GEORGE AUGUSTUS FREDERICK, DUKE OF ST. JAMES, completed his twenty-first year, an event which created almost as great a sensation among the aristocracy of England as the Norman Conquest. A minority of twenty years had converted a family always amongst the wealthiest of Great Britain into one of the richest in Europe. The Duke of St. James possessed estates in the north and in the west of England, besides a whole province in Ireland. In London there were a very handsome square and several streets, all made of bricks, which brought him in yearly more cash than all the palaces of Vicenza are worth in fee-simple, with those of the Grand Canal of Venice to boot. As if this were not enough, he was an hereditary patron of internal navigation; and although perhaps in his two palaces, three castles, four halls, and lodges ad libitum, there were more fires burnt than in any other establishment in the empire, this was of no consequence, because the coals were his own. His rent-roll exhibited a sum total, very neatly written, of two hundred thousand pounds; but this was independent of half a million in the funds, which we had nearly forgotten, and which remained from the accumulations occasioned by the unhappy death of his father.
The late Duke of St. James had one sister, who was married to the Earl of Fitz-pompey. To the great surprise of the world, to the perfect astonishment of the brother-in-law, his Lordship was not appointed guardian to the infant minor. The Earl of Fitz-pompey had always been on the best possible terms with his Grace: the Countess had, only the year before his death, accepted from his fraternal hand a diamond bracelet; the Lord Viscount St. Maurice, future chief of the house of Fitz-pompey, had the honour not only of being his nephew, but his godson. Who could account, then, for an action so perfectly unaccountable? It was quite evident that his Grace had no intention of dying.
The guardian, however, that he did appoint was a Mr. Dacre, a Catholic gentleman of ancient family and large fortune, who had been the companion of his travels, and was his neighbour in his county. Mr. Dacre had not been honoured with the acquaintance of Lord Fitz-pompey previous to the decease of his noble friend; and after that event such an acquaintance would probably not have been productive of agreeable reminiscences; for from the moment of the opening of the fatal will the name of Dacre was wormwood to the house of St. Maurice. Lord Fitz-pompey, who, though the brother-in-law of a Whig magnate, was a Tory, voted against the Catholics with renewed fervour.
Shortly after the death of his friend, Mr. Dacre married a beautiful and noble lady of the house of Howard, who, after having presented him with a daughter, fell ill, and became that common character, a confirmed invalid. In the present day, and especially among women, one would almost suppose that health was a state of unnatural existence. The illness of his wife and the non-possession of parliamentary duties rendered Mr. Dacre’s visits to his town mansion rare, and the mansion in time was let.
The young Duke, with the exception of an occasional visit to his uncle, Lord Fitz-pompey, passed the early years of his life at Castle Dacre. At seven years of age he was sent to a preparatory school at Richmond, which was entirely devoted to the early culture of the nobility, and where the principal, the Reverend Doctor Coronet, was so extremely exclusive in his system that it was reported that he had once refused the son of an Irish peer. Miss Coronet fed her imagination with the hope of meeting her father’s noble pupils in after-life, and in the meantime read fashionable novels.
The moment that the young Duke was settled at Richmond, all the intrigues of the Fitz-pompey family were directed to that quarter; and as Mr. Dacre was by nature unsuspicious, and was even desirous that his ward should cultivate the friendship of his only relatives, the St. Maurice family had the gratification, as they thought, of completely deceiving him. Lady Fitz-pompey called twice a week at Crest House with a supply of pine-apples or bonbons, and the Rev. Dr. Coronet bowed in adoration. Lady Isabella St. Maurice gave a china cup to Mrs. Coronet, and Lady Augusta a paper-cutter to Miss. The family was secured. All discipline was immediately set at defiance, and the young Duke passed the greater part of the half-year with his affectionate relations. His Grace, charmed with the bonbons of his aunt and the kisses of his cousins, which were even sweeter than the sugar-plums; delighted with the pony of St. Maurice, which immediately became his own; and inebriated by the attentions of his uncle — who, at eight years of age, treated him, as his Lordship styled it, ‘like a man’— contrasted this life of early excitement with what now appeared the gloom and the restraint of Castle Dacre, and he soon entered into the conspiracy, which had long been hatching, with genuine enthusiasm. He wrote to his guardian, and obtained permission to spend his vacation with his uncle. Thus, through the united indulgence of Dr. Coronet and Mr. Dacre, the Duke of St. James became a member of the family of St. Maurice.
No sooner had Lord Fitz-pompey secured the affections of the ward than he entirely changed his system towards the guardian. He wrote to Mr. Dacre, and in a manner equally kind and dignified courted his acquaintance. He dilated upon the extraordinary, though extremely natural, affection which Lady Fitz-pompey entertained for the only offspring of her beloved brother, upon the happiness which the young Duke enjoyed with his cousins, upon the great and evident advantages which his Grace would derive from companions of his own age, of the singular friendship which he had already formed with St. Maurice; and then, after paying Mr. Dacre many compliments upon the admirable manner in which he had already fulfilled the duties of his important office, and urging the lively satisfaction that a visit from their brother’s friend would confer both upon Lady Fitz-pompey and himself, he requested permission for his nephew to renew the visit in which he had been ‘so happy!’ The Duke seconded the Earl’s diplomatic scrawl in the most graceful round-text. The masterly intrigues of Lord Fitz-pompey, assisted by Mrs. Dacre’s illness, which daily increased, and which rendered perfect quiet indispensable, were successful, and the young Duke arrived at his twelfth year without revisiting Dacre. Every year, however, when Mr. Dacre made a short visit to London, his ward spent a few days in his company, at the house of an old-fashioned Catholic nobleman; a visit which only afforded a dull contrast to the gay society and constant animation of his uncle’s establishment.
It would seem that fate had determined to counteract the intentions of the late Duke of St. James, and to achieve those of the Earl of Fitz-pompey. At the moment that the noble minor was about to leave Dr. Coronet for Eton, Mrs. Dacre’s state was declared hopeless, except from the assistance of an Italian sky, and Mr. Dacre, whose attachment to his lady was romantic, determined to leave England immediately.
It was with deep regret that he parted from his ward, whom he tenderly loved; but all considerations merged in the paramount one; and he was consoled by the reflection that he was, at least, left to the care of his nearest connections. Mr. Dacre was not unaware of the dangers to which his youthful pledge might be exposed by the indiscriminate indulgence of his uncle, but he trusted to the impartial and inviolable system of a public school to do much; and he anticipated returning to England before his ward was old enough to form those habits which are generally so injurious to young nobles. In this hope Mr. Dacre was disappointed. Mrs. Dacre lingered, and revived, and lingered, for nearly eight years; now filling the mind of her husband and her daughter with unreasonable hope, now delivering them to that renewed anguish, that heart-rending grief, which the attendant upon a declining relative can alone experience, additionally agonizing because it cannot be indulged. Mrs. Dacre died, and the widower and his daughter returned to England. In the meantime, the Duke of St. James had not been idle.
THE departure and, at length, the total absence of Mr. Dacre from England yielded to Lord Fitz-pompey all the opportunity he had long desired. Hitherto he had contented himself with quietly sapping the influence of the guardian: now that influence was openly assailed. All occasions were seized of depreciating the character of Mr. Dacre, and open lamentations were poured forth on the strange and unhappy indiscretion of the father who had confided the guardianship of his son, not to his natural and devoted friends, but to a harsh and repulsive stranger. Long before the young Duke had completed his sixteenth year all memory of the early kindness of his guardian, if it had ever been imprinted on his mind, was carefully obliterated from it. It was constantly impressed upon him that nothing but the exertions of his aunt and uncle had saved him from a life of stern privation and irrational restraint: and the man who had been the chosen and cherished confidant of the father was looked upon by the son as a grim tyrant, from whose clutches he had escaped, and in which he determined never again to find himself. ‘Old Dacre,’ as Lord Fitz-pompey described him, was a phantom enough at any time to frighten his youthful ward. The great object of the uncle was to teaze and mortify the guardian into resigning his trust, and infinite were the contrivances to bring about this desirable result; but Mr. Dacre was obstinate, and, although absent, contrived to carry on and complete the system for the management of the Hauteville property which he had so beneficially established and so long pursued.
In quitting England, although he had appointed a fixed allowance for his noble ward, Mr. Dacre had thought proper to delegate a discretionary authority to Lord Fitz-pompey to furnish him with what might be called extraordinary necessaries. His Lordship availed himself with such dexterity of this power that his nephew appeared to be indebted for every indulgence to his uncle, who invariably accompanied every act of this description with an insinuation that he might thank Mrs. Dacre’s illness for the boon.
‘Well, George,’ he would say to the young Etonian, ‘you shall have the boat, though I hardly know how I shall pass the account at head-quarters; and make yourself easy about Flash’s bill, though I really cannot approve of such proceedings. Thank your stars you have not got to present that account to old Dacre. Well, I am one of those who are always indulgent to young blood. Mr. Dacre and I differ. He is your guardian, though. Everything is in his power; but you shall never want while your uncle can help you; and so run off to Caroline, for I see you want to be with her.’
