Lady Barbarina, by Henry James

Lady Barbarina

1

It is well known that there are few sights in the world more brilliant than the main avenues of Hyde Park of a fine afternoon in June. This was quite the opinion of two persons who on a beautiful day at the beginning of that month, four years ago, had established themselves under the great trees in a couple of iron chairs — the big ones with arms, for which, if I mistake not, you pay twopence — and sat there with the slow procession of the Drive behind them while their faces were turned to the more vivid agitation of the Row. Lost in the multitude of observers they belonged, superficially at least, to that class of persons who, wherever they may be, rank rather with the spectators than with the spectacle. They were quiet simple elderly, of aspect somewhat neutral; you would have liked them extremely but would scarcely have noticed them. It is to them, obscure in all that shining host, that we must nevertheless give our attention. On which the reader is begged to have confidence; he is not asked to make vain concessions. It was indicated touchingly in the faces of our friends that they were growing old together and were fond enough of each other’s company not to object — since it was a condition — even to that. The reader will have guessed that they were husband and wife; and perhaps while he is about it will further have guessed that they were of that nationality for which Hyde Park at the height of the season is most completely illustrative. They were native aliens, so to speak, and people at once so initiated and so detached could only be Americans. This reflexion indeed you would have made only after some delay; for it must be allowed that they bristled with none of those modern signs that carry out the tradition of the old indigenous war-paint and feathers. They had the American turn of mind, but that was very secret; and to your eye — if your eye had cared about it — they might have been either intimately British or more remotely foreign. It was as if they studied, for convenience, to be superficially colourless; their colour was all in their talk. They were not in the least verdant; they were grey rather, of monotonous hue. If they were interested in the riders, the horses, the walkers, the great exhibition of English wealth and health, beauty, luxury and leisure, it was because all this referred itself to other impressions, because they had the key to almost everything that needed an answer — because, in a word, they were able to compare. They had not arrived, they had only returned; and recognition much more than surprise was expressed in their quiet eyes. Dexter Freer and his wife belonged in fine to that great company of Americans who are constantly “passing through” London. Enjoyers of a fortune of which, from any standpoint, the limits were plainly visible, they were unable to treat themselves to that commonest form of ease, the ease of living at home. They found it much more possible to economise at Dresden or Florence than at Buffalo or Minneapolis. The saving was greater and the strain was less. From Dresden, from Florence, moreover, they constantly made excursions that wouldn’t have been possible with an excess of territory; and it is even to be feared they practised some eccentricities of thrift. They came to London to buy their portmanteaus, their toothbrushes, their writing-paper; they occasionally even recrossed the Atlantic westward to assure themselves that westward prices were still the same. They were eminently a social pair; their interests were mainly personal. Their curiosity was so invidiously human that they were supposed to be too addicted to gossip, and they certainly kept up their acquaintance with the affairs of other people. They had friends in every country, in every town; and it was not their fault if people told them their secrets. Dexter Freer was a tall lean man, with an interested eye and a nose that rather drooped than aspired, yet was salient withal. He brushed his hair, which was streaked with white, forward over his ears and into those locks represented in the portraits of clean-shaven gentlemen who flourished fifty years ago and wore an old-fashioned neckcloth and gaiters. His wife, a small plump person, rather polished than naturally fresh, with a white face and hair still evenly black, smiled perpetually, but had never laughed since the death of a son whom she had lost ten years after her marriage. Her husband, on the other hand, who was usually quite grave, indulged on great occasions in resounding mirth. People confided in her less than in him, but that mattered little, as she confided much in herself. Her dress, which was always black or dark grey, was so harmoniously simple that you could see she was fond of it; it was never smart by accident or by fear. She was full of intentions of the most judicious sort and, though perpetually moving about the world, had the air of waiting for every one else to pass. She was celebrated for the promptitude with which she made her sitting-room at an inn, where she might be spending a night or two, appear a real temple of memory. With books, flowers, photographs, draperies, rapidly distributed — she had even a way, for the most part, of not failing of a piano — the place seemed almost hereditary. The pair were just back from America, where they had spent three months, and now were able to face the world with something of the elation of people who have been justified of a stiff conviction. They had found their native land quite ruinous.

