LADY APHRODITE and the Duke of St. James were for the first time parted; and with an absolute belief on the lady’s side, and an avowed conviction on the gentleman’s, that it was impossible to live asunder, they separated, her Ladyship shedding some temporary tears, and his Grace vowing eternal fidelity.
It was the crafty Lord Fitz-pompey who brought about this catastrophe. Having secured his nephew as a visitor to Malthorpe, by allowing him to believe that the Graftons would form part of the summer coterie, his Lordship took especial care that poor Lady Aphrodite should not be invited. ‘Once part them, once get him to Malthorpe alone,’ mused the experienced Peer, ‘and he will be emancipated. I am doing him, too, the greatest kindness. What would I have given, when a young man, to have had such an uncle!’
The Morning Post announced with a sigh the departure of the Duke of St. James to the splendid festivities of Malthorpe; and also apprised the world that Sir Lucius and Lady Aphrodite were entertaining a numerous and distinguished party at their seat, Cleve Park, Cambridgeshire.
There was a constant bustle kept up at Malthorpe, and the young Duke was hourly permitted to observe that, independent of all private feeling, it was impossible for the most distinguished nobleman to ally himself with a more considered family. There was a continual swell of guests dashing down and dashing away, like the ocean; brilliant as its foam, numerous as its waves. But there was one permanent inhabitant of this princely mansion far more interesting to our hero than the evanescent crowds who rose like bubbles, glittered, broke, and disappeared.
Once more wandering in that park of Malthorpe where had passed the innocent days of his boyhood, his thoughts naturally recurred to the sweet companion who had made even those hours of happiness more felicitous. Here they had rambled, here they had first tried their ponies, there they had nearly fallen, there he had quite saved her; here were the two very elms where St. Maurice made for them a swing, here was the very keeper’s cottage of which she had made for him a drawing, and which he still retained. Dear girl! And had she disappointed the romance of his boyhood; had the experience the want of which had allowed him then to be pleased so easily, had it taught him to be ashamed of those days of affection? Was she not now the most gentle, the most graceful, the most beautiful, the most kind? Was she not the most wife-like woman whose eyes had ever beamed with tenderness? Why, why not at once close a career which, though short, yet already could yield reminiscences which might satisfy the most craving admirer of excitement? But there was Lady Aphrodite; yet that must end. Alas! on his part, it had commenced in levity; he feared, on hers, it must terminate in anguish. Yet, though he loved his cousin; though he could not recall to his memory the woman who was more worthy of being his wife, he could not also conceal from himself that the feelings which impelled him were hardly so romantic as he thought should have inspired a youth of one-and-twenty when he mused on the woman he loved best. But he knew life, and he felt convinced that a mistress and a wife must always be different characters. A combination of passion with present respect and permanent affection he supposed to be the delusion of romance writers. He thought he must marry Caroline, partly because he must marry sooner or later; partly because he had never met a woman whom he had loved so much, and partly because he felt he should be miserable if her destiny in life were not, in some way or other, connected with his own. ‘Ah! if she had but been my sister!’
After a little more cogitation, the young Duke felt much inclined to make his cousin a Duchess; but time did not press. After Doncaster he must spend a few weeks at Cleve, and then he determined to come to an explanation with Lady Aphrodite. In the meantime, Lord Fitz-pompey secretly congratulated himself on his skilful policy, as he perceived his nephew daily more engrossed with his daughter. Lady Caroline, like all unaffected and accomplished women, was seen to great effect in the country.
There, while they feed their birds, tend their flowers, and tune their harp, and perform those more sacred, but not less pleasing, duties which become the daughter of a great proprietor, they favourably contrast with those more modish damsels who, the moment they are freed from the Park and from Willis’s, begin fighting for silver arrows and patronising county balls.
September came, and brought some relief to those who were suffering in the inferno of provincial ennui; but this is only the purgatory to the Paradise of battues. Yet September has its days of slaughter; and the young Duke gained some laurels, with the aid of friend Egg, friend Purdy, and Manton. And the Premier galloped down sixty miles in one morning. He sacked his cover, made a light bet with St. James on the favourite, lunched standing, and was off before night; for he had only three days’ holiday, and had to visit Lord Protest, Lord Content, and Lord Proxy. So, having knocked off four of his crack peers, he galloped back to London to flog up his secretaries.
And the young Duke was off too. He had promised to spend a week with Charles Annesley and Lord Squib, who had taken some Norfolk Baronet’s seat for the autumn, and while he was at Spa were thinning his preserves. It was a week! What fantastic dissipation! One day, the brains of three hundred hares made a pâté for Charles Annesley. Oh, Heliogabalus! you gained eternal fame for what is now ‘done in a corner!’
THE Carnival of the North at length arrived. All civilised eyes were on the most distinguished party of the most distinguished steward, who with his horse Sanspareil seemed to share universal favour. The French Princes and the Duke of Burlington; the Protocolis, and the Fitz-pompeys, and the Bloomerlys; the Duke and Duchess of Shropshire, and the three Ladies Wrekin, who might have passed for the Graces; Lord and Lady Vatican on a visit from Rome, his Lordship taking hints for a heat in the Corso, and her Ladyship, a classical beauty with a face like a cameo; St. Maurice, and Annesley, and Squib, composed the party. The Premier was expected, and there was murmur of an Archduke. Seven houses had been prepared, a party-wall knocked down to make a dining-room, the plate sent down from London, and venison and wine from Hauteville.
The assemblage exceeded in quantity and quality all preceding years, and the Hauteville arms, the Hauteville liveries, and the Hauteville outriders, beat all hollow in blazonry, and brilliancy, and number. The North countrymen were proud of their young Duke and his carriages and six, and longed for the Castle to be finished. Nothing could exceed the propriety of the arrangements, for Sir Lucius was an unrivalled hand, and, though a Newmarket man, gained universal approbation even in Yorkshire. Lady Aphrodite was all smiles and new liveries, and the Duke of St. James reined in his charger right often at her splendid equipage.
The day’s sport was over, and the evening’s sport begun, to a quiet man, who has no bet more heavy than a dozen pair of gloves, perhaps not the least amusing. Now came the numerous dinner-parties, none to be compared to that of the Duke of St. James. Lady Aphrodite was alone wanting, but she had to head the ménage of Sir Lucius. Every one has an appetite after a race: the Duke of Shropshire attacked the venison as Samson the Philistines; and the French princes, for once in their life, drank real champagne.
Yet all faces were not so serene as those of the party of Hauteville. Many a one felt that strange mixture of fear and exultation which precedes a battle. To-morrow was the dreaded St. Leger.
’Tis night, and the banquet is over, and all are hastening to the ball.
In spite of the brilliant crowd, the entrance of the Hauteville party made a sensation. It was the crowning ornament to the scene, the stamp of the sovereign, the lamp of the Pharos, the flag of the tower. The party dispersed, and the Duke, after joining a quadrille with Lady Caroline, wandered away to make himself generally popular.
As he was moving along, he turned his head; he started.
‘Ah!’ exclaimed his Grace.
The cause of this sudden and ungovernable exclamation can be no other than a woman. You are right. The lady who had excited it was advancing in a quadrille, some ten yards from her admirer. She was very young; that is to say, she had, perhaps, added a year or two to sweet seventeen, an addition which, while it does not deprive the sex of the early grace of girlhood, adorns them with that indefinable dignity which is necessary to constitute a perfect woman. She was not tall, but as she moved forward displayed a figure so exquisitely symmetrical that for a moment the Duke forgot to look at her face, and then her head was turned away; yet he was consoled a moment for his disappointment by watching the movements of a neck so white, and round, and long, and delicate, that it would have become Psyche, and might have inspired Praxiteles. Her face is again turning towards him. It stops too soon; yet his eye feeds upon the outline of a cheek not too full, yet promising of beauty, like hope of Paradise.
She turns her head, she throws around a glance, and two streams of liquid light pour from her hazel eyes on his. It was a rapid, graceful movement, unstudied as the motion of a fawn, and was in a moment withdrawn, yet was it long enough to stamp upon his memory a memorable countenance. Her face was quite oval, her nose delicately aquiline, and her high pure forehead like a Parian dome. The clear blood coursed under her transparent cheek, and increased the brilliancy of her dazzling eyes. His never left her. There was an expression of decision about her small mouth, an air of almost mockery in her curling lip, which, though in themselves wildly fascinating, strangely contrasted with all the beaming light and beneficent lustre of the upper part of her countenance. There was something, too, in the graceful but rather decided air with which she moved, that seemed to betoken her self-consciousness of her beauty or her rank; perhaps it might be her wit; for the Duke observed that while she scarcely smiled, and conversed with lips hardly parted, her companion, with whom she was evidently intimate, was almost constantly convulsed with laughter, although, as he never spoke, it was clearly not at his own jokes.
Was she married? Could it be? Impossible! Yet there was a richness in her costume which was not usual for unmarried women. A diamond arrow had pierced her clustering and auburn locks; she wore, indeed, no necklace; with such a neck it would have been sacrilege; no ear-rings, for her ears were too small for such a burthen; yet her girdle was of brilliants; and a diamond cross worthy of Belinda and her immortal bard hung upon her breast.
The Duke seized hold of the first person he knew: it was Lord Bagshot.