The Lady Isabella and the Lady Augusta, who had so charmed Mrs. and Miss Coronet, were no longer in existence. Each had knocked down her earl. Brought up by a mother exquisitely adroit in female education, the Ladies St. Maurice had run but a brief, though a brilliant, career. Beautiful, and possessing every accomplishment which renders beauty valuable, under the unrivalled chaperonage of the Countess they had played their popular parts without a single blunder. Always in the best set, never flirting with the wrong man, and never speaking to the wrong woman, all agreed that the Ladies St. Maurice had fairly won their coronets. Their sister Caroline was much younger; and although she did not promise to develop so unblemished a character as themselves, she was, in default of another sister, to be the Duchess of St. James.
Lady Caroline St. Maurice was nearly of the same age as her cousin, the young Duke. They had been play-fellows since his emancipation from the dungeons of Castle Dacre, and every means had been adopted by her judicious parents to foster and to confirm the kind feelings which had been first engendered by being partners in the same toys and sharing the same sports. At eight years old the little Duke was taught to call Caroline his ‘wife;’ and as his Grace grew in years, and could better appreciate the qualities of his sweet and gentle cousin, he was not disposed to retract the title. When George rejoined the courtly Coronet, Caroline invariably mingled her tears with those of her sorrowing spouse; and when the time at length arrived for his departure for Eton, Caroline knitted him a purse and presented him with a watch-ribbon. At the last moment she besought her brother, who was two years older, to watch over him, and soothed the moment of final agony by a promise to correspond. Had the innocent and soft-hearted girl been acquainted with, or been able to comprehend, the purposes of her crafty parents, she could not have adopted means more calculated to accomplish them. The young Duke kissed her a thousand times, and loved her better than all the world.
In spite of his private house and his private tutor, his Grace did not make all the progress in his classical studies which means so calculated to promote abstraction and to assist acquirement would seem to promise. The fact is, that as his mind began to unfold itself he found a perpetual and a more pleasing source of study in the contemplation of himself. His early initiation in the school of Fitz-pompey had not been thrown away. He had heard much of nobility, and beauty, and riches, and fashion, and power; he had seen many individuals highly, though differently, considered for the relative quantities which they possessed of these qualities; it appeared to the Duke of St. James that among the human race he possessed the largest quantity of them all: he cut his private tutor. His private tutor, who had been appointed by Mr. Dacre, remonstrated to Lord Fitz-pompey, and with such success that he thought proper shortly after to resign his situation. Dr. Coronet begged to recommend his son, the Rev. Augustus Granville Coronet. The Duke of St. James now got on rapidly, and also found sufficient time for his boat, his tandem, and his toilette.
The Duke of St. James appeared at Christ Church. His conceit kept him alive for a few terms. It is delightful to receive the homage of two thousand young men of the best families in the country, to breakfast with twenty of them, and to cut the rest. In spite, however, of the glories of the golden tuft and a delightful private establishment which he and his followers maintained in the chaste suburbs of Alma Mater, the Duke of St. James felt ennuied. Consequently, one clear night, they set fire to a pyramid of caps and gowns in Peckwater. It was a silly thing for any one: it was a sad indiscretion for a Duke; but it was done. Some were expelled; his Grace had timely notice, and having before cut the Oxonians, now cut Oxford.
Like all young men who get into scrapes, the Duke of St. James determined to travel. The Dacres returned to England before he did. He dexterously avoided coming into contact with them in Italy. Mr. Dacre had written to him several times during the first years of his absence; and although the Duke’s answers were short, seldom, and not very satisfactory, Mr. Dacre persisted in occasionally addressing him. When, however, the Duke had arrived at an age when he was at least morally responsible for his own conduct, and entirely neglected answering his guardian’s letters, Mr. Dacre became altogether silent.
The travelling career of the young Duke may be conceived by those who have wasted their time, and are compensated for that silliness by being called men of the world. He gamed a little at Paris; he ate a good deal at Vienna; and he studied the fine arts in Italy. In all places his homage to the fair sex was renowned. The Parisian duchess, the Austrian princess, and the Italian countess spoke in the most enthusiastic terms of the English nobility. At the end of three years the Duke of St. James was of opinion that he had obtained a great knowledge of mankind. He was mistaken; travel is not, as is imagined, the best school for that sort of science. Knowledge of mankind is a knowledge of their passions. The traveller is looked upon as a bird of passage, whose visit is short, and which the vanity of the visited wishes to make agreeable. All is show, all false, and all made up. Coterie succeeds coterie, equally smiling — the explosions take place in his absence. Even a grand passion, which teaches a man more, perhaps, than anything else, is not very easily excited by the traveller. The women know that, sooner or later, he must disappear; and though this is the case with all lovers, they do not like to miss the possibility of delusion. Thus the heroines keep in the background, and the visitor, who is always in a hurry, falls into the net of the first flirtation that offers.
The Duke of St. James had, however, acquired a great knowledge; if not of mankind, at any rate of manners. He had visited all Courts, and sparkled in the most brilliant circles of the Continent. He returned to his own country with a taste extremely refined, a manner most polished, and a person highly accomplished.
A SORT of scrambling correspondence had been kept up between the young Duke and his cousin, Lord St. Maurice, who had for a few months been his fellow-traveller. By virtue of these epistles, notice of the movements of their interesting relative occasionally reached the circle at Fitz-pompey House, although St. Maurice was scanty in the much-desired communications; because, like most young Englishmen, he derived singular pleasure from depriving his fellow-creatures of all that small information which every one is so desirous to obtain. The announcement, however, of the approaching arrival of the young Duke was duly made. Lord Fitz-pompey wrote and offered apartments at Fitz-pompey House. They were refused. Lord Fitz-pompey wrote again to require instructions for the preparation of Hauteville House. His letter was unanswered. Lord Fitz-pompey was quite puzzled.
‘When does your cousin mean to come, Charles?’ ‘Where does your cousin mean to go, Charles?’ ‘What does your cousin mean to do, Charles?’ These were the hourly queries of the noble uncle.
At length, in the middle of January, when no one expected him, the Duke of St. James arrived at Mivart’s.
He was attended by a French cook, an Italian valet, a German jäger, and a Greek page. At this dreary season of the year this party was, perhaps, the most distinguished in the metropolis.
Three years’ absence and a little knowledge of life had somewhat changed the Duke of St. James’s feelings with regard to his noble relatives. He was quite disembarrassed of that Panglossian philosophy which had hitherto induced him to believe that the Earl of Fitz-pompey was the best of all possible uncles. On the contrary, his Grace rather doubted whether the course which his relations had pursued towards him was quite the most proper and the most prudent; and he took great credit to himself for having, with such unbounded indulgence, on the whole deported himself with so remarkable a temperance. His Grace, too, could no longer innocently delude himself with the idea that all the attention which had been lavished upon him was solely occasioned by the impulse of consanguinity. Finally, the young Duke’s conscience often misgave him when he thought of Mr. Dacre. He determined, therefore, on returning to England, not to commit himself too decidedly with the Fitz-pompeys, and he had cautiously guarded himself from being entrapped into becoming their guest. At the same time, the recollection of old intimacy, the general regard which he really felt for them all, and the sincere affection which he entertained for his cousin Caroline, would have deterred him from giving any outward signs of his altered feelings, even if other considerations had not intervened.
And other considerations did intervene. A Duke, and a young Duke, is an important personage; but he must still be introduced. Even our hero might make a bad tack on his first cruise. Almost as important personages have committed the same blunder. Talk of Catholic emancipation! O! thou Imperial Parliament, emancipate the forlorn wretches who have got into a bad set! Even thy omnipotence must fail there!
Now, the Countess of Fitz-pompey was a brilliant of the first water. Under no better auspices could the Duke of St. James bound upon the stage. No man in town could arrange his club affairs for him with greater celerity and greater tact than the Earl; and the married daughters were as much like their mother as a pair of diamond ear-rings are like a diamond necklace.
The Duke, therefore, though he did not choose to get caged in Fitz-pompey House, sent his page, Spiridion, to the Countess, on a special embassy of announcement on the evening of his arrival, and on the following morning his Grace himself made his appearance at an early hour.
Lord Fitz-pompey, who was as consummate a judge of men and manners as he was an indifferent speculator on affairs, and who was almost as finished a man of the world as he was an imperfect philosopher, soon perceived that considerable changes had taken place in the ideas as well as in the exterior of his nephew. The Duke, however, was extremely cordial, and greeted the family in terms almost of fondness. He shook his uncle by the hand with a fervour with which few noblemen had communicated for a considerable period, and he saluted his aunt on the cheek with a delicacy which did not disturb the rouge. He turned to his cousin.
