Mallow, riding beside Lady Mabel Ashbourne and the Duke of Dovedale. His florid cheek paled a little at the sight of her. They passed each other with a friendly bow, and this was their only meeting. Lord Mallow left cards at the house in Mayfair a week before the Winstanleys went back to Hampshire. He had been working hard at his senatorial duties, and had made some telling speeches upon the Irish land question. People talked of him as a rising politician; and, whenever his name appeared in the morning papers, Mrs. Winstanley uplifted her voice at the breakfast-table, and made her wail about Violet’s folly in refusing such an excellent young man.

“It would have been so nice to be able to talk about my daughter, Lady Mallow, and Castle Mallow,” said Pamela in confidence to her husband.

“No doubt, my dear,” he answered coolly; “but when you bring up a young woman to have her own way in everything, you must take the consequences.”

“It is very ungrateful of Violet,” sighed the afflicted mother, “after the pains I have taken to dress her prettily, ever since she was a baby. It is a very poor return for my care.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31