‘Tell me,’ he said, in the stern, low voice of a despot; ‘tell me who that creature is.’
‘Which creature?’ asked Lord Bagshot.
‘Booby! brute! Bag, that creature of light and love!’
‘What, my mother?’
‘Your mother! cub! cart-horse! answer me, or I will run you through.’
‘Who do you mean?’
‘There, there, dancing with that raw-boned youth with red hair.’
‘What, Lord St. Jerome! Lor! he is a Catholic. I never speak to them. My governor would be so savage.’
‘But the girl?’
‘Oh! the girl! Lor! she is a Catholic, too.’
‘But who is she?’
‘Lor! don’t you know?’
‘Speak, hound; speak!’
‘Lor! that is the beauty of the county; but then she is a Catholic. How shocking! Blow us all up as soon as look at us.’
‘If you do not tell me who she is directly, you shall never get into White’s. I will black-ball you regularly.’
‘Lor! man, don’t be in a passion. I will tell. But then I know you know all the time. You are joking. Everybody knows the beauty of the county; everybody knows May Dacre.’
‘May Dacre!’ said the Duke of St. James, as if he were shot.
‘Why, what is the matter now?’ asked Lord Bag-shot.
‘What, the daughter of Dacre of Castle Dacre?’ pursued his Grace.
‘The very same; the beauty of the county. Everybody knows May Dacre. I knew you knew her all the time. You did not take me in. Why, what is the matter?’
‘Nothing; get away!’
‘Civil! But you will remember your promise about White’s?’
‘Ay! ay! I shall remember you when you are proposed.’
‘Here, here is a business!’ soliloquized the young Duke. ‘May Dacre! What a fool I have been! Shall I shoot myself through the head, or embrace her on the spot? Lord St. Jerome, too! He seems mightily pleased. And my family have been voting for two centuries to emancipate this fellow! Curse his grinning face! I am decidedly anti-Catholic. But then she is a Catholic! I will turn Papist. Ah! there is Lucy. I want a counsellor.’
He turned to his fellow-steward. ‘Oh, Lucy! such a woman! such an incident!’
‘What! the inimitable Miss Dacre, I suppose. Everybody speaking of her; wherever I go, one subject of conversation. Burlington wanting to waltz with her, Charles Annesley being introduced, and Lady Bloomerly decidedly of opinion that she is the finest creature in the county. Well, have you danced with her?’
‘Danced, my dear fellow! Do not speak to me.’
‘What is the matter?’
‘The most diabolical matter that you ever heard of.’
‘I have not even been introduced.’
‘Well! come on at once.’
‘Are you mad?’
‘Worse than mad. Where is her father?’
‘I do. In a word, my dear Lucy, her father is that guardian whom I have perhaps mentioned to you, and to whom I have behaved so delicately.’
‘Why! I thought your guardian was an old curmudgeon.’
‘What does that signify, with such a daughter!’
‘Oh! here is some mistake. This is the only child of Dacre of Castle Dacre, a most delightful fellow; one of the first fellows in the county; I was introduced to him today on the course. I thought you knew them. You were admiring his outriders today, the green and silver.’
‘Why, Bag told me they were old Lord Sunderland’s.’
‘Bag! How can you believe a word that booby says? He always has an answer. To-day, when Afy drove in, I asked Bag who she was, and he said it was his aunt, Lady de Courcy. I begged to be introduced, and took over the blushing Bag and presented him.’
‘But the father; the father, Lucy! How shall I get out of this scrape?’
‘Oh! put on a bold face. Here! give him this ring, and swear you procured it for him at Genoa, and then say that, now you are here, you will try his pheasants.’
‘My dear fellow, you always joke. I am in agony. Seriously, what shall I do?’
‘Why, seriously, be introduced to him, and do what you can.’
‘Which is he?’
‘At the extreme end, next to the very pretty woman, who, by-the-bye, I recommend to your notice: Mrs. Dallington Vere. She is amusing. I know her well. She is some sort of relation to your Dacres. I will present you to both at once.’
‘Why! I will think of it.’
‘Well, then! I must away. The two stewards knocking their heads together is rather out of character. Do you know it is raining hard? I am cursedly nervous about tomorrow.’
‘Pooh! pooh! If I could get through to-night, I should not care for tomorrow.’
AS SIR LUCIUS hurried off his colleague advanced towards the upper end of the room, and, taking up a position, made his observations, through the shooting figures of the dancers, on the dreaded Mr. Dacre. The late guardian of the Duke of St. James was in the perfection of manhood; perhaps five-and-forty by age; but his youth had lingered long. He was tall, thin, and elegant, with a mild and benevolent expression of countenance, not unmixed, however, with a little reserve, the ghost of youthly pride. Listening with polished and courtly bearing to the pretty Mrs. Dallington Vere, assenting occasionally to her piquant observations by a slight bow, or expressing his dissent by a still slighter smile, seldom himself speaking, yet always with that unembarrassed manner which makes a saying listened to, Mr. Dacre was altogether, in appearance, one of the most distinguished personages in this distinguished assembly. The young Duke fell into an attitude worthy of Hamlet: ‘This, then, is old Dacre! O deceitful Fitz-pompey! O silly St. James! Could I ever forget that tall, mild man, who now is perfectly fresh in my memory? Ah! that memory of mine; it has been greatly developed to-night. Would that I had cultivated that faculty with a little more zeal! But what am I to do? The case is urgent. What must the Dacres think of me? What must May Dacre think? On the course the whole day, and I the steward, and not conscious of the presence of the first family in the Riding! Fool, fool! Why, why did I accept an office for which I was totally unfitted? Why, why must I flirt away a whole morning with that silly Sophy Wrekin? An agreeable predicament, truly, this! What would I give now once more to be in St. James’s Street! Confound my Yorkshire estates! How they must dislike, how they must despise me! And now, truly, I am to be introduced to him! The Duke of St. James, Mr. Dacre! Mr. Dacre, the Duke of St. James! What an insult to all parties! How supremely ludicrous! What a mode of offering my gratitude to the man to whom I am under solemn and inconceivable obligations! A choice way, truly, to salute the bosom-friend of my sire, the guardian of my interests, the creator of my property, the fosterer of my orphan infancy! It is useless to conceal it; I am placed in the most disagreeable, the most inextricable situation. ‘Inextricable! Am I, then, the Duke of St. James? Am I that being who, two hours ago, thought that the world was formed alone for my enjoyment, and I quiver and shrink here like a common hind? Out, out on such craven cowardice! I am no Hauteville! I am bastard! Never! I will not be crushed. I will struggle with this emergency; I will conquer it. Now aid me, ye heroes of my house! On the sands of Palestine, on the plains of France, ye were not in a more difficult situation than is your descendant in a ball-room in his own county. My mind elevates itself to the occasion, my courage expands with the enterprise; I will right myself with these Dacres with honour, and without humiliation.’
The dancing ceased, the dancers disappeared. There was a blank between the Duke of St. James on one side of the broad room, and Mr. Dacre and those with whom he was conversing on the other. Many eyes were on his Grace, and he seized the opportunity to execute his purpose. He advanced across the chamber with the air of a young monarch greeting a victorious general. It seemed that, for a moment, his Majesty wished to destroy all difference of rank between himself and the man that he honoured. So studied and so inexpressibly graceful were his movements that the gaze of all around involuntarily fixed upon him. Mrs. Dallington Vere unconsciously refrained from speaking as he approached; and one or two, without actually knowing his purpose, made way. They seemed awed by his dignity, and shuffled behind Mr. Dacre, as if he were the only person who was the Duke’s match.
‘Mr. Dacre,’ said his Grace, in the softest but still audible tones, and he extended, at the same time, his hand; ‘Mr. Dacre, our first meeting should have been neither here nor thus; but you, who have excused so much, will pardon also this!’
Mr. Dacre, though a calm personage, was surprised by this sudden address. He could not doubt who was the speaker. He had left his ward a mere child. He saw before him the exact and breathing image of the heart-friend of his ancient days. He forgot all but the memory of a cherished friendship.
He was greatly affected; he pressed the offered hand; he advanced; he moved aside. The young Duke followed up his advantage, and, with an air of the greatest affection, placed Mr. Dacre’s arm in his own, and then bore off his prize in triumph.
Right skilfully did our hero avail himself of his advantage. He spoke, and he spoke with emotion. There is something inexpressibly captivating in the contrition of a youthful and a generous mind. Mr. Dacre and his late ward soon understood each other; for it was one of those meetings which sentiment makes sweet.
‘And now,’ said his Grace, ‘I have one more favour to ask, and that is the greatest: I wish to be recalled to the recollection of my oldest friend.’
Mr. Dacre led the Duke to his daughter; and the Earl of St. Jerome, who was still laughing at her side, rose.
‘The Duke of St. James, May, wishes to renew his acquaintance with you.’
She bowed in silence. Lord St. Jerome, who was the great oracle of the Yorkshire School, and who had betted desperately against the favourite, took Mr. Dacre aside to consult him about the rain, and the Duke of St. James dropped into his chair. That tongue, however, which had never failed him, for once was wanting. There was a momentary silence, which the lady would not break; and at last her companion broke it, and not felicitously.
‘I think there is nothing more delightful than meeting with old friends.’