Lady Caroline St. Maurice was indeed a right beautiful being. She, whom the young Duke had left merely a graceful and kind-hearted girl, three years had changed into a somewhat dignified but most lovely woman. A little perhaps of her native ease had been lost; a little perhaps of a manner rather too artificial had supplanted that exquisite address which Nature alone had prompted; but at this moment her manner was as unstudied and as genuine as when they had gambolled together in the bowers of Malthorpe. Her white and delicate arm was extended with cordial grace, her full blue eye beamed with fondness, and the soft blush that rose on her fair cheek exquisitely contrasted with the clusters of her dark brown hair.
The Duke was struck, almost staggered. He remembered their infant loves; he recovered with ready address. He bent his head with graceful affection and pressed her lips. He almost repented that he had not accepted his uncle’s offer of hospitality.
LORD FITZ-POMPEY was a little consoled for the change which he had observed in the character of the Duke by the remembrance of the embrace with which his Grace had greeted Lady Caroline. Never indeed did a process which has, through the lapse of so many ages, occasioned so much delight, produce more lively satisfaction than the kiss in question. Lord Fitz-pompey had given up his plan of managing the Duke after the family dinner which his nephew had the pleasure to join the first day of his first visit. The Duke and he were alone, and his Lordship availed himself of the rare opportunity with that adroitness for which he was celebrated. Nothing could be more polite, more affable, more kind, than his Grace’s manner! but the uncle cared little for politeness, or affability, or kindness. The crafty courtier wanted candour, and that was absent. That ingenuous openness of disposition, that frank and affectionate demeanour, for which the Duke of St. James had been so remarkable in his early youth, and with the aid of which Lord Fitz-pompey had built so many Spanish castles, had quite disappeared.
Nothing could be more artificial, more conventional, more studied, than his whole deportment. In vain Lord Fitz-pompey pumped; the empty bucket invariably reminded him of his lost labour. In vain his Lordship laid his little diplomatic traps to catch a hint of the purposes or an intimation of the inclinations of his nephew; the bait was never seized. In vain the Earl affected unusual conviviality and boundless affection; the Duke sipped his claret and admired his pictures. Nothing would do. An air of habitual calm, a look of kind condescension, and an inclination to a smile, which never burst into a beam, announced that the Duke of St. James was perfectly satisfied with existence, and conscious that he was himself, of that existence, the most distinguished ornament. In fact, he was a sublime coxcomb; one of those rare characters whose finished manner and shrewd sense combined prevent their conceit from being contemptible. After many consultations it was determined between the aunt and uncle that it would be most prudent to affect a total non-interference with their nephew’s affairs, and in the meantime to trust to the goodness of Providence and the charms of Caroline.
Lady Fitz-pompey determined that the young Duke should make his debut at once, and at her house. Although it was yet January, she did not despair of collecting a select band of guests, Brahmins of the highest caste. Some choice spirits were in office, like her lord, and therefore in town; others were only passing through; but no one caught a flying-fish with more dexterity than the Countess. The notice was short, the whole was unstudied. It was a felicitous impromptu, and twenty guests were assembled, who were the Corinthian capitals of the temple of fashion.
There was the Premier, who was invited, not because he was a minister, but because he was a hero. There was another Duke not less celebrated, whose palace was a breathing shrine which sent forth the oracles of mode. True, he had ceased to be a young Duke; but he might be consoled for the vanished lustre of youth by the recollection that he had enjoyed it, and by the present inspiration of an accomplished manhood. There were the Prince and the Princess Protocoli: his Highness a first-rate diplomatist, unrivalled for his management of an opera; and his consort, with a countenance like Cleopatra and a tiara like a constellation, famed alike for her shawls and her snuff. There were Lord and Lady Bloomerly, who were the best friends on earth: my Lord a sportsman, but soft withal, his talk the Jockey Club, filtered through White’s; my Lady a little blue, and very beautiful. Their daughter, Lady Charlotte, rose by her mother’s side like a tall bud by a full-blown flower. There were the Viscountess Blaze, a peeress in her own right, and her daughter, Miss Blaze Dash-away, who, besides the glory of the future coronet, moved in all the confidence of independent thousands. There was the Marquess of Macaroni, who was at the same time a general, an ambassador, and a dandy; and who, if he had liked, could have worn twelve orders; but this day, being modest, only wore six. There, too, was the Marchioness, with a stomacher stiff with brilliants extracted from the snuff-boxes presented to her husband at a Congress.
There were Lord Sunium, who was not only a peer but a poet; and his lady, a Greek, who looked just finished by Phidias. There, too, was Pococurante, the epicurean and triple millionaire, who in a political country dared to despise politics, in the most aristocratic of kingdoms had refused nobility, and in a land which showers all its honours upon its cultivators invested his whole fortune in the funds. He lived in a retreat like the villa of Hadrian, and maintained himself in an elevated position chiefly by his wit and a little by his wealth. There, too, were his noble wife, thoroughbred to her fingers’ tips, and beaming like the evening star; and his son, who was an M.P., and thought his father a fool. In short, our party was no common party, but a band who formed the very core of civilisation; a high court of last appeal, whose word was a fiat, whose sign was a hint, whose stare was death, and sneer —— damnation!
The Graces befriend us! We have forgotten the most important personage. It is the first time in his life that Charles Annesley has been neglected. It will do him good.
Dandy has been voted vulgar, and beau is now the word. It may be doubted whether the revival will stand; and as for the exploded title, though it had its faults at first, the muse of Byron has made it not only English, but classical. Charles Annesley could hardly be called a dandy or a beau. There was nothing in his dress — though some mysterious arrangement in his costume, some rare simplicity, some curious happiness, always made it distinguished — there was nothing, however, in his dress, which could account for the influence which he exercised over the manners of his contemporaries. Charles Annesley was about thirty. He had inherited from his father, a younger brother, a small estate; and, though heir to a wealthy earldom, he had never abused what the world called ‘his prospects.’ Yet his establishment, his little house in Mayfair, his horses, his moderate stud at Melton, were all unique, and everything connected with him was unparalleled for its elegance, its invention, and its refinement. But his manner was his magic. His natural and subdued nonchalance, so different from the assumed non-emotion of a mere dandy; his coldness of heart, which was hereditary, not acquired; his cautious courage, and his unadulterated self-love, had permitted him to mingle much with mankind without being too deeply involved in the play of their passions; while his exquisite sense of the ridiculous quickly revealed those weaknesses to him which his delicate satire did not spare, even while it refrained from wounding. All feared, marry admired, and none hated him. He was too powerful not to dread, too dexterous not to admire, too superior to hate. Perhaps the great secret of his manner was his exquisite superciliousness, a quality which, of all, is the most difficult to manage. Even with his intimates he was never confidential, and perpetually assumed his public character with the private coterie which he loved to rule. On the whole, he was unlike any of the leading men of modern days, and rather reminded one of the fine gentlemen of our old brilliant comedy, the Dorimants, the Bellairs, and the Mirabels.
Charles Annesley was a member of the distinguished party who were this day to decide the fate of the young Duke. Let him come forward!
His Grace moved towards them, tall and elegant in figure, and with that air of affable dignity which becomes a noble, and which adorns a court; none of that affected indifference which seems to imply that nothing can compensate for the exertion of moving, and ‘which makes the dandy, while it mars the man.’ His large and somewhat sleepy grey eye, his clear complexion, his small mouth, his aquiline nose, his transparent forehead, his rich brown hair, and the delicacy of his extremities, presented, when combined, a very excellent specimen of that style of beauty for which the nobility of England are remarkable. Gentle, for he felt the importance of the tribunal, never loud, ready, yet a little reserved, he neither courted nor shunned examination. His finished manner, his experience of society, his pretensions to taste, the gaiety of his temper, and the liveliness of his imagination, gradually developed themselves with the developing hours.
The banquet was over: the Duke of St. James passed his examination with unqualified approval; and having been stamped at the mint of fashion as a sovereign of the brightest die, he was flung forth, like the rest of his golden brethren, to corrupt the society of which he was the brightest ornament.
THE morning after the initiatory dinner the young Duke drove to Hauteville House, his family mansion, situated in his family square. His Grace particularly prided himself on his knowledge of the arts; a taste for which, among other things, he intended to introduce into England. Nothing could exceed the horror with which he witnessed the exterior of his mansion, except the agony with which he paced through the interior.
‘Is this a palace?’ thought the young Duke; ‘this hospital a palace!’
He entered. The marble hall, the broad and lofty double staircase painted in fresco, were not unpromising, in spite of the dingy gilding; but with what a mixed feeling of wonder and disgust did the Duke roam through clusters of those queer chambers which in England are called drawing-rooms!
‘Where are the galleries, where the symmetrical saloons, where the lengthened suite, where the collateral cabinets, sacred to the statue of a nymph or the mistress of a painter, in which I have been customed to reside? What page would condescend to lounge in this ante-chamber? And is this gloomy vault, that you call a dining-room, to be my hall of Apollo? Order my carriage.’