“There he is again!” said Mr. Freer, following with his eyes a young man who passed along the Row, riding slowly. “That’s a beautiful thoroughbred!”

Mrs. Freer asked idle questions only when she wanted time to think. At present she had simply to look and see who it was her husband meant. “The horse is too big,” she remarked in a moment.

“You mean the rider’s too small,” her husband returned. “He’s mounted on his millions.”

“Is it really millions?”

“Seven or eight, they tell me.”

“How disgusting!” It was so that Mrs. Freer usually spoke of the large fortunes of the day. “I wish he’d see us,” she added.

“He does see us, but he doesn’t like to look at us. He’s too conscious. He isn’t easy.”

“Too conscious of his big horse?”

“Yes and of his big fortune. He’s rather ashamed of that.”

“This is an odd place to hang one’s head in,” said Mrs. Freer.

“I’m not so sure. He’ll find people here richer than himself, and other big horses in plenty, and that will cheer him up. Perhaps too he’s looking for that girl.”

“The one we heard about? He can’t be such a fool.”

“He isn’t a fool,” said Dexter Freer. “If he’s thinking of her he has some good reason.”

“I wonder what Mary Lemon would say,” his wife pursued.

“She’d say it was all right if he should do it. She thinks he can do no wrong. He’s immensely fond of her.”

“I shan’t be sure of that,” said Mrs. Freer, “if he takes home a wife who’ll despise her.”

“Why should the girl despise her? She’s a delightful woman.”

“The girl will never know it — and if she should it would make no difference: she’ll despise everything.”

“I don’t believe it, my dear; she’ll like some things very much. Every one will be very nice to her.”

“She’ll despise them all the more. But we’re speaking as if it were all arranged. I don’t believe in it at all,” said Mrs. Freer.

“Well, something of the sort — in this case or in some other — is sure to happen sooner or later,” her husband replied, turning round a little toward the back-water, as it were, formed, near the entrance to the Park, by the confluence of the two great vistas of the Drive and the Row.

Our friends had turned their backs, as I have said, to the solemn revolution of wheels and the densely-packed mass of spectators who had chosen that aspect of the show. These spectators were now agitated by a unanimous impulse: the pushing-back of chairs, the shuffle of feet, the rustle of garments and the deepening murmur of voices sufficiently expressed it. Royalty was approaching — royalty was passing — royalty had passed. Mr. Freer turned his head and his ear a little, but failed to alter his position further, and his wife took no notice of the flurry. They had seen royalty pass, all over Europe, and they knew it passed very quickly. Sometimes it came back; sometimes it didn’t; more than once they had seen it pass for the last time. They were veteran tourists and they knew as perfectly as regular attendants at complicated church-services when to get up and when to remain seated. Mr. Freer went on with his proposition. “Some young fellow’s certain to do it, and one of these girls is certain to take the risk. They must take risks over here more and more.”

“The girls, I’ve no doubt, will be glad enough; they have had very little chance as yet. But I don’t want Jackson to begin.”

“Do you know I rather think I do,” said Dexter Freer. “It will be so very amusing.”

“For us perhaps, but not for him. He’ll repent of it and be wretched. He’s too good for that.”

“Wretched never! He has no capacity for wretchedness, and that’s why he can afford to risk it.”

“He’ll have to make great concessions,” Mrs. Freer persisted.

“He won’t make one.”

“I should like to see.”

“You admit, then, that it will be amusing: all I contend for,” her husband replied. “But, as you say, we’re talking as if it were settled, whereas there’s probably nothing in it after all. The best stories always turn out false. I shall be sorry in this case.”