‘Yes! that is the usual sentiment; but I half suspect that it is a commonplace, invented to cover our embarrassment under such circumstances; for, after all, “an old friend” so situated is a person whom we have not seen for many years, and most probably not cared to see.’
‘You are indeed severe.’
‘Oh! no. I think there is nothing more painful than parting with old friends; but when we have parted with them, I am half afraid they are lost.’
‘Absence, then, with you is fatal?’
‘Really, I never did part with any one I greatly loved; but I suppose it is with me as with most persons.’
‘Yet you have resided abroad, and for many years?’
‘Yes; but I was too young then to have many friends; and, in fact, I accompanied perhaps all that I possessed.’
‘How I regret that it was not in my power to accept your kind invitation to Dacre in the Spring!’
‘Oh! My father would have been very glad to see you; but we really are dull kind of people, not at all in your way, and I really do not think that you lost much amusement.’
‘What better amusement, what more interesting occupation, could I have had than to visit the place where I passed my earliest and my happiest hours? ’Tis nearly fifteen years since I was at Dacre.’
‘Except when you visited us at Easter. We regretted our loss.’
‘Ah! yes! except that,’ exclaimed the Duke, remembering his jäger’s call; ‘but that goes for nothing. I of course saw very little.’
‘Yet, I assure you, you made a great impression. So eminent a personage, of course, observes less than he himself is observed. We had a graphical description of you on our return, and a very accurate one, too; for I recognised your Grace to-night merely from the report of your visit.’
The Duke shot a shrewd glance at his companion’s face, but it betrayed no indication of badinage, and so, rather puzzled, he thought it best to put up with the parallel between himself and his servant. But Miss Dacre did not quit this agreeable subject with all that promptitude which he fondly anticipated.
‘Poor Lord St. Jerome,’ said she, ‘who is really the most unaffected person I know, has been complaining most bitterly of his deficiency in the air noble. He is mistaken for a groom perpetually; and once, he says, had a douceur presented to him in his character of an ostler. Your Grace must be proud of your advantage over him. You would have been gratified by the universal panegyric of our household. They, of course, you know, are proud of their young Duke, a real Yorkshire Duke, and they love to dwell upon your truly imposing appearance. As for myself, who am true Yorkshire also, I take the most honest pride in hearing them describe your elegant attitude, leaning back in your britzska, with your feet on the opposite cushions, your hat arranged aside with that air of undefinable grace characteristic of the Grand Seigneur, and, which is the last remnant of the feudal system, your reiterated orders to drive over an old woman. You did not even condescend to speak English, which made them quite enthusiastic —’
‘Oh, Miss Dacre, spare me!’
‘Spare you! I have heard of your Grace’s modesty; but this excessive sensibility, under well-earned praise, surprises me!’
‘But, Miss Dacre, you cannot indeed really believe that this vulgar ruffian, this grim scarecrow, this Guy Faux, was — was — myself.’
‘Not yourself! Really, I am a simple personage. I believe in my eyes and trust to my ears. I am at a loss for your meaning.’
‘I mean, then,’ said the Duke, who had gained time to rally, ‘that this monster was some impostor, who must have stolen my carriage, picked my pocket, and robbed me of my card, which, next to his reputation, is a man’s most delicate possession.’
‘Then you never called upon us?’
‘I blush to confess it, never; but I will call, in future, every day.’
‘Your ingenuousness really rivals your modesty.’
‘Now, after these confessions and compliments, may I suggest a waltz?’
‘No one is waltzing now.’
‘When the quadrille, then, is finished?’
‘Then I am engaged.’
‘After your engagement?’
‘That is indeed making a business of pleasure. I have just refused a similar request of your fellow-steward. We damsels shall soon be obliged to carry a book to enrol our engagements as well as our bets, if this system of reversionary dancing be any longer encouraged.’
‘But you must dance with me!’ said the Duke, imploringly.
‘Oh! you will stumble upon me in the course of the evening, and I shall probably be more fortunate.
I suppose you feel nervous about tomorrow?’
‘Not at all.’
‘Ah! I forgot. Your Grace’s horse is the favourite. Favourites always win.’
‘Have I a horse?’
‘Why, Lord St. Jerome says he doubts whether it be one.’
‘Lord St. Jerome seems a vastly amusing personage; and, as he is so often taken for an ostler, I have no doubt is an exceedingly good judge of horse-flesh.’
Miss Dacre smiled. It was that wild, but rather wicked, gleam which sometimes accompanies the indulgence of innocent malice. It seemed to insinuate, ‘I know you are piqued, and I enjoy it’ But here her hand was claimed for the waltz.
The young Duke remained musing.
‘There she swims away! By heavens! unrivalled! And there is Lady Afy and Burlington; grand, too. Yet there is something in this little Dacre which touches my fancy more. What is it? I think it is her impudence. That confounded scrape of Carlstein! I will cashier him tomorrow. Confound his airs! I think I got out of it pretty well. To-night, on the whole, has been a night of triumph; but if I do not waltz with the little Dacre I will only vote myself an ovation. But see, here comes Sir Lucius. Well! how fares my brother consul?’
‘I do not like this rain. I have been hedging with Hounslow, having previously set Bag at his worthy sire with a little information. We shall have a perfect swamp, and then it will be strength against speed; the old story. Damn the St. Leger. I am sick of it.’
‘Pooh! pooh! think of the little Dacre!’
‘Think of her, my dear fellow! I think of her too much. I should absolutely have diddled Hounslow, if it had not been for her confounded pretty face flitting about my stupid brain. I saw you speaking to Guardy. You managed that business well.’
‘Why, as I do all things, I flatter myself, Lucy. Do you know Lord St. Jerome?’
‘Verbally. We have exchanged monosyllables; but he is of the other set.’
‘He is cursedly familiar with the little Dacre. As the friend of her father, I think I shall interfere. Is there anything in it, think you?’
‘Oh! no; she is engaged to another.’
‘Engaged!’ said the Duke, absolutely turning pale.
‘Do you remember a Dacre at Eton?’
‘A Dacre at Eton!’ mused the Duke. At another time it would not have been in his power to have recalled the stranger to his memory; but this evening the train of association had been laid, and after struggling a moment with his mind he had the man. ‘To be sure I do: Arundel Dacre, an odd sort of a fellow; but he was my senior.’
‘Well, that is the man; a nephew of Guardy, and cousin, of course, to La Bellissima. He inherits, you know, all the property. She will not have a sou; but old Dacre, as you call him, has managed pretty well, and Monsieur Arundel is to compensate for the entail by presenting him with a grandson.’
‘The deuce, indeed! Often have I broken his head. Would that I had to a little more purpose!’
‘Let us do it now!’
‘He is not here, otherwise —— One dislikes a spooney to be successful.’
‘Where are our friends?’
‘Annesley with the Duchess, and Squib with the Duke at écarté.’
‘Success attend them both!’
TO FEEL that the possessions of an illustrious ancestry are about to slide from out your line for ever; that the numerous tenantry, who look up to you with the confiding eye that the most liberal parvenu cannot attract, will not count you among their lords; that the proud park, filled with the ancient and toppling trees that your fathers planted, will yield neither its glory nor its treasures to your seed, and that the old gallery, whose walls are hung with pictures more cherished than the collections of kings, will not breathe with your long posterity; all these are feelings sad and trying, and are among those daily pangs which moralists have forgotten in their catalogue of miseries, but which do not the less wear out those heart-strings at which they are so constantly tugging.
This was the situation of Mr. Dacre. The whole of his large property was entailed, and descended to his nephew, who was a Protestant; and yet, when he looked upon the blooming face of his enchanting daughter, he blessed the Providence which, after all his visitations, had doomed him to be the sire of a thing so lovely. An exile from her country at an early age, the education of May Dacre had been completed in a foreign land; yet the mingling bloods of Dacre and of Howard would not in a moment have permitted her to forget The inviolate island of the sage and free! even if the unceasing and ever-watchful exertions of her father had been wanting to make her worthy of so illustrious an ancestry.
But this, happily, was not the case; and to aid the development of the infant mind of his young child, to pour forth to her, as she grew in years and in reason, all the fruits of his own richly-cultivated intellect, was the solitary consolation of one over whose conscious head was impending the most awful of visitations. May Dacre was gifted with a mind which, even if her tutor had not been her father, would have rendered tuition a delight. Her lively imagination, which early unfolded itself; her dangerous yet interesting vivacity; the keen delight, the swift enthusiasm, with which she drank in knowledge, and then panted for more; her shrewd acuteness, and her innate passion for the excellent and the beautiful, filled her father with rapture which he repressed, and made him feel conscious how much there was to check, to guide, and to form, as well as to cherish, to admire, and to applaud.