The Duke sent immediately for Sir Carte Blanche, the successor, in England, of Sir Christopher Wren. His Grace communicated at the same time his misery and his grand views. Sir Carte was astonished with his Grace’s knowledge, and sympathised with his Grace’s feelings. He offered consolation and promised estimates. They came in due time. Hauteville House, in the drawing of the worthy Knight, might have been mistaken for the Louvre. Some adjoining mansions were, by some magical process for which Sir Carte was famous, to be cleared of their present occupiers, and the whole side of the square was in future to be the site of Hauteville House. The difficulty was great, but the object was greater. The expense, though the estimate made a bold assault on the half million, was a mere trifle, ‘considering.’ The Duke was delighted. He condescended to make a slight alteration in Sir Carte’s drawing, which Sir Carte affirmed to be a great improvement. Now it was Sir Carte’s turn to be delighted. The Duke was excited by his architect’s admiration, and gave him a dissertation on Schönbrunn.
Although Mr. Dacre had been disappointed in his hope of exercising a personal influence over the education of his ward, he had been more fortunate in his plans for the management of his ward’s property. Perhaps there never was an instance of the opportunities afforded by a long minority having been used to greater advantage. The estates had been increased and greatly improved, all and very heavy mortgages had been paid off, and the rents been fairly apportioned. Mr. Dacre, by his constant exertions and able dispositions since his return to England, also made up for the neglect with which an important point had been a little treated; and at no period had the parliamentary influence of the house of Hauteville been so extensive, so decided, and so well bottomed as when our hero became its chief.
In spite of his proverbial pride, it seemed that Mr. Dacre was determined not to be offended by the conduct of his ward. The Duke had not yet announced his arrival in England to his guardian; but about a month after that event he received a letter of congratulation from Mr. Dacre, who at the same time expressed a desire to resign a trust into his Grace’s hand which, he believed, had not been abused. The Duke, who rather dreaded an interview, wrote in return that he intended very shortly to visit Yorkshire, when he should have the pleasure of availing himself of the kind invitation to Castle Dacre; and having thus, as he thought, dexterously got rid of the old gentleman for the present, he took a ride with Lady Caroline St. Maurice.
PARLIAMENT assembled, the town filled, and every moment in the day of the Duke of St. James was occupied. Sir Carte and his tribe filled up the morning. Then there were endless visits to endless visitors; dressing; riding, chiefly with Lady Caroline; luncheons, and the bow window at White’s. Then came the evening with all its crash and glare; the banquet, the opera, and the ball.
The Duke of St. James took the oaths and his seat. He was introduced by Lord Fitz-pompey. He heard a debate. We laugh at such a thing, especially in the Upper House; but, on the whole, the affair is imposing, particularly if we take part in it. Lord Ex–Chamberlain thought the nation going on wrong, and he made a speech full of currency and constitution. Baron Deprivyseal seconded him with great effect, brief but bitter, satirical and sore. The Earl of Quarterday answered these, full of confidence in the nation and in himself. When the debate was getting heavy, Lord Snap jumped up to give them something light. The Lords do not encourage wit, and so are obliged to put up with pertness. But Viscount Memoir was very statesmanlike, and spouted a sort of universal history. Then there was Lord Ego, who vindicated his character, when nobody knew he had one, and explained his motives, because his auditors could not understand his acts. Then there was a maiden speech, so inaudible that it was doubted whether, after all, the young orator really did lose his virginity. In the end, up started the Premier, who, having nothing to say, was manly, and candid, and liberal; gave credit to his adversaries and took credit to himself, and then the motion was withdrawn.
While all this was going on, some made a note, some made a bet, some consulted a book, some their ease, some yawned, a few slept; yet, on the whole, there was an air about the assembly which can be witnessed in no other in Europe. Even the most indifferent looked as if he would come forward if the occasion should demand him, and the most imbecile as if he could serve his country if it required him. When a man raises his eyes from his bench and sees his ancestor in the tapestry, he begins to understand the pride of blood.
The young Duke had not experienced many weeks of his career before he began to sicken of living in an hotel. Hitherto he had not reaped any of the fruits of the termination of his minority. He was a cavalier seul, highly considered, truly, but yet a mere member of society. He had been this for years. This was not the existence to enjoy which he had hurried to England. He aspired to be society itself. In a word, his tastes were of the most magnificent description, and he sighed to be surrounded by a court. As Hauteville House, even with Sir Carte’s extraordinary exertions, could not be ready for his reception for three years, which to him appeared eternity, he determined to look about for an establishment. He was fortunate. A nobleman who possessed an hereditary mansion of the first class, and much too magnificent for his resources, suddenly became diplomatic, and accepted an embassy. The Duke of St. James took everything off his hands: house, furniture, wines, cooks, servants, horses. Sir Carte was sent in to touch up the gilding and make a few temporary improvements; and Lady Fitz-pompey pledged herself to organise the whole establishment ere the full season commenced and the early Easter had elapsed, which had now arrived.
It had arrived, and the young Duke had departed to his chief family seat, Hauteville Castle, in Yorkshire. He intended at the same time to fulfil his long-pledged engagement at Castle Dacre. He arrived at Hauteville amid the ringing of bells, the roasting of oxen, and the crackling of bonfires. The Castle, unlike most Yorkshire castles, was a Gothic edifice, ancient, vast, and strong; but it had received numerous additions in various styles of architecture, which were at the same time great sources of convenience and great violations of taste. The young Duke was seized with a violent desire to live in a genuine Gothic castle: each day his refined taste was outraged by discovering Roman windows and Grecian doors. He determined to emulate Windsor, and he sent for Sir Carte.
Sir Carte came as quick as thunder after lightning. He was immediately struck with Hauteville, particularly with its capabilities. It was a superb place, certainly, and might be rendered unrivalled. The situation seemed made for the pure Gothic. The left wing should decidedly be pulled down, and its site occupied by a Knight’s hall; the old terrace should be restored; the donjon keep should be raised, and a gallery, three hundred feet long, thrown through the body of the castle. Estimates, estimates, estimates! But the time? This was a greater point than the expense. Wonders should be done. There were now five hundred men working for Hauteville House; there should be a thousand for Hauteville Castle. Carte Blanche, Carte Blanche, Carte Blanche!
On his arrival in Yorkshire the Duke had learnt that the Dacres were in Norfolk on a visit. As the Castle was some miles off, he saw no necessity to make a useless exertion, and so he sent his jäger with his card. He had now been ten days in his native county. It was dull, and he was restless. He missed the excitement of perpetual admiration, and his eye drooped for constant glitter. He suddenly returned to town, just when the county had flattered itself that he was about to appoint his public days.
EASTER was over, the sun shone, the world was mad, and the young Duke made his début at Almack’s. He determined to prove that he had profited by a winter at Vienna. His dancing was declared consummate. He galloped with grace and waltzed with vigour. It was difficult to decide which was more admirable, the elegance of his prance or the precision of his whirl. A fat Russian Prince, a lean Austrian Count, a little German Baron, who, somehow or other, always contrived to be the most marked characters of the evening, disappeared in despair.
There was a lady in the room who attracted the notice of our hero. She was a remarkable personage. There are some sorts of beauty which defy description, and almost scrutiny. Some faces rise upon us in the tumult of life like stars from out the sea, or as if they had moved out of a picture. Our first impression is anything but fleshly. We are struck dumb, we gasp, our limbs quiver, a faintness glides over our frame, we are awed; instead of gazing upon the apparition, we avert the eyes, which yet will feed upon its beauty. A strange sort of unearthly pain mixes with the intense pleasure. And not till, with a struggle, we call back to our memory the commonplaces of existence, can we recover our commonplace demeanour. These, indeed, are rare visions, early feelings, when our young existence leaps with its mountain torrents; but as the river of our life rolls on, our eyes grow dimmer or our blood more cold.
Some effect of this kind was produced on the Duke of St. James by the unknown dame. He turned away his head to collect his senses. His eyes again rally; and this time, being prepared, he was more successful in his observations.
The lady was standing against the wall; a young man was addressing some remarks to her which apparently were not very interesting. She was tall and young, and, as her tiara betokened, married; dazzling fair, but without colour; with locks like night and features delicate, but precisely defined. Yet all this did not at first challenge the observation of the young Duke. It was the general and peculiar expression of her countenance which had caused in him such emotion. There was an expression of resignation, or repose, or sorrow, or serenity, which in these excited chambers was strange, and singular, and lone. She gazed like some genius invisible to the crowd, and mourning over its degradation.
He stopped St. Maurice, as his cousin passed by, to inquire her name, and learnt that she was Lady Aphrodite Grafton, the wife of Sir Lucius Grafton.
‘What, Lucy Grafton!’ exclaimed the Duke. ‘I remember; I was his fag at Eton. He was a handsome dog; but I doubt whether he deserves such a wife. Introduce me.’