They relapsed into silence while people passed and repassed them — continuous successive mechanical, with strange facial, strange expressional, sequences and contrasts. They watched the procession, but no one heeded them, though every one was there so admittedly to see what was to be seen. It was all striking, all pictorial, and it made a great composition. The wide long area of the Row, its red-brown surface dotted with bounding figures, stretched away into the distance and became suffused and misty in the bright thick air. The deep dark English verdure that bordered and overhung it looked rich and old, revived and refreshed though it was by the breath of June. The mild blue of the sky was spotted with great silvery clouds, and the light drizzled down in heavenly shafts over the quieter spaces of the Park, as one saw them beyond the Row. All this, however, was only a background, for the scene was before everything personal; quite splendidly so, and full of the gloss and lustre, the contrasted tones, of a thousand polished surfaces. Certain things were salient, pervasive — the shining flanks of the perfect horses, the twinkle of bits and spurs, the smoothness of fine cloth adjusted to shoulders and limbs, the sheen of hats and boots, the freshness of complexions, the expression of smiling talking faces, the flash and flutter of rapid gallops. Faces were everywhere, and they were the great effect — above all the fair faces of women on tall horses, flushed a little under their stiff black hats, with figures stiffened, in spite of much definition of curve, by their tight-fitting habits. Their well-secured helmets, their neat compact heads, their straight necks, their firm tailor-made armour, their frequent hardy bloom, all made them look singularly like amazons about to ride a charge. The men, with their eyes before them, with hats of undulating brim, good profiles, high collars, white flowers on their chests, long legs and long feet, had an air more elaboratively decorative, as they jolted beside the ladies, always out of step. These were the younger types; but it was not all youth, for many a saddle sustained a richer rotundity, and ruddy faces with short white whiskers or with matronly chins looked down comfortably from an equilibrium that seemed moral as well as physical. The walkers differed from the riders only in being on foot and in looking at the riders more than these looked at them; for they would have done as well in the saddle and ridden as the others ride. The women had tight little bonnets and still tighter little knots of hair; their round chins rested on a close swathing of lace or in some cases on throttling silver chains and circlets. They had flat backs and small waists, they walked slowly, with their elbows out, carrying vast parasols and turning their heads very little to the right or the left. They were amazons unmounted, quite ready to spring into the saddle. There was a great deal of beauty and a diffused look of happy expansion, all limited and controlled, which came from clear quiet eyes and well-cut lips, rims of stout vessels that didn’t overflow and on which syllables were liquid and sentences brief. Some of the young men, as well as the women, had the happiest proportions and oval faces — faces in which line and colour were pure and fresh and the idea of the moment far from intense.

“They’re often very good-looking,” said Mr. Freer at the end of ten minutes. “They’re on the whole the finest whites.”

“So long as they remain white they do very well; but when they venture upon colour!” his wife replied. She sat with her eyes at the level of the skirts of the ladies who passed her, and she had been following the progress of a green velvet robe enriched with ornaments of steel and much gathered up in the hands of its wearer, who, herself apparently in her teens, was accompanied by a young lady draped in scant pink muslin, a tissue embroidered esthetically with flowers that simulated the iris.

“All the same, in a crowd, they’re wonderfully well turned out,” Dexter Freer went on —“lumping men and women and horses and dogs together. Look at that big fellow on the light chestnut: what could be more perfect? By the way, it’s Lord Canterville,” he added in a moment and as if the fact were of some importance.

Mrs. Freer recognised its importance to the degree of raising her glass to look at Lord Canterville. “How do you know it’s he?” she asked with that implement still up.

“I heard him say something the night I went to the House of Lords. It was very few words, but I remember him. A man near me mentioned who he was.”

“He’s not so handsome as you,” said Mrs. Freer, dropping her glass.

“Ah, you’re too difficult!” her husband murmured. “What a pity the girl isn’t with him,” he went on. “We might see something.”