As she grew up the bright parts of her character shone with increased lustre; but, in spite of the exertions of her instructor, some less admirable qualities had not yet disappeared. She was still too often the dupe of her imagination, and though perfectly inexperienced, her confidence in her theoretical knowledge of human nature was unbounded. She had an idea that she could penetrate the characters of individuals at a first meeting; and the consequence of this fatal axiom was, that she was always the slave of first impressions, and constantly the victim of prejudice. She was ever thinking individuals better or worse than they really were, and she believed it to be out of the power of anyone to deceive her. Constant attendance during many years on a dying and beloved mother, and her deeply religious feelings, had first broken, and then controlled, a spirit which nature had intended to be arrogant and haughty. Her father she adored; and she seemed to devote to him all that consideration which, with more common characters, is generally distributed among their acquaintance. We hint at her faults. How shall we describe her virtues? Her unbounded generosity, her dignified simplicity, her graceful frankness, her true nobility of thought and feeling, her firmness, her courage and her truth, her kindness to her inferiors, her constant charity, her devotion to her parents, her sympathy with sorrow, her detestation of oppression, her pure unsullied thoughts, her delicate taste, her deep religion. All these combined would have formed a delightful character, even if unaccompanied with such brilliant talents and such brilliant beauty. Accustomed from an early age to the converse of courts and the forms of the most polished circles, her manner became her blood, her beauty, and her mind. Yet she rather acted in unison with the spirit of society than obeyed its minutest decree. She violated etiquette with a wilful grace which made the outrage a precedent, and she mingled with princes without feeling her inferiority. Nature, and art, and fortune were the graces which had combined to form this girl. She was a jewel set in gold, and worn by a king.
Her creed had made her, in ancient Christendom, feel less an alien; but when she returned to that native country which she had never forgotten, she found that creed her degradation. Her indignant spirit clung with renewed ardour to the crushed altars of her faith; and not before those proud shrines where cardinals officiate, and a thousand acolytes fling their censers, had she bowed with half the abandonment of spirit with which she invoked the Virgin in her oratory at Dacre.
The recent death of her mother rendered Mr. Dacre and herself little inclined to enter society; and as they were both desirous of residing on that estate from which they had been so long and so unwillingly absent, they had not yet visited London. The greater part of their time had been passed chiefly in communication with those great Catholic families with whom the Dacres were allied, and to which they belonged. The modern race of the Howards and the Cliffords, the Talbots, the Arundels, and the Jerninghams, were not unworthy of their proud progenitors. Miss Dacre observed with respect, and assuredly with sympathy, the mild dignity, the noble patience, the proud humility, the calm hope, the uncompromising courage, with which her father and his friends sustained their oppression and lived as proscribed in the realm which they had created. Yet her lively fancy and gay spirit found less to admire in the feelings which influenced these families in their intercourse with the world, which induced them to foster but slight intimacies out of the pale of the proscribed, and which tinged their domestic life with that formal and gloomy colouring which ever accompanies a monotonous existence. Her disposition told her that all this affected non-interference with the business of society might be politic, but assuredly was not pleasant; her quick sense whispered to her it was unwise, and that it retarded, not advanced, the great result in which her sanguine temper dared often to indulge. Under any circumstances, it did not appear to her to be wisdom to second the efforts of their oppressors for their degradation or their misery, and to seek no consolation in the amiable feelings of their fellow-creatures for the stern rigour of their unsocial government. But, independently of all general principles, Miss Dacre could not but believe that it was the duty of the Catholic gentry to mix more with that world which so misconceived their spirit. Proud in her conscious knowledge of their exalted virtues, she felt that they had only to be known to be recognised as the worthy leaders of that nation which they had so often saved and never betrayed.
She did not conceal her opinions from the circle in which they had grown up. All the young members were her disciples, and were decidedly of opinion that if the House of Lords would but listen to May Dacre, emancipation would be a settled thing. Her logic would have destroyed Lord Liverpool’s arguments; her wit extinguished Lord Eldon’s jokes. But the elder members only shed a solemn smile, and blessed May Dacre’s shining eyes and sanguine spirit.
Her greatest supporter was Mrs. Dallington Vere. This lady was a distant relation of Mr. Dacre. At seventeen she, herself a Catholic, had married Mr. Dallington Vere, of Dallington House, a Catholic gentleman of considerable fortune, whose age resembled his wealth. No sooner had this incident taken place than did Mrs. Dallington Vere hurry to London, and soon evinced a most laudable determination to console herself for her husband’s political disabilities. Mrs. Dallington Vere went to Court; and Mrs. Dallington Vere gave suppers after the opera, and concerts which, in number and brilliancy, were only equalled by her balls. The dandies patronised her, and selected her for their Muse. The Duke of Shropshire betted on her always at écarté; and, to crown the whole affair, she made Mr. Dallington Vere lay claim to a dormant peerage. The women were all pique, the men all patronage. A Protestant minister was alarmed; and Lord Squib supposed that Mrs. Dallington must be the Scarlet Lady of whom they had heard so often.
Season after season she kept up the ball; and although, of course, she no longer made an equal sensation, she was not less brilliant, nor her position less eminent. She had got into the best set, and was more quiet, like a patriot in place. Never was there a gayer lady than Mrs. Dallington Vere, but never a more prudent one. Her virtue was only equalled by her discretion; but, as the odds were equal, Lord Squib betted on the last. People sometimes indeed did say — they always will — but what is talk? Mere breath. And reputation is marble, and iron, and sometimes brass; and so, you see, talk has no chance. They did say that Sir Lucius Grafton was about to enter into the Romish communion; but then it turned out that it was only to get a divorce from his wife, on the plea that she was a heretic.
The fact was, Mrs. Dallington Vere was a most successful woman, lucky in everything, lucky even in her husband; for he died. He did not only die; he left his whole fortune to his wife. Some said that his relations were going to set aside the will, on the plea that it was written with a crow-quill on pink paper; but this was false; it was only a codicil.
All eyes were on a very pretty woman, with fifteen thousand a year, and only twenty-three. The Duke of Shropshire wished he were disembarrassed. Such a player of écarté might double her income. Lord Raff advanced, trusting to his beard, and young Amadée de Rouerie mortgaged his dressing-case, and came post from Paris; but in spite of his sky-blue nether garments and his Hessians, he followed my Lord’s example, and recrossed the water. It is even said that Lord Squib was sentimental; but this must have been the malice of Charles Annesley.
All, however, failed. The truth is, Mrs. Dallington Vere had nothing to gain by reentering Paradise, which matrimony, of course, is; and so she determined to remain mistress of herself. She had gained fashion, and fortune, and rank; she was young, and she was pretty. She thought it might be possible for a discreet, experienced little lady to lead a very pleasant life without being assisted in her expenses or disturbed in her diversion by a gentleman who called himself her husband, occasionally asked her how she slept in a bed which he did not share, or munificently presented her with a necklace purchased with her own money. Discreet Mrs. Dallington Vere!
She had been absent from London during the past season, having taken it also into her head to travel.
She was equally admired and equally plotted for at Rome, at Paris, and at Vienna, as at London; but the bird had not been caught, and, flying away, left many a despairing prince and amorous count to muse over their lean visages and meagre incomes.
Dallington House made its fair mistress a neighbour of her relations, the Dacres. No one could be a more fascinating companion than Mrs. Dallington Vere. May Dacre read her character at once, and these ladies became great allies. She was to assist Miss Dacre in her plans for rousing their Catholic friends, as no one was better qualified to be her adjutant. Already they had commenced their operations, and balls at Dallington and Dacre, frequent, splendid, and various, had already made the Catholic houses the most eminent in the Riding, and their brilliant mistresses the heroines of all the youth.
IT RAINED all night without ceasing yet the morrow was serene. Nevertheless the odds had shifted. On the evening, thy had not been more than two to one against the first favourite, the Duke of St. James’s ch. c. Sanspareil, by Ne Plus Ultra; while they were five to one against the second favourite, Mr. Dash’s gr. c. The Dandy, by Banker, and nine and ten to one against the next in favour. This morning, however, affairs were altered. Mr. Dash and his Dandy were at the head of the poll; and as the owner rode his own horse, being a jockey and a fit rival for the Duke of St. James, his backers were sanguine. Sanspareil, was, however, the second favourite.
The Duke, however, was confident as an universal conqueror, and came on in his usual state, rode round the course, inspirited Lady Aphrodite, who was all anxiety, betted with Miss Dacre, and bowed to Mrs. Dallington.
There were more than ninety horses, and yet the start was fair. But the result? Pardon me! The fatal remembrance overpowers my pen. An effort and some Eau de Portingale, and I shall recover. The first favourite was never heard of, the second favourite was never seen after the distance post, all the ten-to-oners were in the rear, and a dark horse, which had never been thought of, and which the careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grand stand in sweeping triumph. The spectators were almost too surprised to cheer; but when the name of the winner was detected there was a deafening shout, particularly from the Yorkshiremen. The victor was the Earl of St. Jerome’s b. f. May Dacre, by Howard.
Conceive the confusion! Sanspareil was at last discovered, and immediately shipped off for Newmarket, as young gentlemen who get into scrapes are sent to travel. The Dukes of Burlington and Shropshire exchanged a few hundreds; the Duchess and Charles Annesley a few gloves. The consummate Lord Bloomerly, though a backer of the favourite, in compliment to his host, contrived to receive from all parties, and particularly from St. Maurice. The sweet little Wrekins were absolutely ruined. Sir Lucius looked blue, but he had hedged; and Lord Squib looked yellow, but some doubted. Lord Hounslow was done, and Lord Bagshot was diddled.
The Duke of St. James was perhaps the heaviest sufferer on the field, and certainly bore his losses the best. Had he seen the five-and-twenty thousand he was minus counted before him, he probably would have been staggered; but as it was, another crumb of his half-million was gone. The loss existed only in idea. It was really too trifling to think of, and he galloped up to Miss Dacre, and was among the warmest of her congratulators.