Lady Aphrodite received our hero with a gentle bow, and did not seem quite as impressed with his importance as most of those to whom he had been presented in the course of the evening. The Duke had considerable tact with women, and soon perceived that the common topics of a hack flirtation would not do in the present case. He was therefore mild and modest, rather piquant, somewhat rational, and apparently perfectly unaffected. Her Ladyship’s reserve wore away. She refused to dance, but conversed with more animation. The Duke did not leave her side. The women began to stare, the men to bet: Lady Aphrodite against the field. In vain his Grace laid a thousand plans to arrange a tea-room tête-à-tête. He was unsuccessful. As he was about to return to the charge her Ladyship desired a passer-by to summon her carriage. No time was to be lost. The Duke began to talk hard about his old friend and schoolfellow, Sir Lucius. A greenhorn would have thought it madness to take an interest in such a person of all others; but women like you to enter their house as their husband’s friend. Lady Aphrodite could not refrain from expressing her conviction that Sir Lucius would be most happy to renew his acquaintance with the Duke of St. James, and the Duke of St. James immediately said that he would take the earliest opportunity of giving him that pleasure.
SIR LUCIUS GRAFTON was five or six years older than the Duke of St. James, although he had been his contemporary at Eton. He, too, had been a minor, and had inherited an estate capable of supporting the becoming dignity of an ancient family. In appearance he was an Antinous. There was, however, an expression of firmness, almost of ferocity, about his mouth, which quite prevented his countenance from being effeminate, and broke the dreamy voluptuousness of the rest of his features. In mind he was a roué. Devoted to pleasure, he had racked the goblet at an early age; and before he was five-and-twenty procured for himself a reputation which made all women dread and some men shun him. In the very wildest moment of his career, when he was almost marked like Cain, he had met Lady Aphrodite Maltravers. She was the daughter of a nobleman who justly prided himself, in a degenerate age, on the virtue of his house. Nature, as if in recompense for his goodness, had showered all her blessings on his only daughter. Never was daughter more devoted to a widowed sire; never was woman influenced by principles of purer morality.
This was the woman who inspired Sir Lucius Grafton with an ungovernable passion. Despairing of success by any other method, conscious that, sooner or later, he must, for family considerations, propagate future baronets of the name of Grafton, he determined to solicit her hand. But for him to obtain it, he was well aware, was difficult. Confident in his person, his consummate knowledge of the female character, and his unrivalled powers of dissimulation, Sir Lucius arranged his dispositions. The daughter feared, the father hated him. There was indeed much to be done; but the remembrance of a thousand triumphs supported the adventurer. Lady Aphrodite was at length persuaded that she alone could confirm the reformation which she alone had originated. She yielded to a passion which her love of virtue had alone kept in subjection. Sir Lucius and Lady Aphrodite knelt at the feet of the old Earl. The tears of his daughter, ay! and of his future son-in-law — for Sir Lucius knew when to weep — were too much for his kind and generous heart. He gave them his blessing, which faltered on his tongue.
A year had not elapsed ere Lady Aphrodite woke to all the wildness of a deluded woman. The idol on whom she had lavished all the incense of her innocent affections became every day less like a true divinity. At length even the ingenuity of a passion could no longer disguise the hideous and bitter truth. She was no longer loved. She thought of her father. Ah, what was the madness of her memory!
The agony of her mind disappointed her husband’s hope of an heir, and the promise was never renewed.
In vain she remonstrated with the being to whom she was devoted: in vain she sought by meek endurance again to melt his heart. It was cold; it was callous. Most women would have endeavoured to recover their lost influence by different tactics; some, perhaps, would have forgotten their mortification in their revenge. But Lady Aphrodite had been the victim of passion, and now was its slave. She could not dissemble.
Not so her spouse. Sir Lucius knew too well the value of a good character to part very easily with that which he had so unexpectedly regained. Whatever were his excesses, they were prudent ones. He felt that boyhood could alone excuse the folly of glorying in vice; and he knew that, to respect virtue, it was not absolutely necessary to be virtuous. No one was, apparently, more choice in his companions than Sir Lucius Grafton; no husband was seen oftener with his wife; no one paid more respect to age, or knew better when to wear a grave countenance. The world praised the magical influence of Lady Aphrodite; and Lady Aphrodite, in private, wept over her misery. In public she made an effort to conceal all she felt; and, as it is a great inducement to every woman to conceal that she is neglected by the man whom she adores, her effort was not unsuccessful. Yet her countenance might indicate that she was little interested in the scene in which she mixed. She was too proud to weep, but too sad to smile. Elegant and lone, she stood among her crushed and lovely hopes like a column amid the ruins of a beautiful temple.
The world declared that Lady Aphrodite was desperately virtuous, and the world was right. A thousand fireflies had sparkled round this myrtle, and its fresh and verdant hue was still unsullied and unscorched. Not a very accurate image, but pretty; and those who have watched a glancing shower of these glittering insects will confess that, poetically, the bush might burn. The truth is, that Lady Aphrodite still trembled when she recalled the early anguish of her broken sleep of love, and had not courage enough to hope that she might dream again. Like the old Hebrews, she had been so chastened for her wild idolatry that she dared not again raise an image to animate the wilderness of her existence. Man she at the same time feared and despised. Compared with her husband, all who surrounded her were, she felt, in appearance inferior, and were, she believed, in mind the same.
We know not how it is, but love at first sight is a subject of constant ridicule; but, somehow, we suspect that it has more to do with the affairs of this world than the world is willing to own. Eyes meet which have never met before, and glances thrill with expression which is strange. We contrast these pleasant sights and new emotions with hackneyed objects and worn sensations. Another glance and another thrill, and we spring into each other’s arms. What can be more natural?
Ah, that we should awake so often to truth so bitter! Ah, that charm by charm should evaporate from the talisman which had enchanted our existence!
And so it was with this sweet woman, whose feelings grow under the pen. She had repaired to a splendid assembly to play her splendid part with the consciousness of misery, without the expectation of hope. She awaited without interest the routine which had been so often uninteresting; she viewed without emotion the characters which had never moved. A stranger suddenly appeared upon the stage, fresh as the morning dew, and glittering like the morning star. All eyes await, all tongues applaud him. His step is grace, his countenance hope, his voice music! And was such a being born only to deceive and be deceived? Was he to run the same false, palling, ruinous career which had filled so many hearts with bitterness and dimmed the radiancy of so many eyes? Never! The nobility of his soul spoke from his glancing eye, and treated the foul suspicion with scorn. Ah, would that she had such a brother to warn, to guide, to love!
So felt the Lady Aphrodite! So felt; we will not say so reasoned. When once a woman allows an idea to touch her heart, it is miraculous with what rapidity the idea is fathered by her brain. All her experience, all her anguish, all her despair, vanished like a long frost, in an instant, and in a night. She felt a delicious conviction that a knight had at length come to her rescue, a hero worthy of an adventure so admirable. The image of the young Duke filled her whole mind; she had no ear for others’ voices; she mused on his idea with the rapture of a votary on the mysteries of a new faith.
Yet strange, when he at length approached her, when he addressed her, when she replied to that mouth which had fascinated even before it had spoken, she was cold, reserved, constrained. Some talk of the burning cheek and the flashing eye of passion; but a wise man would not, perhaps, despair of the heroine who, when he approaches her, treats him almost with scorn, and trembles while she affects to disregard him.
Lady Aphrodite has returned home: she hurries to her apartment, she falls in a sweet reverie, her head leans upon her hand. Her soubrette, a pretty and chattering Swiss, whose republican virtue had been corrupted by Paris, as Rome by Corinth, endeavours to divert Mer lady’s ennui: she excruciates her beautiful mistress with tattle about the admiration of Lord B——— and the sighs of Sir Harry. Her Ladyship reprimands her for her levity, and the soubrette, grown sullen, revenges herself for her mistress’s reproof by converting the sleepy process of brushing into lively torture.
The Duke of St. James called upon Lady Aphrodite Grafton the next day, and at an hour when he trusted to find her alone. He was not disappointed. More than once the silver-tongued pendule sounded during that somewhat protracted but most agreeable visit. He was, indeed, greatly interested by her, but he was an habitual gallant, and always began by feigning more than he felt. She, on the contrary, who was really in love, feigned much less. Yet she was no longer constrained, though calm. Fluent, and even gay, she talked as well as listened, and her repartees more than once called forth the resources of her guest. She displayed a delicate and even luxurious taste, not only in her conversation, but (the Duke observed it with delight) in her costume. She had a passion for music and for flowers; she sang a romance, and she gave him a rose. He retired perfectly fascinated.
SIR LUCIUS GRAFTON called on the Duke of St. James. They did not immediately swear an eternal friendship, but they greeted each other with considerable warmth, talked of old times and old companions, and compared their former sensations with their present. No one could be a more agreeable companion than Sir Lucius, and this day he left a very favourable impression with his young friend. From this day, too, the Duke’s visits at the Baronet’s were frequent; and as the Graftons were intimate with the Fitz-pompeys, scarcely a day elapsed without his having the pleasure of passing a portion of it in the company of Lady Aphrodite: his attentions to her were marked, and sometimes mentioned. Lord Fitz-pompey was rather in a flutter. George did not ride so often with Caroline, and never alone with her. This was disagreeable; but the Earl was a man of the world, and a sanguine man withal. These things will happen. It is of no use to quarrel with the wind; and, for his part, he was not sorry that he had the honour of the Grafton acquaintance; it secured Caroline her cousin’s company; and as for the liaison, if there were one, why it must end, and probably the difficulty of terminating it might even hasten the catastrophe which he had so much at heart. ‘So, Laura, dearest! let the Graftons be asked to dinner.’