It appeared in a moment, however, that the girl was with him. The nobleman designated had ridden slowly forward from the start, then just opposite our friends had pulled up to look back as if waiting for some one. At the same moment a gentleman in the Walk engaged his attention, so that he advanced to the barrier which protects the pedestrians and halted there, bending a little from his saddle and talking with his friend, who leaned against the rail. Lord Canterville was indeed perfect, as his American admirer had said. Upwards of sixty and of great stature and great presence, he was a thoroughly splendid apparition. In capital preservation he had the freshness of middle life — he would have been young indeed to the eye if his large harmonious spread hadn’t spoken of the lapse of years. He was clad from head to foot in garments of a radiant grey, and his fine florid countenance was surmounted with a white hat of which the majestic curves were a triumph of good form. Over his mighty chest disposed itself a beard of the richest growth and of a colour, in spite of a few streaks vaguely grizzled, to which the coat of his admirable horse appeared to be a perfect match. It left no opportunity in his uppermost button-hole for the customary orchid; but this was of comparatively little consequence, since the vegetation of the beard itself was tropical. Astride his great steed, with his big fist, gloved in pearl-grey, on his swelling thigh, his face lighted up with good-humoured indifference and all his magnificent surface reflecting the mild sunshine, he was, strikingly, a founded and builded figure, such as could only represent to the public gaze some Institution, some Exhibition or some Industry, in a word some unquenchable Interest. People quite lingered to look up at him as they passed. His halt was brief, however, for he was almost immediately joined by two handsome girls, who were as well turned-out, in Dexter Freer’s phrase, as himself. They had been detained a moment at the entrance to the Row and now advanced side by side, their groom close behind them. One was noticeably taller and older than the other, and it was plain at a glance that they were sisters. Between them, with their charming shoulders, their contracted waists and their skirts that hung without a wrinkle, like plates of zinc, they represented in a singularly complete form the pretty English girl in the position in which she is prettiest.

“Of course they’re his daughters,” said Dexter Freer as these young ladies rode away with Lord Canterville; “and in that case one of them must be Jackson Lemon’s sweetheart. Probably the bigger; they said it was the eldest. She’s evidently a fine creature.”

“She’d hate it over there,” Mrs. Freer returned for all answer to this cluster of inductions.

“You know I don’t admit that. But granting she should, it would do her good to have to accommodate herself.”

“She wouldn’t accommodate herself.”

“She looks so confoundedly fortunate, perched up on that saddle,” he went on without heed of his wife’s speech.

“Aren’t they supposed to be very poor?”

“Yes, they look it!” And his eyes followed the eminent trio while, with the groom, as eminent in his way as any of them, they started on a canter.

The air was full of sound, was low and economised; and when, near our friends, it became articulate the words were simple and few. “It’s as good as the circus, isn’t it, Mrs. Freer?” These words correspond to that description, but they pierced the dense medium more effectually than any our friends had lately heard. They were uttered by a young man who had stopped short in the path, absorbed by the sight of his compatriots. He was short and stout, he had a round kind face and short stiff-looking hair, which was reproduced in a small bristling beard. He wore a double-breasted walking-coat, which was not, however, buttoned, and on the summit of his round head was perched a hat of exceeding smallness and of the so-called “pot” category. It evidently fitted him, but a hatter himself wouldn’t have known why. His hands were encased in new gloves of a dark-brown colour, and these masquerading members hung consciously, quite ruefully, at his sides. He sported neither umbrella nor stick. He offered one of his stuffed gloves almost with eagerness to Mrs. Freer, blushing a little as he measured his precipitation.