‘I would offer your Grace my sympathy for your congratulations,’ said Miss Dacre, in a rather amiable tone; ‘but’ (and here she resumed her air of mockery) ‘you are too great a man to be affected by so light a casualty. And, now that I recollect myself, did you run a horse?’
‘Why, no; the fault was, I believe, that he would not run; but Sanspareil is as great a hero as ever. He has only been conquered by the elements.’
The dinner at the Duke of St. James’s was this day more splendid even than the preceding. He was determined to show that the disappointment had produced no effect upon the temper of so imperial a personage as himself, and he invited several of the leading gentry to join his coterie. The Dacres were among the solicited; but they were, during the races, the guests of Mrs. Dallington Vere, whose seat was only a mile off, and therefore were unobtainable.
Blazed the plate, sparkled the wine, and the aromatic venison sent forth its odourous incense to the skies. The favourite cook had done wonders, though a Sanspareil pâté, on which he had been meditating for a week, was obliged to be suppressed, and was sent up as a tourte à la Bourbon, in compliment to his Royal Highness. It was a delightful party: all the stiffness of metropolitan society disappeared. All talked, and laughed, and ate, and drank; and the Protocolis and the French princes, who were most active members of a banquet, ceased sometimes, from want of breath, to moralize on the English character. The little Wrekins, with their well-acted lamentations over their losses, were capital; and Sophy nearly smiled and chattered her head this day into the reversion of the coronet of Fitz-pompey. May she succeed! For a wilder little partridge never yet flew. Caroline St. Maurice alone was sad, and would not be comforted; although St. James, observing her gloom, and guessing at its cause, had in private assured her that, far from losing, on the whole he was perhaps even a winner.
None, however, talked more agreeable nonsense and made a more elegant uproar than the Duke of St. James.
‘These young men,’ whispered Lord Squib to Annesley, ‘do not know the value of money. We must teach it them. I know too well; I find it very dear.’
If the old physicians are correct in considering from twenty-five to thirty-five as the period of lusty youth, Lord Squib was still a lusty youth, though a very corpulent one indeed. The carnival of his life, however, was nearly over, and probably the termination of the race-week might hail him a man. He was the best fellow in the world; short and sleek, half bald, and looked fifty; with a waist, however, which had not yet vanished, and where Art successfully controlled rebellious Nature, like the Austrians the Lombards. If he were not exactly a wit, he was still, however, full of unaffected fun, and threw out the results of a roué life with considerable ease and point. He had inherited a fair and peer-like property, which he had contrived to embarrass in so complicated and extraordinary a manner that he had been a ruined man for years, and yet lived well on an income allowed him by his creditors to manage his estate for their benefit. The joke was, he really managed it well. It was his hobby, and he prided himself especially upon his character as a man of business.
The banquet is certainly the best preparative for the ball, if its blessings be not abused, for then you get heavy. Your true votary of Terpsichore, and of him we only speak, requires, particularly in a land of easterly winds, which cut into his cab-head at every turn of every street, some previous process to make his blood set him an example in dancing. It is strong Burgundy and his sparkling sister champagne that make a race-ball always so amusing a divertissement. One enters the room with a gay elation which defies rule without violating etiquette, and in these county meetings there is a variety of character, and classes, and manners, which is interesting, and affords an agreeable contrast to those more brilliant and refined assemblies the members of which, being educated by exactly the same system and with exactly the same ideas, think, look, move, talk, dress, and even eat, alike; the only remarkable personage being a woman somewhat more beautiful than the beauties who surround her, and a man rather more original in his affectations than the puppies that surround him. The proof of the general dulness of polite circles is the great sensation that is always produced by a new face. The season always commences briskly, because there are so many. Ball, and dinner, and concert collect then plentiful votaries; but as we move on the dulness will develop itself, and then come the morning breakfast, and the water party, and the fête champêtre, all desperate attempts to produce variety with old materials, and to occasion a second effect by a cause which is already exhausted.
These philosophical remarks precede another introduction to the public ball-room at Doncaster. Mrs. Dallington Vere and Miss Dacre are walking arm in arm at the upper end of the room.
‘You are disappointed, love, about Arundel?’ said Mrs. Dallington.
‘Bitterly; I never counted on any event more certainly than on his return this summer.’
‘And why tarrieth the wanderer? unwillingly of course?’
‘Lord Darrell, who was to have gone over as Chargé d’affaires, has announced to his father the impossibility of his becoming a diplomatist, so our poor attaché suffers, and is obliged to bear the portefeuille ad interim.’
‘Does your cousin like Vienna?’
‘Not at all. He is a regular John Bull; and, if I am to judge from his correspondence, he will make an excellent ambassador in one sense, for I think his fidelity and his patriotism may be depended on. We seldom serve those whom we do not love; and, if I am to believe Arundel, there is neither a person nor a place on the whole Continent that affords him the least satisfaction.’
‘How singular, then, that he should have fixed on such a métier; but, I suppose, like other young men, his friends fixed for him?’
‘Not at all. No step could be less pleasing to my father than his leaving England; but Arundel is quite unmanageable, even by papa. He is the oddest but the dearest person in the world!’
‘He is very clever, is he not?’
‘I think so. I have no doubt he will distinguish himself, whatever career he runs; but he is so extremely singular in his manner that I do not think his general reputation harmonises with my private opinion.’
‘And will his visit to England be a long one?’
‘I hope that it will be a permanent one. I, you know, am his confidant, and entrusted with all his plans. If I succeed in arranging something according to his wishes, I hope that he will not again quit us.’
‘I pray you may, sweet! and wish, love, for your sake, that he would enter the room this moment.’
‘This is the most successful meeting, I should think, that ever was known at Doncaster,’ said Miss Dacre. ‘We are, at least, indebted to the Duke of St. James for a very agreeable party, to say nothing of all the gloves we have won.’
‘How do you like the Duke of Burlington?’
‘Much. There is a calm courtliness about him which I think very imposing. He is the only man I ever saw who, without being very young, was not an unfit companion for youth. And there is no affectation of juvenility about him. He involuntarily reminds you of youth, as an empty orchestra does of music.’
‘I shall tell him this. He is already your devoted; and I have no doubt that, inspired at the same time by your universal charms and our universal hints, I shall soon hail you Duchess of Burlington. Don Arundel will repent his diplomacy.’
‘I thought I was to be another Duchess this morning.’
‘You deserve to be a triple one. But dream not of the unhappy patron of Sanspareil. There is something in his eyes which tells me he is not a marrying man.’
There was a momentary pause, and Miss Dacre spoke.
‘I like his brother steward, Bertha. Sir Lucius is witty and candid. It is an agreeable thing to see a man who had been so gay, and who has had so many temptations to be gay, turn into a regular domestic character, without losing any of those qualities which made him an ornament to society. When men of the world terminate their career as prudently as Sir Lucius, I observe that they are always amusing companions, because they are perfectly unaffected.’
‘No one is more unaffected than Lucius Grafton. I am quite happy to find you like him; for he is an old friend of mine, and I know that he has a good heart.’
‘I like him especially because he likes you.’
‘He introduced me to Lady Afy. I perceive that she is very attached to her husband.’
‘Lady Afy is a charming woman. I know no woman so truly elegant as Lady Afy. The young Duke, you know they say, greatly admires Lady Afy.’
‘Oh! does he? Well now, I should have thought her rather a sentimental and serious donna; one very unlikely ———’
‘Hush! here come two cavaliers.’
The Dukes of Burlington and St. James advanced.
‘We are attracted by observing two nymphs wandering in this desert,’ said his Grace of Burlington. This was the Burgundy.
‘And we wish to know whether there be any dragon to destroy, any ogre to devour, any magician to massacre, or how, when, and where we can testify our devotion to the ladies of our love,’ added his Grace of St. James. This was the champagne.
‘The age of chivalry is past,’ said Miss Dacre. ‘Bores have succeeded to dragons, and I have shivered too many lances in vain ever to hope for their extirpation; and as for enchantments ——’
‘They depend only upon yourself,’ gallantly interrupted the Duke of Burgundy. Psha! — Burlington.
‘Our spells are dissolved, our wands are sunk five fathom deep; we had retired to this solitude, and we were moralising,’ said Mrs. Dallington Vere.
‘Then you were doing an extremely useless and not very magnanimous thing,’ said the Duke of St. James; ‘for to moralise in a desert is no great exertion of philosophy. You should moralise in a drawing-room; and so let me propose our return to that world which must long have missed us. Let us do something to astound these elegant barbarians. Look at that young gentleman: how stiff he is! A Yorkshire Apollo! Look at that old lady; how elaborately she simpers! The Venus of the Riding! They absolutely attempt to flirt. Let us give them a gallop!’
He was advancing to salute this provincial couple; but his more mature companion repressed him.
‘Ah! I forgot,’ said the young Duke. ‘I am Yorkshire. If I were a western, like yourself, I might compromise my character. Your Grace monopolises the fun.’
‘I think you may safely attack them,’ said Miss Dacre. ‘I do not think you will be recognised. People entertain in this barbarous country, such vulgar, old-fashioned notions of a Duke of St. James, that I have not the least doubt your Grace might have a good deal of fun without being found out.’