In one of those rides to which Caroline was not admitted, for Lady Aphrodite was present, the Duke of St. James took his way to the Regent’s Park, a wild sequestered spot, whither he invariably repaired when he did not wish to be noticed; for the inhabitants of this pretty suburb are a distinct race, and although their eyes are not unobserving, from their inability to speak the language of London they are unable to communicate their observations.
The spring sun was setting, and flung a crimson flush over the blue waters and the white houses. The scene was rather imposing, and reminded our hero of days of travel. A sudden thought struck him. Would it not be delightful to build a beautiful retreat in this sweet and retired land, and be able in an instant to fly from the formal magnificence of a London mansion? Lady Aphrodite was charmed with the idea; for the enamoured are always delighted with what is fanciful. The Duke determined immediately to convert the idea into an object. To lose no time was his grand motto. As he thought that Sir Carte had enough upon his hands, he determined to apply to an artist whose achievements had been greatly vaunted to him by a distinguished and noble judge.
M. Bijou de Millecolonnes, Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and member of the Academy of St. Luke’s, except in his title, was the antipodes of Sir Carte Blanche. Sir Carte was all solidity, solemnity, and correctness; Bijou de Millecolonnes all lightness, gaiety, and originality. Sir Carte was ever armed with the Parthenon, Palladio, and St. Peter’s; Bijou de Millecolonnes laughed at the ancients, called Palladio and Michel barbarians of the middle ages, and had himself invented an order. Bijou was not so plausible as Sir Carte; but he was infinitely more entertaining. Far from being servile, he allowed no one to talk but himself, and made his fortune by his elegant insolence. How singular it is that those who love servility are always the victims of impertinence!
Gaily did Bijou de Millecolonnes drive his pea-green cabriolet to the spot in question. He formed his plan in an instant. ‘The occasional retreat of a noble should be something picturesque and poetical. The mind should be led to voluptuousness by exquisite associations, as well as by the creations of art. It is thus their luxury is rendered more intense by the reminiscences that add past experience to present enjoyment! For instance, if you sail down a river, imitate the progress of Cleopatra. And here, here, where the opportunity is so ample, what think you of reviving the Alhambra?’
Splendid conception! The Duke already fancied himself a Caliph. ‘Lose no time, Chevalier! Dig, plant, build!’
Nine acres were obtained from the Woods and Forests; mounds were thrown up, shrubs thrown in; the paths emulated the serpent; the nine acres seemed interminable. All was surrounded by a paling eight feet high, that no one might pierce the mystery of the preparations.
A rumour was soon current that the Zoological Society intended to keep a Bengal tiger au naturel, and that they were contriving a residence which would amply compensate him for his native jungle. The Regent’s Park was in despair, the landlords lowered their rents, and the tenants petitioned the King. In a short time some hooded domes and some Saracenic spires rose to sight, and the truth was then made known that the young Duke of St. James was building a villa. The Regent’s Park was in rapture, the landlords raised their rents, and the tenants withdrew their petition.
MR. DACRE again wrote to the Duke of St. James. He regretted that he had been absent from home when his Grace had done him the honour of calling at Castle Dacre. Had he been aware of that intended gratification, he could with ease, and would with pleasure, have postponed his visit to Norfolk. He also regretted that it would not be in his power to visit London this season; and as he thought that no further time should be lost in resigning the trust with which he had been so honoured, he begged leave to forward his accounts to the Duke, and with them some notes which he believed would convey some not unimportant information to his Grace for the future management of his property. The young Duke took a rapid glance at the sum total of his rental, crammed all the papers into a cabinet with a determination to examine them the first opportunity, and then rolled off to a morning concert of which he was the patron.
The intended opportunity for the examination of the important papers was never caught, nor was it surprising that it escaped capture. It is difficult to conceive a career of more various, more constant, or more distracting excitement than that in which the Duke of St. James was now engaged. His life was an ocean of enjoyment, and each hour, like each wave, threw up its pearl. How dull was the ball in which he did not bound! How dim the banquet in which he did not glitter! His presence in the Gardens compensated for the want of flowers; his vision in the Park for the want of sun. In public breakfasts he was more indispensable than pine-apples; in private concerts more noticed than an absent prima donna. How fair was the dame on whom he smiled! How dark was the tradesman on whom he frowned! Think only of prime ministers and princes, to say nothing of princesses; nay! think only of managers of operas and French actors, to say nothing of French actresses; think only of jewellers, milliners, artists, horse-dealers, all the shoals who hurried for his sanction; think only of the two or three thousand civilised beings for whom all this population breathed, and who each of them had claims upon our hero’s notice! Think of the statesmen, who had so much to ask and so much to give; the dandies to feed with and to be fed; the dangerous dowagers and the desperate mothers; the widows, wild as early partridges; the budding virgins, mild as a summer cloud and soft as an opera hat! Think of the drony bores, with their dull hum; think of the chivalric guardsmen, with their horses to sell and their bills to discount; think of Willis, think of Crockford, think of White’s, think of Brooks’, and you may form a faint idea how the young Duke had to talk, and eat, and flirt, and cut, and pet, and patronise!
You think it impossible for one man to do all this. There is yet much behind. You may add to the catalogue Melton and Newmarket; and if to hunt without an appetite and to bet without an object will not sicken you, why, build a yacht!
The Duke of St. James gave his first grand entertainment for the season. It was like the assembly of the immortals at the first levee of Jove. All hurried to pay their devoirs to the young king of fashion; and each who succeeded in becoming a member of the Court felt as proud as a peer with a new title, or a baronet with an old one. An air of regal splendour, an almost imperial assumption, was observed in the arrangements of the fête. A troop of servants in rich liveries filled the hall; grooms lined the staircase; Spiridion, the Greek page, lounged on an ottoman in an ante-chamber, and, with the assistance of six young gentlemen in crimson-and-silver uniforms, announced the coming of the cherished guests. Cartloads of pine-apples were sent up from the Yorkshire Castle, and waggons of orange-trees from the Twickenham Villa.
A brilliant coterie, of which his Grace was a member, had amused themselves a few nights before by representing in costume the Court of Charles the First. They agreed this night to reappear in their splendid dresses; and the Duke, who was Villiers, supported his character, even to the gay shedding of a shower of diamonds. In his cap was observed an hereditary sapphire, which blazed like a volcano, and which was rumoured to be worth his rent-roll.
There was a short concert, at which the most celebrated Signora made her début; there was a single vaudeville, which a white satin play-bill, presented to each guest as they entered the temporary theatre, indicated to have been written for the occasion; there was a ball, in which was introduced a new dance. Nothing for a moment was allowed to lag. Longueurs were skilfully avoided, and the excitement was so rapid that every one had an appetite for supper.
A long gallery lined with bronzes and bijouterie, with cabinets and sculpture, with china and with paintings, all purchased for the future ornament of Hauteville House, and here stowed away in unpretending, but most artificial, confusion, offered accommodation to all the guests. To a table covered with gold, and placed in a magnificent tent upon the stage, his Grace loyally led two princes of the blood and a child of France. Madame de Protocoli, Lady Aphrodite Grafton, the Duchess of Shropshire, and Lady Fitz-pompey, shared the honours of the pavilion, and some might be excused for envying a party so brilliant and a situation so distinguished. Yet Lady Aphrodite was an unwilling member of it; and nothing but the personal solicitation of Sir Lucius would have induced her to consent to the wish of their host.
A pink carte succeeded to the satin play-bill. Vi-tellius might have been pleased with the banquet. Ah, how shall we describe those soups, which surely must have been the magical elixir! How paint those ortolans dressed by the inimitable artist, à la St. James, for the occasion, and which look so beautiful in death that they must surely have preferred such an euthanasia even to flying in the perfumed air of an Auso-nian heaven!
Sweet bird! though thou hast lost thy plumage, thou shalt fly to my mistress! Is it not better to be nibbled by her than mumbled by a cardinal? I, too, will feed on thy delicate beauty. Sweet bird! thy companion has fled to my mistress; and now thou shalt thrill the nerves of her master! Oh! doff, then, thy waistcoat of wine-leaves, pretty rover! and show me that bosom more delicious even than woman’s. What gushes of rapture! What a flavour! How peculiar! Even how sacred I Heaven at once sends both manna and quails. Another little wanderer! Pray follow my example! Allow me. All Paradise opens! Let me die eating ortolans to the sound of soft music!
