Had he been a youth about to make a debut in the great world, Sidney Wilton could not have been more agitated than he felt at the prospect of the fete at Montfort House. Lady Roehampton, after nearly two years of retirement, was about to reenter society. During this interval she had not been estranged from him. On the contrary, he had been her frequent and customary companion. Except Adriana, and Lady Montfort, and her brother, it might almost be said, her only one. Why then was he agitated? He had been living in a dream for two years, cherishing wild thoughts of exquisite happiness. He would have been content, had the dream never been disturbed; but this return to hard and practical life of her whose unconscious witchery had thrown a spell over his existence, roused him to the reality of his position, and it was one of terrible emotion.
During the life of her husband, Sidney Wilton had been the silent adorer of Myra. With every accomplishment and every advantage that are supposed to make life delightful — a fine countenance, a noble mien, a manner natural and attractive, an ancient lineage, and a vast estate — he was the favourite of society, who did more than justice to his talents, which, though not brilliant, were considerable, and who could not too much appreciate the high tone of his mind; his generosity and courage, and true patrician spirit which inspired all his conduct, and guided him ever to do that which was liberal, and gracious, and just.
There was only one fault which society found in Sidney Wilton; he would not marry. This was provoking, because he was the man of all others who ought to marry, and make a heroine happy. Society did not give it up till he was forty, about the time he became acquainted with Lady Roehampton; and that incident threw no light on his purposes or motives, for he was as discreet as he was devoted, and Myra herself was unconscious of his being anything to her save the dearest friend of her father, and the most cherished companion of her husband.
When one feels deeply, one is apt to act suddenly, perhaps rashly. There are moments in life when suspense can be borne no longer. And Sidney Wilton, who had been a silent votary for more than ten years, now felt that the slightest delay in his fate would be intolerable. It was the ball at Montfort House that should be the scene of this decision of destiny.
She was about to reenter society, radiant as the morn, amid flowers and music, and all the accidents of social splendour. His sympathetic heart had been some solace to her in her sorrow and her solitude. Now, in the joyous blaze of life, he was resolved to ask her whether it were impossible that they should never again separate, and in the crowd, as well as when alone, feel their mutual devotion.
Mr. Wilton was among those who went early to Montfort House, which was not his wont; but he was restless and disquieted. She could hardly have arrived; but there would be some there who would speak of her. That was a great thing. Sidney Wilton had arrived at that state when conversation can only interest on one subject. When a man is really in love, he is disposed to believe that, like himself, everybody is thinking of the person who engrosses his brain and heart.
The magnificent saloons, which in half an hour would be almost impassable, were only sprinkled with guests, who, however, were constantly arriving. Mr. Wilton looked about him in vain for the person who, he was quite sure, could not then be present. He lingered by the side of Lady Montfort, who bowed to those who came, but who could spare few consecutive words, even to Mr. Wilton, for her watchful eye expected every moment to be summoned to descend her marble staircase and receive her royal guests.
The royal guests arrived; there was a grand stir, and many gracious bows, and some cordial, but dignified, shake-hands. The rooms were crowded; yet space in the ball-room was well preserved, so that the royal vision might range with facility from its golden chairs to the beauteous beings, and still more beautiful costumes, displaying with fervent loyalty their fascinating charms.
There was a new band to-night, that had come from some distant but celebrated capital; musicians known by fame to everybody, but whom nobody had ever heard. They played wonderfully on instruments of new invention, and divinely upon old ones. It was impossible that anything could be more gay and inspiring than their silver bugles, and their carillons of tinkling bells.
They found an echo in the heart of Sidney Wilton, who, seated near the entrance of the ball-room, watched every arrival with anxious expectation. But the anxiety vanished for a moment under the influence of the fantastic and frolic strain. It seemed a harbinger of happiness and joy. He fell into a reverie, and wandered with a delightful companion in castles of perpetual sunshine, and green retreats, and pleasant terraces.
But the lady never came.
“Where can your sister be?” said Lady Montfort to Endymion. “She promised me to come early; something must have happened. Is she ill?”
“Quite well; I saw her before I left Hill Street. She wished me to come alone, as she would not be here early.
“I hope she will be in time for the royal supper table; I quite count on her.”
“She is sure to be here.”
Lord Hainault was in earnest conversation with Baron Sergius, now the minister of King Florestan at the Court of St. James’. It was a wise appointment, for Sergius knew intimately all the English statesmen of eminence, and had known them for many years. They did not look upon him as the mere representative of a revolutionary and parvenu sovereign; he was quite one of themselves, had graduated at the Congress of Vienna, and, it was believed, had softened many subsequent difficulties by his sagacity. He had always been a cherished guest at Apsley House, and it was known the great duke often consulted him. “As long as Sergius sways his councils, He will indulge in no adventures,” said Europe. “As long as Sergius remains here, the English alliance is safe,” said England. After Europe and England, the most important confidence to obtain was that of Lord Hainault, and Baron Sergius had not been unsuccessful in that respect.
“Your master has only to be liberal and steady,” said Lord Hainault, with his accustomed genial yet half-sarcastic smile, “and he may have anything he likes. But we do not want any wars; they are not liked in the City.”
“Our policy is peace,” said Sergius.
“I think we ought to congratulate Sir Peter,” said Mr. Waldershare to Adriana, with whom he had been dancing, and whom he was leading back to Lady Hainault. “Sir Peter, here is a lady who wishes to congratulate you on your deserved elevation.”
“Well, I do not know what to say about it,” said the former Mr. Vigo, highly gratified, but a little confused; “my friends would have it.”
“Ay, ay,” said Waldershare, “‘at the request of friends;’ the excuse I gave for publishing my sonnets.” And then, advancing, he delivered his charge to her chaperon, who looked dreamy, abstracted, and uninterested.
“We have just been congratulating the new baronet, Sir Peter Vigo,” said Waldershare.
“Ah!” said Lady Hainault with a contemptuous sigh, “he is, at any rate, not obliged to change his name. The desire to change one’s name does indeed appear to me to be a singular folly. If your name had been disgraced, I could understand it, as I could understand a man then going about in a mask. But the odd thing is, the persons who always want to change their names are those whose names are the most honoured.”
“Oh, you are here!” said Mr. St. Barbe acidly to Mr. Seymour Hicks. “I think you are everywhere. I suppose they will make you a baronet next. Have you seen the batch? I could not believe my eyes when I read it. I believe the government is demented. Not a single literary man among them. Not that I wanted their baronetcy. Nothing would have tempted me to accept one. But there is Gushy; he, I know, would have liked it. I must say I feel for Gushy; his works only selling half what they did, and then thrown over in this insolent manner!”
“Gushy is not in society,” said Mr. Seymour Hicks in a solemn tone of contemptuous pity.
“That is society,” said St. Barbe, as he received a bow of haughty grace from Mrs. Rodney, who, fascinating and fascinated, was listening to the enamoured murmurs of an individual with a very bright star and a very red ribbon.
“I dined with the Rodneys yesterday,” said Mr. Seymour Hicks; “they do the thing well.”
“You dined there!” exclaimed St. Barbe. “It is very odd, they have never asked me. Not that I would have accepted their invitation. I avoid parvenus. They are too fidgety for my taste. I require repose, and only dine with the old nobility.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07