‘There is no necessity,’ said the Duke, ‘to fly from Miss Dacre for amusement. By-the-bye, you make a good repartee. You must permit me to introduce you to my friend, Lord Squib. I am sure you would agree so.’
‘I have been introduced to Lord Squib.’
‘And you found him most amusing? Did he say anything which vindicates my appointment of him as my court jester?’
‘I found him modest. He endeavoured to excuse his errors by being your companion; and to prove his virtues by being mine.’
‘Treacherous Squib! I positively must call him out. Duke, bear him a cartel.’
‘The quarrel is ours, and must be decided here,’ said Mrs. Dallington Vere. ‘I second Miss Dacre.’
‘We are in the way of some good people here, I think,’ said the Duke of Burlington, who, though the most dignified, was the most considerate of men; ‘at least, here are a stray couple or two staring as if they wished us to understand we prevented a set.’
‘Let them stare,’ said the Duke of St. James; ‘we were made to be looked at. ’Tis our vocation, Hal, and they are gifted with vision purposely to behold us.’
‘Your Grace,’ said Miss Dacre, ‘reminds me of my old friend, Prince Rubarini, who told me one day that when he got up late he always gave orders to have the sun put back a couple of hours.’
‘And you, Miss Dacre, remind me of my old friend, the Duchess of Nevers, who told me one day that in the course of her experience she had only met one man who was her rival in repartee.’
‘And that man,’ asked Mrs. Vere.
‘Was your slave, Mrs. Dallington,’ said the young Duke, bowing profoundly, with his hand on his heart.
‘I remember she said the same thing to me,’ said the Duke of Burlington, ‘about ten years before.’
‘That was her grandmother, Burley,’ said the Duke of St. James.
‘Her grandmother!’ said Mrs. Dallington, exciting the contest.
‘Decidedly,’ said the young Duke. ‘I remember my friend always spoke of the Duke of Burlington as grandpapa.’
‘You will profit, I have no doubt, then, by the company of so venerable a friend,’ said Miss Dacre.
‘Why,’ said the young Duke, ‘I am not a believer in the perfectibility of the species; and you know, that when we come to a certain point ——’
‘We must despair of improvement,’ said the Duke of Burlington.
‘Your Grace came forward, like a true knight, to my rescue,’ said Miss Dacre, bowing to the Duke of Burlington.
‘Beauty can inspire miracles,’ said the Duke of St. James.
‘This young gentleman has been spoiled by travel, Miss Dacre,’ said the Duke of Burlington. ‘You have much to answer for, for he tells every one that you were his guardian.’
The eyes of Miss Dacre and the Duke of St. James met. He bowed with that graceful impudence which is, after all, the best explanation for every possible misunderstanding.
‘I always heard that the Duke of St. James was born of age,’ said Miss Dacre.
‘The report was rife on the Continent when I travelled,’ said Mrs. Dallington Vere.
‘That was only a poetical allegory, which veiled the precocious results of my fair tutor’s exertions.’
‘How discreet he is!’ said the Duke of Burlington. ‘You may tell immediately that he is two-and-forty.’
‘We are neither of us, though, off the pavé yet, Burlington; so what say you to inducing these inspiring muses to join the waltz which is just now commencing?’
The young Duke offered his hand to Miss Dacre, and, followed by their companions, they were in a few minutes lost in the waves of the waltzers.
THE gaieties of the race-week closed with a ball at Dallington House. As the pretty mistress of this proud mansion was acquainted with all the members of the ducal party, our hero and his noble band were among those who honoured it with their presence.
We really have had so many balls both in this and other as immortal works that, in a literary point of view, we think we must give up dancing; nor would we have introduced you to Dallington House if there had been no more serious business on hand than a flirtation with a lady or a lobster salad. Ah! why is not a little brief communion with the last as innocent as with the first?
Small feet are flitting in the mazy dance and music winds with inspiring harmony through halls whose lofty mirrors multiply beauty and add fresh lustre to the blazing lights. May Dacre there is wandering like a peri in Paradise, and Lady Aphrodite is glancing with her dazzling brow, yet an Asmodeus might detect an occasional gloom over her radiant face. It is but for an instant, yet it thrills. She looks like some favoured sultana, who muses for a moment amid her splendour on her early love.
And she, the sparkling mistress of this scene; say, where is she? Not among the dancers, though a more graceful form you could scarcely look upon; not even among her guests, though a more accomplished hostess it would be hard to find. Gaiety pours forth its flood, and all are thinking of themselves, or of some one sweeter even than self-consciousness, or else perhaps one absent might be missed.
Leaning on the arm of Sir Lucius Grafton, and shrouded in her cashmere, Mrs. Dallington Vere paces the terrace in earnest conversation.
‘If I fail in this,’ said Sir Lucius, ‘I shall be desperate. Fortune seems to have sent him for the very purpose. Think only of the state of affairs for a moment. After a thousand plots on my part; after having for the last two years never ceased my exertions to make her commit herself; when neither a love of pleasure, nor a love of revenge, nor the thoughtlessness to which women in her situation generally have recourse, produced the slightest effect; this stripling starts upon the stage, and in a moment the iceberg melts. Oh! I never shall forget the rapture of the moment when the faithful Lachen announced the miracle!’
‘But why not let the adventure take the usual course? You have your evidence, or you can get it. Finish the business. The exposés, to be sure, are disagreeable enough; but to be the talk of the town for a week is no great suffering. Go to Baden, drink the waters, and it will be forgotten. Surely this is an inconvenience not to be weighed for a moment against the great result.’
‘Believe me, my dearest friend, Lucy Grafton cares very little about the babble of the million, provided it do not obstruct him in his objects. Would to Heaven I could proceed in the summary and effectual mode you point out; but that I much doubt. There is about Afy, in spite of all her softness and humility, a strange spirit, a cursed courage or obstinacy, which sometimes has blazed out, when I have over-galled her, in a way half-awful. I confess I dread her standing at bay. I am in her power, and a divorce she could successfully oppose if I appeared to be the person who hastened the catastrophe and she were piqued to show that she would not fall an easy victim. No, no! I have a surer, though a more difficult, game. She is intoxicated with this boy. I will drive her into his arms.’
‘A probable result, forsooth! I do not think your genius has particularly brightened since we last met. I thought your letters were getting dull. You seem to forget that there is a third person to be consulted in this adventure. And why in the name of Doctors’ Commons, the Duke is to close his career by marrying a woman of whom, with your leave, he is already, if experience be not a dream, half-wearied, is really past my comprehension, although as Yorkshire, Lucy, I should not, you know, be the least apprehensive of mortals.’
‘I depend upon my unbounded influence over St. James.’
‘What! do you mean to recommend the step, then?’
‘Hear me! At present I am his confidential counsellor on all subjects ——’
‘Patience, fair dame; and I have hitherto imperceptibly, but efficiently, exerted my influence to prevent his getting entangled with any other nets.’
‘Point de moquerie! Listen. I depend further upon his perfect inexperience of women; for, in spite of his numerous gallantries, he has never yet had a grand passion, and is quite ignorant, even at this moment, how involved his feelings are with his mistress. He has not yet learnt the bitter lesson that, unless we despise a woman when we cease to love her, we are still a slave, without the consolement of intoxication. I depend further upon his strong feelings; for strong I perceive they are, with all his affectation; and on his weakness of character, which will allow him to be the dupe of his first great emotion. It is to prevent that explosion from taking place under any other roof than my own that I now require your advice and assistance; that advice and assistance which already have done so much for me. I like not this sudden and uncontemplated visit to Castle Dacre. I fear these Dacres; I fear the revulsion of his feelings. Above all, I fear that girl.’
‘But her cousin; is he not a talisman? She loves him.’
‘Pooh! a cousin! Is not the name an answer? She loves him as she loves her pony; because he was her companion when she was a child, and kissed her when they gathered strawberries together. The pallid, moonlight passion of a cousin, and an absent one, too, has but a sorry chance against the blazing beams that shoot from the eyes of a new lover. Would to Heaven that I had not to go down to my boobies at Cleve! I should like nothing better than to amuse myself an autumn at Dallington with the little Dacre, and put an end to such an unnatural and irreligious connection. She is a splendid creature! Bring her to town next season.’
‘But to the point. You wish me, I imagine, to act the same part with the lady as you have done with the gentleman. I am to step in, I suppose, as the confidential counsellor on all subjects of sweet May. I am to preserve her from a youth whose passions are so impetuous and whose principles are so unformed.’
‘Admirable Bertha! You read my thoughts.’
‘But suppose I endanger, instead of advance, your plans. Suppose, for instance, I captivate his Grace. As extraordinary things have happened, as you know. High place must be respected, and the coronet of a Duchess must not be despised.’
‘All considerations must yield to you, as do all men,’ said Sir Lucius, with ready gallantry, but not free from anxiety.
‘No, no; there is no danger of that. I am not going to play traitress to my system, even for the Duke of St. James; therefore, anything that occurs between us shall be merely an incident pour passer le temps seulement, and to preserve our young friend from the little Dacre. I have no doubt he will behave very well, and that I shall send him safe to Cleve Park in a fortnight with a good character. I would recommend you, however, not to encourage any unreasonable delay.’