Even the supper was brief, though brilliant; and again the cotillon and the quadrille, the waltz and the galoppe! At no moment of his life had the young Duke felt existence so intense. Wherever he turned his eye he found a responding glance of beauty and admiration; wherever he turned his ear the whispered tones were soft and sweet as summer winds. Each look was an offering, each word adoration! His soul dilated; the glory of the scene touched all his passions. He almost determined not again to mingle in society; but, like a monarch, merely to receive the world which worshipped him. The idea was sublime: was it even to him impracticable? In the midst of his splendour he fell into a reverie, and mused on his magnificence. He could no longer resist the conviction that he was a superior essence, even to all around him. The world seemed created solely for his enjoyment. Nor man nor woman could withstand him. From this hour he delivered himself up to a sublime selfishness. With all his passions and all his profusion, a callousness crept over his heart. His sympathy for those he believed his inferiors and his vassals was slight. Where we do not respect we soon cease to love; when we cease to love, virtue weeps and flies. His soul wandered in dreams of omnipotence.
This picture perhaps excites your dislike; perchance your contempt. Pause! Pity him! Pity his fatal youth!
THE Lady Aphrodite at first refused to sit in the Duke’s pavilion. Was she, then, in the habit of refusing? Let us not forget our Venus of the Waters. Shall we whisper where the young Duke first dared to hope? No, you shall guess. Je vous le donne en trois. The Gardens? The opera? The tea-room? No! no! no! You are conceiving a locality much more romantic. Already you have created the bower of a Parisina, where the waterfall is even more musical than the birds, more lulling than the evening winds; where all is pale, except the stars; all hushed, except their beating pulses! Will this do? No! What think you, then, of a Bazaar?
O thou wonderful nineteenth century! thou that believest in no miracles and doest so many, hast thou brought this, too, about, that ladies’ hearts should be won, and gentlemen’s also, not in courts of tourney or halls of revel, but over a counter and behind a stall? We are, indeed, a nation of shopkeepers!
The king of Otaheite, though a despot, was a reformer. He discovered that the eating of bread-fruit was a barbarous custom, which would infallibly prevent his people from being a great nation. He determined to introduce French rolls. A party rebelled; the despot was energetic; some were executed; the rest ejected. The vagabonds arrived in England. As they had been banished in opposition to French rolls, they were declared to be a British interest. They professed their admiration of civil and religious liberty, and also of a subscription. When they had drunk a great deal of punch, and spent all their money, they discovered that they had nothing to eat, and would infallibly have been starved, had not an Hibernian Marchioness, who had never been in Ireland, been exceedingly shocked that men should die of hunger; and so, being one of the bustlers, she got up a fancy sale and a Sandwich Isle Bazaar.
All the world was there and of course our hero. Never was the arrival of a comet watched by astronomers who had calculated its advent with more anxiety than was the appearance of the young Duke. Never did man pass through such dangers. It was the fiery ordeal. St. Anthony himself was not assailed by more temptations. Now he was saved from the lustre of a blonde face by the superior richness of a blonde lace. He would infallibly have been ravished by that ringlet had he not been nearly reduced by that ring which sparkled on a hand like the white cat’s. He was only preserved from his unprecedented dangers by their number. No, no! He had a better talisman: his conceit.
‘Ah, Lady Balmont!’ said his Grace to a smiling artist, who offered him one of her own drawings of a Swiss cottage, ‘for me to be a tenant, it must be love and a cottage!’
‘What! am I to buy this ring, Mrs. Abercroft? Point de jour. Oh! dreadful phrase! Allow me to present it to you, for you are the only one whom such words cannot make tremble.’
‘This chain, Lady Jemima, for my glass! It will teach me where to direct it.’
‘Ah! Mrs. Fitzroy!’ and he covered his face with affected fear. ‘Can you forgive me? Your beautiful note has been half an hour unanswered. The box is yours for Tuesday.’
He tried to pass the next stall with a smiling bow, but he could not escape. It was Lady de Courcy, a dowager, but not old. Once beautiful, her charms had not yet disappeared. She had a pair of glittering eyes, a skilfully-carmined cheek, and locks yet raven. Her eloquence made her now as conspicuous as once did her beauty. The young Duke was her constant object and her occasional victim. He hated above all things a talking woman; he dreaded above all others Lady de Courcy.
He could not shirk. She summoned him by name so loud that crowds of barbarians stared, and a man called to a woman, and said, ‘My dear! make haste; here’s a Duke!’
Lady de Courcy was prime confidant of the Irish Marchioness. She affected enthusiasm about the poor sufferers. She had learnt Otaheitan, she lectured about the bread-fruit, and she played upon a barbarous thrum-thrum, the only musical instrument in those savage wastes, ironically called the Society Islands, because there is no society. She was dreadful. The Duke in despair took out his purse, poured forth from the pink and silver delicacy, worked by the slender fingers of Lady Aphrodite, a shower of sovereigns, and fairly scampered off. At length he reached the lady of his heart.
‘I fear,’ said the young Duke with a smile, and in a soft sweet voice, ‘that you will never speak to me again, for I am a ruined man.’
A beam of gentle affection reprimanded him even for badinage on such a subject.
‘I really came here to buy up all your stock, but that gorgon, Lady de Courcy, captured me, and my ransom has sent me here free, but a beggar. I do not know a more ill-fated fellow than myself. Now, if you had only condescended to take me prisoner, I might have saved my money; for I should have kissed my chain.’
‘My chains, I fear, are neither very alluring nor very strong.’ She spoke with a thoughtful air, and he answered her only with his eye.
‘I must bear off something from your stall,’ he resumed in a more rapid and gayer tone, ‘and, as I cannot purchase you must present. Now for a gift!’
‘Your Grace is really spoiling my sale. See! poor Lord Bagshot. What a valuable purchaser.’
‘Ah! Bag, my boy!’ said the Duke to a slang young nobleman whom he abhorred, but of whom he sometimes made a butt, ‘am I in your way? Here! take this, and this, and this, and give me your purse. I’ll pay Lady Aphrodite.’ And so the Duke again showered some sovereigns, and returned the shrunken silk to its defrauded owner, who stared, and would have remonstrated, but the Duke turned his back upon him.
‘There now,’ he continued to Lady Aphrodite; ‘there is two hundred per cent, profit for you. You are not half a marchande. I will stand here and be your shopman. Well, Annesley,’ said he, as that dignitary passed, ‘what will you buy? I advise you to get a place. ‘Pon my soul, ’tis pleasant! Try Lady de Courcy. You know you are a favourite.’
‘I assure your Grace,’ said Mr. Annesley, speaking slowly, ‘that that story about Lady de Courcy is quite untrue and very rude. I never turn my back on any woman; only my heel. We are on the best possible terms. She is never to speak to me, and I am always to bow to her. But I really must purchase. Where did you get that glass-chain, St. James? Lady Afy, can you accommodate me?’
‘Here is one prettier! But are you near-sighted, too, Mr. Annesley?’
‘Very. I look upon a long-sighted man as a brute who, not being able to see with his mind, is obliged to see with his body. The price of this?’
‘A sovereign,’ said the Duke; ‘cheap; but we consider you as a friend.’
‘A sovereign! You consider me a young Duke rather. Two shillings, and that a severe price; a charitable price. Here is half-a-crown; give me sixpence. I was not a minor. Farewell! I go to the little Pomfret. She is a sweet flower, and I intend to wear her in my button-hole. Good-bye, Lady Afy!’
The gay morning had worn away, and St. James never left his fascinating position. Many a sweet and many a soft thing he uttered. Sometimes he was baffled, but never beaten, and always returned to the charge with spirit. He was confident, because he was reckless: the lady had less trust in herself, because she was anxious. Yet she combated well, and repressed the feelings which she could hardly conceal.
Many of her colleagues had already departed. She requested the Duke to look after her carriage. A bold plan suddenly occurred to him, and he executed it with rare courage and rarer felicity.
‘Lady Aphrodite Grafton’s carriage!’
‘Here, your Grace!’
‘Oh! go home. Your lady will return with Madame de Protocoli.’
He rejoined her.
‘I am sorry, that, by some blunder, your carriage has gone. What could you have told them?’
‘Impossible! How provoking! How stupid!’
‘Perhaps you told them that you would return with the Fitz-pompeys, but they are gone; or Mrs. Aberleigh, and she is not here; or perhaps — but they have gone too. Everyone has gone.’
‘What shall I do? How distressing! I had better send. Pray send; or I will ask Lady de Courcy.’
‘Oh! no, no! I really did not like to see you with her. As a favour — as a favour to me, I pray you not.’
‘What can I do? I must send. Let me beg your Grace to send.’
‘Certainly, certainly; but, ten to one, there will be some mistake. There always is some mistake when you send these strangers. And, besides, I forgot all this time my carriage is here. Let it take you home.’
‘Dearest Lady Aphrodite, do not distress yourself. I can wait here till the carriage returns, or I can walk; to be sure, I can walk. Pray, pray take the carriage! As a favour — as a favour to me!’
‘But I cannot bear you to walk. I know you dislike walking.’
‘Well, then, I will wait.’
‘Well, if it must be so; but I am ashamed to inconvenience you. How provoking of these men! Pray, then, tell the coachman to drive fast, that you may not have to wait. I declare there is scarcely a human being in the room; and those odd people are staring so!’
He pressed her arm as he led her to his carriage. She is in; and yet, before the door shuts, he lingers.