“Oh Doctor Feeder!”— she smiled at him. Then she repeated to her husband, “Doctor Feeder, my dear!” and her husband said, “Oh Doctor, how d’ye do?” I have spoken of the composition of the young man’s appearance, but the items were not perceived by these two. They saw but one thing, his delightful face, which was both simple and clever and, as if this weren’t enough, showed a really tasteless overheaping of the cardinal virtues. They had lately made the voyage from New York in his company, and he was clearly a person who would shine at sea with an almost intolerable blandness. After he had stood in front of them a moment a chair beside Mrs. Freer became vacant; on which he took possession of it and sat there telling her what he thought of the Park and how he liked London. As she knew every one she had known many of his people at home, and while she listened to him she remembered how large their contribution had been to the moral worth of Cincinnati. Mrs. Freer’s social horizon included even that city; she had had occasion to exercise an amused recognition of several families from Ohio and was acquainted with the position of the Feeders there. This family, very numerous, was interwoven into an enormous cousinship. She stood off herself from any Western promiscuity, but she could have told you whom Doctor Feeder’s great-grandfather had married. Every one indeed had heard of the good deeds of the descendants of this worthy, who were generally physicians, excellent ones, and whose name expressed not inaptly their numerous acts of charity. Sidney Feeder, who had several cousins of this name established in the same line at Cincinnati, had transferred himself and his ambition to New York, where his practice had at the end of three years begun to grow. He had studied his profession at Vienna and was saturated with German science; had he only worn spectacles he might indeed perfectly, while he watched the performers in Rotten Row as if their proceedings were a successful demonstration, have passed for some famously “materialistic” young German. He had come over to London to attend a medical congress which met this year in the British capital, for his interest in the healing art was by no means limited to the cure of his patients. It embraced every form of experiment, and the expression of his honest eyes would almost have reconciled you to vivisection. This was his first time of looking into the Park; for social experiments he had little leisure. Being aware, however, that it was a very typical and, as might be, symptomatic sight, he had conscientiously reserved an afternoon and dressed himself carefully for the occasion. “It’s quite a brilliant show,” he said to Mrs. Freer; “it makes me wish I had a mount.” Little as he resembled Lord Canterville he rode, as he would have gaily said, first-rate.

“Wait till Jackson Lemon passes again and you can stop him and make him let you take a turn.” This was the jocular suggestion of Dexter Freer.

“Why, is he here? I’ve been looking out for him and should like to see him.”

“Doesn’t he go to your medical congress?” asked Mrs. Freer.

“Well yes, he attends — but isn’t very regular. I guess he goes out a good deal.”

“I guess he does,” said Mr. Freer; “and if he isn’t very regular I guess he has a good reason. A beautiful reason, a charming reason,” he went on, bending forward to look down toward the beginning of the Row. “Dear me, what a lovely reason!”

Doctor Feeder followed the direction of his eyes and after a moment understood his allusion. Little Jackson Lemon passed, on his big horse, along the avenue again, riding beside one of the bright creatures who had come that way shortly before under escort of Lord Canterville. His lordship followed in conversation with the other, his younger daughter. As they advanced Jackson Lemon turned his eyes to the multitude under the trees, and it so happened that they rested on the Dexter Freers. He smiled, he raised his hat with all possible friendliness, and his three companions turned to see whom he so frankly greeted. As he settled his hat on his head he espied the young man from Cincinnati, whom he had at first overlooked; whereupon he laughed for the luck of it and waved Sidney Feeder an airy salutation with his hand, reining in a little at the same time just for an instant, as if he half-expected this apparition to come and speak to him. Seeing him with strangers, none the less, Sidney Feeder hung back, staring a little as he rode away.

It is open to us to know that at this moment the young lady by whose side he was riding put him the free question: “Who are those people you bowed to?”

“Some old friends of mine — Americans,” said Jackson Lemon.

“Of course they’re Americans; there’s nothing anywhere but Americans now.”

“Oh yes, our turn’s coming round!” laughed the young man.

“But that doesn’t say who they are,” his companion continued. “It’s so difficult to say who Americans are,” she added before he had time to answer her.

“Dexter Freer and his wife — there’s nothing difficult about that. Every one knows them,” Jackson explained.

“I never heard of them,” said the English girl.

“Ah, that’s your fault and your misfortune. I assure you everybody knows them.”

“And does everybody know the little man with the fat face to whom you kissed your hand?”

“I didn’t kiss my hand, but I would if I had thought of it. He’s a great chum of mine — a fellow-student at Vienna.”

“And what’s his name?”

“Doctor Feeder.”

Jackson Lemon’s companion had a dandling pause. “Are all your friends doctors?”

“No — some of them are in other businesses.”

“Are they all in some business?”

“Most of them — save two or three like Dexter Freer.”

“‘Dexter’ Freer? I thought you said Doctor Freer.”

The young man gave a laugh. “You heard me wrong. You’ve got doctors on the brain, Lady Barb.”

“I’m rather glad,” said Lady Barb, giving the rein to her horse, who bounded away.

“Well yes, she’s very handsome, the reason,” Doctor Feeder remarked as he sat under the trees.

“Is he going to marry her?” Mrs. Freer inquired.