‘Certainly not; but I must, of course, be guided by circumstances.’ Sir Lucius observed truly. There were other considerations besides getting rid of his spouse which cemented his friendship with the young Duke. It will be curious if lending a few thousands to the husband save our hero from the wife. There is no such thing as unmixed evil. A man who loses his money gains, at least, experience, and sometimes something better. But what the Duke of St. James gained is not yet to be told.
‘And you like Lachen?’ asked Mrs. Dallington.
‘I formed her with great care, but you must keep her in good humour.’
‘That is not difficult. Elle est très jolie; and pretty women, like yourself, are always good-natured.’
‘But has she really worked herself into the confidence of the virtuous Aphrodite?’
‘Entirely. And the humour is, that Lachen has persuaded her that Lachen herself is on the best possible terms with my confidential valet, and can make herself at all times mistress of her master’s secrets. So it is always in my power, apparently without taking the slightest interest in Afy’s conduct, to regulate it as I will. At present she believes that my affairs are in a distracted state, and that I intend to reside solely on the Continent, and to bear her off from her Cupidon. This thought haunts her rest, and hangs heavy on her waking mind. I think it will do the business.’
‘We have been too long absent. Let us return.’
‘I accompany you, my charming friend. What should I do without such an ally? I only wish that I could assist you in a manner equally friendly. Is there no obdurate hero who wants a confidential adviser to dilate upon your charms, or to counsel him to throw himself at your feet; or are that beautiful in face and lovely form, as they must always be, invincible?’
‘I assure you quite disembarrassed of any attentions whatever. But, I suppose, when I return to Athens, I must get Platonic again.’
‘Let me be the philosopher!’
‘No, no; we know each other too well. I have been free ever since that fatal affair of young Darrell, and travel has restored my spirits a little. They say his brother is just as handsome. He was expected at Vienna, but I could not meet him, although I suppose, as I made him a Viscount, I am rather popular than not with him.’
‘Pooh! pooh! think not of this. No one blames you. You are still a universal favourite. But I would recommend you, nevertheless, to take me as your cavalier.’
‘You are too generous, or too bold. No, man! I am tired of flirtation, and really think, for variety’s sake, I must fall in love. After all, there is nothing like the delicious dream, though it be but a dream. Spite of my discretion, I sometimes tremble lest I should end by making myself a fool, with some grand passion. You look serious. Fear not for the young Duke. He is a dazzling gentleman, but not a hero exactly to my taste.’
THE moment that was to dissolve the spell which had combined and enchanted so many thousands of human beings arrived. Nobles and nobodies, beauties and blacklegs, dispersed in all directions. The Duke of Burlington carried off the French princes and the Protocolis, the Bloomerlys and the Vaticans, to his Paradise of Marringworth. The Fitz-pompeys cantered off with the Shropshires; omen of felicity to the enamoured St. Maurice and the enamouring Sophy. Annesley and Squib returned to their pâtés. Sir Lucius and Lady Aphrodite, neither of them with tempers like summer skies, betook their way to Cambridgeshire, like Adam and Eve from the glorious garden. The Duke of St. James, after a hurried visit to London, found himself, at the beginning of October, on his way to Dacre.
As his carriage rolled on he revelled in delicious fancies. The young Duke built castles not only at Hauteville, but in less substantial regions. Reverie, in the flush of our warm youth, generally indulges in the future. We are always anticipating the next adventure and clothe the coming heroine with a rosy tint. When we advance a little on our limited journey, and an act or two of the comedy, the gayest in all probability, are over, the wizard Memory dethrones the witch Imagination, and ’tis the past on which the mind feeds in its musings. ’Tis then we ponder on each great result which has stolen on us without the labour of reflection; ’tis then we analyse emotions which, at the time, we could not comprehend, and probe the action which passion inspired, and which prejudice has hitherto defended. Alas! who can strike these occasional balances in life’s great ledger without a sigh! Alas! how little do they promise in favour of the great account! What whisperings of final bankruptcy! what a damnable consciousness of present insolvency! My friends! what a blunder is youth! Ah! why does Truth light her torch but to illume the ruined temple of our existence! Ah! why do we know we are men only to be conscious of our exhausted energies!
And yet there is a pleasure in a deal of judgment which your judicious man alone can understand. It is agreeable to see some younkers falling into the same traps which have broken our own shins; and, shipwrecked on the island of our hopes, one likes to mark a vessel go down full in sight. ’Tis demonstration that we are not branded as Cains among the favoured race of man. Then giving advice: that is delicious, and perhaps repays one all. It is a privilege your grey-haired signors solely can enjoy; but young men now-a-days may make some claims to it. And, after all, experience is a thing that all men praise. Bards sing its glories, and proud Philosophy has long elected it her favourite child. ’Tis the ‘rò Kaxàv’, in spite of all its ugliness, and the elixir vitæ, though we generally gain it with a shattered pulse.
No more! no more! it is a bitter cheat, the consolation of blunderers, the last refuge of expiring hopes, the forlorn battalion that is to capture the citadel of happiness; yet, yet impregnable! Oh! what is wisdom, and what is virtue, without youth! Talk not to me of knowledge of mankind; give, give me back the sunshine of the breast which they o’erclouded! Talk not to me of proud morality; oh! give me innocence!
Amid the ruins of eternal Rome I scribble pages lighter than the wind, and feed with fancies volumes which will be forgotten ere I can hear that they are even published. Yet am I not one insensible to the magic of my memorable abode, and I could pour my passion o’er the land; but I repress my thoughts, and beat their tide back to their hollow caves!
The ocean of my mind is calm, but dim, and ominous of storms that may arise. A cloud hangs heavy o’er the horizon’s verge, and veils the future. Even now a star appears, steals into light, and now again ’tis gone! I hear the proud swell of the growing waters; I hear the whispering of the wakening winds; but reason lays her trident on the cresting waves, and all again is hushed.
For I am one, though young, yet old enough to know ambition is a demon; and I fly from what I fear. And fame has eagle wings, and yet she mounts not so high as man’s desires. When all is gained, how little then is won! And yet to gain that little how much is lost! Let us once aspire and madness follows. Could we but drag the purple from the hero’s heart; could we but tear the laurel from the poet’s throbbing brain, and read their doubts, their dangers, their despair, we might learn a greater lesson than we shall ever acquire by musing over their exploits or their inspiration. Think of unrecognised Caesar, with his wasting youth, weeping over the Macedonian’s young career! Could Pharsalia compensate for those withering pangs? View the obscure Napoleon starving in the streets of Paris! What was St. Helena to the bitterness of such existence? The visions of past glory might illumine even that dark-imprisonment; but to be conscious that his supernatural energies might die away without creating their miracles: can the wheel or the rack rival the torture of such a suspicion? Lo! Byron bending o’er his shattered lyre, with inspiration in his very rage. And the pert taunt could sting even this child of light! To doubt of the truth of the creed in which you have been nurtured is not so terrific as to doubt respecting the intellectual vigour on whose strength you have staked your happiness. Yet these were mighty ones; perhaps the records of the world will not yield us threescore to be their mates! Then tremble, ye whose cheek glows too warmly at their names! Who would be more than man should fear lest he be less.
Yet there is hope, there should be happiness, for them, for all. Kind Nature, ever mild, extends her fond arms to her truant children, and breathes her words of solace. As we weep on her indulgent and maternal breast, the exhausted passions, one by one, expire like gladiators in yon huge pile that has made barbarity sublime. Yes! there is hope and joy; and it is here!
Where the breeze wanders through a perfumed sky, and where the beautiful sun illumines beauty.
On the poet’s farm and on the conqueror’s arch thy beam is lingering! It lingers on the shattered porticoes that once shrouded from thy o’erpowering glory the lords of earth; it lingers upon the ruined temples that even in their desolation are yet sacred! ’Tis gone, as if in sorrow! Yet the woody lake still blushes with thy warm kiss; and still thy rosy light tinges the pine that breaks the farthest heaven!
A heaven all light, all beauty, and all love! What marvel men should worship in these climes? And lo! a small and single cloud is sailing in the immaculate ether, burnished with twilight, like an Olympian chariot from above, with the fair vision of some graceful god!
It is the hour that poets love; but I crush thoughts that rise from out my mind, like nymphs from out their caves, when sets the sun. Yes, ’tis a blessing here to breathe and muse. And cold his clay, indeed, who does not yield to thy Ausonian beauty! Clime where the heart softens and the mind expands! Region of mellowed bliss! O most enchanting land!
But we are at the park gates.
They whirled along through a park which would have contained half a hundred of those Patagonian paddocks of modern times which have usurped the name. At length the young Duke was roused from his reverie by Carlstein, proud of his previous knowledge, leaning over and announcing —
‘Château de Dacre, your Grace!’
The Duke looked up. The sun, which had already set, had tinged with a dying crimson the eastern sky, against which rose a princely edifice. Castle Dacre was the erection of Vanbrugh, an imaginative artist, whose critics we wish no bitterer fate than not to live in his splendid creations. A spacious centre, richly ornamented, though broken, perhaps, into rather too much detail, was joined to wings of a corresponding magnificence by fanciful colonnades. A terrace, extending the whole front, was covered with orange trees, and many a statue, and many an obelisk, and many a temple, and many a fountain, were tinted with the warm twilight. The Duke did not view the forgotten scene of youth without emotion. It was a palace worthy of the heroine on whom he had been musing. The carriage gained the lofty portal. Luigi and Spiridion, who had preceded their master, were ready to receive the Duke, who was immediately ushered to the rooms prepared for his reception. He was later than he had intended, and no time was to be unnecessarily lost in his preparation for his appearance.