‘I shall certainly walk,’ said he. ‘I do not think the easterly wind will make me very ill. Good-bye! Oh, what a coup-devent!’
‘Let me get out, then; and pray, pray take the carriage. I would much sooner do anything than go in it. I would much rather walk. I am sure you will be ill!’
‘Not if I be with you.’
THERE was a brilliant levee, all stars and garters; and a splendid drawing-room, all plumes and séduisantes. Many a bright eye, as its owner fought his way down St. James’s Street, shot a wistful glance at the enchanted bow-window where the Duke and his usual companions, Sir Lucius, Charles Annesley, and Lord Squib, lounged and laughed, stretched themselves and sneered: many a bright eye, that for a moment pierced the futurity that painted her going in state as Duchess of St. James.
His Majesty summoned a dinner party, a rare but magnificent event, and the chief of the house of Hauteville appeared among the chosen vassals. This visit did the young Duke good; and a few more might have permanently cured the conceit which the present one momentarily calmed. His Grace saw the plate, and was filled with envy; his Grace listened to his Majesty, and was filled with admiration. O, father of thy people! if thou wouldst but look a little oftener on thy younger sons, their morals and their manners might be alike improved.
His Majesty, in the course of the evening, with his usual good-nature, signalled out for his notice the youngest, and not the least distinguished, of his guests. He complimented the young Duke on the accession to the ornaments of his court, and said, with a smile, that he had heard of conquests in foreign ones. The Duke accounted for his slight successes by reminding his Majesty that he had the honour of being his godson, and this he said in a slight and easy way, not smart or quick, or as a repartee to the royal observation; for ‘it is not decorous to bandy compliments with your Sovereign.’ His Majesty asked some questions about an Emperor or an Archduchess, and his Grace answered to the purpose, but short, and not too pointed. He listened rather than spoke, and smiled more assents than he uttered. The King was pleased with his young subject, and marked his approbation by conversing with that unrivalled affability which is gall to a Roundhead and inspiration to a Cavalier. There was a bon mot, which blazed with all the soft brilliancy of sheet lightning. What a contrast to the forky flashes of a regular wit! Then there was an anecdote of Sheridan — the royal Sheridaniana are not thrice-told tales — recounted with that curious felicity which has long stamped the illustrious narrator as a consummate raconteur. Then —— but the Duke knew when to withdraw; and he withdrew with renewed loyalty.
ONE day, looking in at his jeweller’s, to see some models of a shield and vases which were executing for him in gold, the young Duke met Lady Aphrodite and the Fitz-pompeys. Lady Aphrodite was speaking to the jeweller about her diamonds, which were to be reset for her approaching fête. The Duke took the ladies upstairs to look at the models, and while they were intent upon them and other curiosities, his absence for a moment was unperceived. He ran downstairs and caught Mr. Garnet.
‘Mr. Garnet! I think I saw Lady Aphrodite give you her diamonds?’ ‘Yes, your Grace.’
‘Are they valuable?’ in a careless tone. ‘Hum! pretty stones; very pretty stones, indeed. Few Baronets’ ladies have a prettier set; worth perhaps a 1000L.; say 1200L. Lady Aphrodite Grafton is not the Duchess of St. James, you know,’ said Mr. Garnet, as if he anticipated furnishing that future lady with a very different set of brilliants.
‘Mr. Garnet, you can do me the greatest favour.’ ‘Your Grace has only to command me at all times.’
‘Well, then, in a word, for time presses, can you contrive, without particularly altering — that is, without altering the general appearance of these diamonds — can you contrive to change the stones, and substitute the most valuable that you have; consistent, as I must impress upon you, with maintaining their general appearance as at present?’
‘The most valuable stones,’ musingly repeated Mr. Garnet; ‘general appearance as at present? Your Grace is aware that we may run up some thousands even in this set?’
‘I give you no limit.’
‘But the time,’ rejoined Mr. Garnet. ‘They must be ready for her Ladyship’s party. We shall be hard pressed. I am afraid of the time.’
‘Cannot the men work all night? Pay them anything.’
‘It shall be done, your Grace. Your Grace may command me in anything.’
‘This is a secret between us, Garnet. Your partners ———’
‘Shall know nothing. And as for myself, I am as close as an emerald in a seal-ring.’
HUSSEIN PACHA, ‘the favourite,’ not only of the Marquess of Mash, but of Tattersall’s, unaccountably sickened and died. His noble master, full of chagrin took to his bed, and followed his steed’s example. The death of the Marquess caused a vacancy in the stewardship of the approaching Doncaster. Sir Lucius Grafton was the other steward, and he proposed to the Duke of St. James, as he was a Yorkshireman, to become his colleague. His Grace, who wished to pay a compliment to his county, closed with the proposition. Sir Lucius was a first-rate jockey; his colleague was quite ignorant of the noble science in all its details; but that was of slight importance. The Baronet was to be the working partner, and do the business; the Duke the show member of the concern, and do the magnificence; as one banker, you may observe, lives always in Portland Place, reads the Court Journal all the morning, and has an opera-box, while his partner lodges in Lombard Street, thumbs a price-current, and only has a box at Clapham.
The young Duke, however, was ambitious of making a good book; and, with all the calm impetuosity which characterises a youthful Hauteville, determined to have a crack stud at once. So at Ascot, where he spent a few pleasant hours, dined at the Cottage, was caught in a shower, in return caught a cold, a slight influenza for a week, and all the world full of inquiries and anxiety; at Ascot, I say, he bought up all the winning horses at an average of three thousand guineas for each pair of ears. Sir Lucius stared, remonstrated, and, as his remonstrances were in vain, assisted him.
As people at the point of death often make a desperate rally, so this, the most brilliant of seasons, was even more lively as it nearer approached its end. The déjeûner and the villa fête the water party and the rambling ride, followed each other with the bright rapidity of the final scenes in a pantomime. Each dama seemed only inspired with the ambition of giving the last ball; and so numerous were the parties that the town really sometimes seemed illuminated. To breakfast at Twickenham, and to dine in Belgrave Square; to hear,’ or rather to honour, half an act of an opera; to campaign through half a dozen private balls, and to finish with a romp at the rooms, as after our wine we take a glass of liqueur; all this surely required the courage of an Alexander and the strength of a Hercules, and, indeed, cannot be achieved without the miraculous powers of a Joshua. So thought the young Duke, as with an excited mind and a whirling head he threw himself at half-past six o’clock on a couch which brought him no sleep.
Yet he recovered, and with the aid of the bath, the soda, and the coffee, and all the thousand remedies which a skilful valet has ever at hand, at three o’clock on the same day he rose and dressed, and in an hour was again at the illustrious bow-window, sneering with Charles Annesley, or laughing downright with Lord Squib.
The Duke of St. James gave a water party, and the astounded Thames swelled with pride as his broad breast bore on the ducal barges. St. Maurice, who was in the Guards, secured his band; and Lord Squib, who, though it was July, brought a furred great coat, secured himself. Lady Afy looked like Amphitrite, and Lady Caroline looked in love. They wandered in gardens like Calypso’s; they rambled over a villa which reminded them of Baise; they partook of a banquet which should have been described by Ariosto. All were delighted; they delivered themselves to the charms of an unrestrained gaiety. Even Charles Annesley laughed and romped.
This is the only mode in which public eating is essentially agreeable. A banqueting-hall is often the scene of exquisite pleasure; but that is not so much excited by the gratification of a delicate palate as by the magnificent effect of light and shade; by the beautiful women, the radiant jewels, the graceful costume, the rainbow glass, the glowing wines, the glorious plate. For the rest, all is too hot, too crowded, and too noisy, to catch a flavour; to analyse a combination, to dwell upon a gust. To eat, really to eat, one must eat alone, with a soft light, with simple furniture, an easy dress, and a single dish, at a time. Hours of bliss! Hours of virtue! for what is more virtuous than to be conscious of the blessings of a bountiful Nature? A good eater must be a good man; for a good eater must have a good digestion, and a good digestion depends upon a good conscience.
But to our tale. If we be dull, skip: time will fly, and beauty will fade, and wit grow dull, and even the season, although it seems, for the nonce, like the existence of Olympus, will nevertheless steal away. It is the hour when trade grows dull and tradesmen grow duller; it is the hour that Howell loveth not and Stultz cannot abide; though the first may be consoled by the ghosts of his departed millions of mouchoirs, and the second by the vision of coming millions of shooting-jackets. Oh, why that sigh, my gloomy Mr. Gunter? Oh, why that frown, my gentle Mrs. Grange?
One by one the great houses shut; shoal by shoal the little people sail away. Yet beauty lingers still. Still the magnet of a straggling ball attracts the remaining brilliants; still a lagging dinner, like a sumpter-mule on a march, is a mark for plunder. The Park, too, is not yet empty, and perhaps is even more fascinating; like a beauty in a consumption, who each day gets thinner and more fair. The young Duke remained to the last; for we linger about our first season, as we do about our first mistress, rather wearied, yet full of delightful reminiscences.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49