“Marry her? I hope not.”

“Why do you hope not?”

“Because I know nothing about her. I want to know something about the woman that man marries.”

“I suppose you’d like him to marry in Cincinnati,” Mrs. Freer not unadventurously threw out.

“Well, I’m not particular where it is; but I want to know her first.” Doctor Feeder was very sturdy.

“We were in hopes you’d know all about it,” said his other entertainer.

“No, I haven’t kept up with him there.”

“We’ve heard from a dozen people that he has been always with her for the last month — and that kind of thing, in England, is supposed to mean something. Hasn’t he spoken of her when you’ve seen him?”

“No, he has only talked about the new treatment of spinal meningitis. He’s very much interested in spinal meningitis.”

“I wonder if he talks about it to Lady Barb,” said Mrs. Freer.

“Who is she anyway?” the young man wanted to know.

Well, his companions both let him. “Lady Barb Clement.”

“And who’s Lady Barb Clement?”

“The daughter of Lord Canterville.”

“And who’s Lord Canterville?”

“Dexter must tell you that,” said Mrs. Freer.

And Dexter accordingly told him that the Marquis of Canterville had been in his day a great sporting nobleman and an ornament to English society, and had held more than once a high post in her Majesty’s household. Dexter Freer knew all these things — how his lordship had married a daughter of Lord Treherne, a very serious intelligent and beautiful woman who had redeemed him from the extravagance of his youth and presented him in rapid succession with a dozen little tenants for the nurseries at Pasterns — this being, as Mr. Freer also knew, the name of the principal seat of the Cantervilles. The head of that house was a Tory, but not a particular dunce for a Tory, and very popular in society at large; good-natured, good-looking, knowing how to be rather remarkably free and yet remain a grand seigneur, clever enough to make an occasional telling speech and much associated with the fine old English pursuits as well as with many of the new improvements — the purification of the Turf, the opening of the museums on Sunday, the propagation of coffee-taverns, the latest ideas on sanitary reform. He disapproved of the extension of the suffrage but had positively drainage on the brain. It had been said of him at least once — and, if this historian is not mistaken, in print — that he was just the man to convey to the popular mind the impression that the British aristocracy is still a living force. He was unfortunately not very rich — for a man who had to exemplify such truths — and of his twelve children no less than seven were daughters. Lady Barb, Jackson Lemon’s friend, was the second; the eldest had married Lord Beauchemin. Mr. Freer had caught quite the right pronunciation of this name, which he successfully sounded as Bitumen. Lady Lucretia had done very well, for her husband was rich and she had brought him nothing to speak of; but it was hardly to be expected they would all achieve such flights. Happily the younger girls were still in the schoolroom, and before they had come up, Lady Canterville, who was a woman of bold resource, would have worked off the two that were out. It was Lady Agatha’s first season; she wasn’t so pretty as her sister, but was thought to be cleverer. Half-a-dozen people had spoken to him of Jackson Lemon’s being a great deal at the Cantervilles. He was supposed to be enormously rich.

“Well, so he is,” said Sidney Feeder, who had listened to Mr. Freer’s report with attention, with eagerness even, but, for all its lucidity, with an air of imperfect apprehension.

“Yes, but not so rich as they probably think.”

“Do they want his money? Is that what they’re after?”

“You go straight to the point!” Mrs. Freer rang out.

“I haven’t the least idea,” said her husband. “He’s a very good sort in himself.”

“Yes, but he’s a doctor,” Mrs. Freer observed.

“What have they got against that?” asked Sidney Feeder.

“Why, over here, you know, they only call them in to prescribe,” said his other friend. “The profession isn’t — a — what you’d call aristocratic.”

“Well, I don’t know it, and I don’t know that I want to know it. How do you mean, aristocratic? What profession is? It would be rather a curious one. Professions are meant to do the work of professions; and what work’s done without your sleeves rolled up? Many of the gentlemen at the congress there are quite charming.”

“I like doctors very much,” said Mrs. Freer; “my father was a doctor. But they don’t marry the daughters of marquises.”

“I don’t believe Jackson wants to marry that one,” Sidney Feeder calmly argued.

“Very possibly not — people are such asses,” said Dexter Freer. “But he’ll have to decide. I wish you’d find out, by the way. You can if you will.”

“I’ll ask him — up at the congress; I can do that. I suppose he has got to marry some one.” The young man added in a moment: “And she may be a good thing.”

“She’s said to be charming.”

“Very well then, it won’t hurt him. I must say, however, I’m not sure I like all that about her family.”

“What I told you? It’s all to their honour and glory,” said Mr. Freer.

“Are they quite on the square? It’s like those people in Thackeray.”

“Oh if Thackeray could have done this!” And Mrs. Freer yearned over the lost hand.

“You mean all this scene?” asked the young man.

“No; the marriage of a British noblewoman and an American doctor. It would have been a subject for a master of satire.”

“You see you do want it, my dear,” said her husband quietly.

“I want it as a story, but I don’t want it for Doctor Lemon.”

“Does he call himself ‘Doctor’ still?” Mr. Freer asked of young Feeder.

“I suppose he does — I call him so. Of course he doesn’t practise. But once a doctor always a doctor.”

“That’s doctrine for Lady Barb!”

Sidney Feeder wondered. “Hasn’t she got a title too? What would she expect him to be? President of the United States? He’s a man of real ability — he might have stood at the head of his profession. When I think of that I want to swear. What did his father want to go and make all that money for?”

“It must certainly be odd to them to see a ‘medical man’ with six or eight millions,” Mr. Freer conceded.

“They use much the same term as the Choctaws,” said his wife.

“Why, some of their own physicians make immense fortunes,” Sidney Feeder remarked.

“Couldn’t he,” she went on, “be made a baronet by the Queen?”

“Yes, then he’d be aristocratic,” said the young man. “But I don’t see why he should want to marry over here; it seems to me to be going out of his way. However, if he’s happy I don’t care. I like him very much; he has ‘A1’ ability. If it hadn’t been for his father he’d have made a splendid doctor. But, as I say, he takes a great interest in medical science and I guess he means to promote it all he can — with his big fortune. He’ll be sure to keep up his interest in research. He thinks we do know something and is bound we shall know more. I hope she won’t lower him, the young marchioness — is that her rank? And I hope they’re really good people. He ought to be very useful. I should want to know a good deal about the foreign family I was going to marry into.”

“He looked to me, riding there, as if he knew a good deal about the Clements,” Dexter Freer said, getting to his feet as his wife suggested they ought to be going; “and he looked to me pleased with the knowledge. There they come down the other side. Will you walk away with us or will you stay?”

“Stop him and ask him, and then come and tell us — in Jermyn Street.” This was Mrs. Freer’s parting injunction to Sidney Feeder.

“He ought to come himself — tell him that,” her husband added.

“Well, I guess I’ll stay,” said the young man as his companions merged themselves in the crowd that now was tending toward the gates. He went and stood by the barrier and saw Doctor Lemon and his friends pull up at the entrance to the Row, where they apparently prepared to separate. The separation took some time and Jackson’s colleague became interested. Lord Canterville and his younger daughter lingered to talk with two gentlemen, also mounted, who looked a good deal at the legs of Lady Agatha’s horse. Doctor Lemon and Lady Barb were face to face, very near each other, and she, leaning forward a little, stroked the overlapping neck of his glossy bay. At a distance he appeared to be talking and she to be listening without response. “Oh yes, he’s making love to her,” thought Sidney Feeder. Suddenly her father and sister turned away to leave the Park, and she joined them and disappeared while Jackson came up on the left again as for a final gallop. He hadn’t gone far before he perceived his comrade, who awaited him at the rail; and he repeated the gesture Lady Barb had described as a kiss of the hand, though it had not to his friend’s eyes that full grace. When he came within hail he pulled up.

“If I had known you were coming here I’d have given you a mount,” he immediately and bountifully cried. There was not in his person that irradiation of wealth and distinction which made Lord Canterville glow like a picture; but as he sat there with his neat little legs stuck out he looked very bright and sharp and happy, wearing in his degree the aspect of one of Fortune’s favourites. He had a thin keen delicate face, a nose very carefully finished, a quick eye, a trifle hard in expression, and a fine dark moustache, a good deal cultivated. He was not striking, but he had his intensity, and it was easy to see that he had his purposes.

“How many horses have you got — about forty?” his compatriot inquired in response to his greeting.

“About five hundred,” said Jackson Lemon.

“Did you mount your friends — the three you were riding with?”

“Mount them? They’ve got the best horses in England.”

“Did they sell you this one?” Sidney Feeder continued in the same humorous strain.

“What do you think of him?” said his friend without heed of this question.

“Well, he’s an awful old screw. I wonder he can carry you.”

“Where did you get your hat?” Jackson asked both as a retort and as a relevant criticism.

“I got it in New York. What’s the matter with it?”

“It’s very beautiful. I wish I had brought over one like it.”

“The head’s the thing — not the hat. I don’t mean yours — I mean mine,” Sidney Feeder laughed. “There’s something very deep in your question. I must think it over.”

“Don’t — don’t,” said Jackson Lemon; “you’ll never get to the bottom of it. Are you having a good time?”

“A glorious time. Have you been up today?”

“Up among the doctors? No — I’ve had a lot of things to do,” Jackson was obliged to plead.

“Well”— and his friend richly recovered it —“we had a very interesting discussion. I made a few remarks.”

“You ought to have told me. What were they about?”

“About the intermarriage of races from the point of view —” And Sidney Feeder paused a moment, occupied with the attempt to scratch the nose of the beautiful horse.

“From the point of view of the progeny, I suppose?”

“Not at all. From the point of view of the old friends.”

“Damn the old friends!” Doctor Lemon exclaimed with jocular crudity.

“Is it true that you’re going to marry a young marchioness?”

The face of the speaker in the saddle became just a trifle rigid, and his firm eyes penetrated the other. “Who has played that on you?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Freer, whom I met just now.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Freer be hanged too. And who told them?”

“Ever so many fashionable people. I don’t know who.”

“Gad, how things are tattled!” cried Jackson Lemon with asperity.

“I can see it’s true by the way you say that,” his friend ingenuously stated.

“Do Freer and his wife believe it?” Jackson went on impatiently.

“They want you to go and see them. You can judge for yourself.”

“I’ll go and see them and tell them to mind their business.”

“In Jermyn Street; but I forget the number. I’m sorry the marchioness isn’t one of ours,” Doctor Feeder continued.

“If I should marry her she would be quick enough. But I don’t see what difference it can make to you,” said Jackson.

“Why, she’ll look down on the profession, and I don’t like that from your wife.”

“That will touch me more than you.”

“Then it is true?” Doctor Feeder cried with a finer appeal.

“She won’t look down. I’ll answer for that.”

“You won’t care. You’re out of it all now.”

“No, I’m not. I mean to do no end of work.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” said Sidney Feeder, who was by no means perfectly incredulous, but who thought it salutary to take that tone. “I’m not sure you’ve any right to work — you oughtn’t to have everything; you ought to leave the field to us, not take the bread out of our mouths and get the kudos. You must pay the penalty of being bloated. You’d have been celebrated if you had continued to practise — more celebrated than any one. But you won’t be now — you can’t be any way you fix it. Some one else is going to be in your place.”

Jackson Lemon listened to this, but without meeting the eyes of the prophet; not, however, as if he were avoiding them, but as if the long stretch of the Ride, now less and less obstructed, irresistibly drew him off again and made his companion’s talk retarding. Nevertheless he answered deliberately and kindly enough. “I hope it will be you, old boy.” And he bowed to a lady who rode past.

“Very likely it will. I hope I make you feel mean. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

“Oh awfully!” Jackson cried. “All the more that I’m not in the least engaged.”

“Well, that’s good. Won’t you come up tomorrow?” Doctor Feeder went on.

“I’ll try, my dear fellow. I can’t be sure. By-bye!”

“Oh you’re lost anyway!” sighed Sidney Feeder as the other started away.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/james/henry/lady-barbarina/chapter1.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38