His Grace’s toilet was already prepared: the magical dressing-box had been unpacked, and the shrine for his devotions was covered with richly-cut bottles of all sizes, arranged in all the elegant combinations which the picturesque fancy of his valet could devise, adroitly intermixed with the golden instruments, the china vases, and the ivory and rosewood brushes, which were worthy even of Delcroix’s exquisite inventions.
The Duke of St. James was master of the art of dress, and consequently consummated that paramount operation with the decisive rapidity of one whose principles are settled. He was cognisant of all effects, could calculate in a second all consequences, and obtained his result with that promptitude and precision which stamp the great artist. For a moment he was plunged in profound abstraction, and at the same time stretched his legs after his drive. He then gave his orders with the decision of Wellington on the arrival of the Prussians, and the battle began.
His Grace had a taste for magnificence in costume; but he was handsome, young, and a duke. Pardon him. Yet today he was, on the whole, simple. Confident in a complexion whose pellucid lustre had not yielded to a season of dissipation, his Grace did not dread the want of relief which a white face, a white cravat, and a white waistcoat would seem to imply.
A hair chain set in diamonds, worn in memory of the absent Aphrodite, and to pique the present Dacre, is annexed to a glass, which reposes in the waistcoat pocket. This was the only weight that the Duke of St. James ever carried. It was a bore, but it was indispensable.
It is done. He stops one moment before the long pier-glass, and shoots a glance which would have read the mind of Talleyrand. It will do. He assumes the look, the air that befit the occasion: cordial, but dignified; sublime, but sweet. He descends like a deity from Olympus to a banquet of illustrious mortals.
MR. DACRE received him with affection: his daughter with a cordiality which he had never yet experienced from her. Though more simply dressed than when she first met his ardent gaze, her costume again charmed his practised eye. ‘It must be her shape,’ thought the young Duke; ‘it is magical!’
The rooms were full of various guests, and some of these were presented to his Grace, who was, of course, an object of universal notice, but particularly by those persons who pretended not to be aware of his entrance. The party assembled at Castle Dacre consisted of some thirty or forty persons, all of great consideration, but of a different character from any with whom the Duke of St. James had been acquainted during his short experience of English society. They were not what are called fashionable people. We have no princes and no ambassadors, no duke who is a gourmand, no earl who is a jockey, no manoeuvring mothers, no flirting daughters, no gambling sons, for your entertainment. There is no superfine gentleman brought down specially from town to gauge the refinement of the manners of the party, and to prevent them, by his constant supervision and occasional sneer, from losing any of the beneficial results of their last campaign. We shall sadly want, too, a Lady Patroness to issue a decree or quote her code of consolidated etiquette. We are not sure that Almack’s will ever be mentioned: quite sure that Maradan has never yet been heard of. The Jockey Club may be quoted, but Crockford will be a dead letter. As for the rest, Boodle’s is all we can promise; miserable consolation for the bow-window. As for buffoons and artists, to amuse a vacant hour or sketch a vacant face, we must frankly tell you at once that there is not one. Are you frightened? Will you go on? Will you trust yourself with these savages? Try. They are rude, but they are hospitable.
The party, we have said, were all persons of great consideration; some were noble, most were rich, all had ancestors. There were the Earl and Countess of Faulconcourt. He looked as if he were fit to reconquer Palestine, and she as if she were worthy to reward him for his valour. Misplaced in this superior age, he was sans peur and she sans reproche. There was Lord Mildmay, an English peer and a French colonel. Methinks such an incident might have been a better reason for a late measure than an Irishman being returned a member of our Imperial Parliament. There was our friend Lord St. Jerome; of course his stepmother, yet young, and some sisters, pretty as nuns. There were some cousins from the farthest north, Northumbria’s bleakest bound, who came down upon Yorkshire like the Goths upon Italy, and were revelling in what they considered a southern clime.
There was an M.P. in whom the Catholics had hopes. He had made a great speech; not only a great speech, but a great impression. His matter certainly was not new, but well arranged, and his images not singularly original, but appositely introduced; in short, a bore, who, speaking on a subject in which a new hand is indulged, and connected with the families whose cause he was pleading, was for once courteously listened to by the very men who determined to avenge themselves for their complaisance by a cough on the first opportunity. But the orator was prudent; he reserved himself, and the session closed with his fame yet full-blown.
Then there were country neighbours in great store, with wives that were treasures, and daughters fresh as flowers. Among them we would particularise two gentlemen. They were great proprietors, and Catholics and Baronets, and consoled themselves by their active maintenance of the game-laws for their inability to regulate their neighbours by any other. One was Sir Chetwode Chetwode of Chetwode; the other was Sir Tichborne Tichborne of Tichborne. It was not easy to see two men less calculated to be the slaves of a foreign and despotic power, which we all know Catholics are. Tall, and robust, and rosy, with hearts even stouter than their massy frames, they were just the characters to assemble in Runnymede, and probably, even at the present day, might have imitated their ancestors, even in their signatures. In disposition they were much the same, though they were friends. In person there were some differences, but they were slight. Sir Chetwode’s hair was straight and white; Sir Tichborne’s brown and curly. Sir Chetwode’s eyes were blue; Sir Tichborne’s grey.
Sir Chetwode’s nose was perhaps a snub; Sir Tichborne’s was certainly a bottle. Sir Chetwode was somewhat garrulous, and was often like a man at a play, in the wrong box! Sir Tichborne was somewhat taciturn; but when he spoke, it was always to the purpose, and made an impression, even if it were not new. Both were kind hearts; but Sir Chetwode was jovial, Sir Tichborne rather stern. Sir Chetwode often broke into a joke; Sir Tichborne sometimes backed into a sneer. .
A few of these characters were made known by Mr. Dacre to his young friend, but not many, and in an easy way; those that stood nearest. Introduction is a formality and a bore, and is never resorted to by your well-bred host, save in a casual way. When proper people meet at proper houses, they give each other credit for propriety, and slide into an acquaintance by degrees. The first day they catch a name; the next, they ask you whether you are the son of General ——. ‘No; he was my uncle.’ ‘Ah! I knew him well. A worthy soul!’ And then the thing is settled. You ride together, shoot, or fence, or hunt. A game of billiards will do no great harm; and when you part, you part with a hope that you may meet again.
Lord Mildmay was glad to meet with the son of an old friend. He knew the late Duke well, and loved him better. It is pleasant to hear our fathers praised. We, too, may inherit their virtues with their lands, or cash, or bonds; and, scapegraces as we are, it is agreeable to find a precedent for the blood turning out well. And, after all, there is no feeling more thoroughly delightful than to be conscious that the kind being from whose loins we spring, and to whom we cling with an innate and overpowering love, is viewed by others with regard, with reverence, or with admiration. There is no pride like the pride of ancestry, for it is a blending of all emotions. How immeasurably superior to the herd is the man whose father only is famous! Imagine, then, the feelings of one who can trace his line through a thousand years of heroes and of princes!
’Tis dinner! hour that I have loved as loves the bard the twilight; but no more those visions rise that once were wont to spring in my quick fancy. The dream is past, the spell is broken, and even the lore on which I pondered in my first youth is strange as figures in Egyptian tombs.
No more, no more, oh! never more to me, that hour shall bring its rapture and its bliss! No more, no more, oh! never more for me, shall Flavour sit upon her thousand thrones, and, like a syren with a sunny smile, win to renewed excesses, each more sweet! My feasting days are over: me no more the charms of fish, or flesh, still less of fowl, can make the fool of that they made before. The fricandeau is like a dream of early love; the fricassee, with which I have so often flirted, is like the tattle of the last quadrille; and no longer are my dreams haunted with the dark passion of the rich ragoût. Ye soups! o’er whose creation I have watched, like mothers o’er their sleeping child! Ye sauces! to which I have even lent a name, where are ye now? Tickling, perchance, the palate of some easy friend, who quite forgets the boon companion whose presence once lent lustre even to his ruby wine and added perfume to his perfumed hock!
Our Duke, however, had not reached the age of retrospection. He pecked as prettily as any bird. Seated on the right hand of his delightful hostess, nobody could be better pleased; supervised by his jäger, who stood behind his chair, no one could be better attended. He smiled, with the calm, amiable complacency of a man who feels the world is quite right.
HOW is your Grace’s horse, Sans-pareil?’ asked Sir Chetwode Chetwode of Chetwode of the Duke of St. James, shooting at the same time a sly glance at his opposite neighbour, Sir Tichborne Tichborne of Tichborne.
‘Quite well, sir,’ said the Duke in his quietest tone, but with an air which, he flattered himself, might repress further inquiry.
‘Has he got over his fatigue?’ pursued the dogged Baronet, with a short, gritty laugh, that sounded like a loose drag-chain dangling against the stones. ‘We all thought the Yorkshire air would not agree with him.’
‘Yet, Sir Chetwode, that could hardly be your opinion of Sanspareil,’ said Miss Dacre, ‘for I think, if I remember right, I had the pleasure of making you encourage our glove manufactory.’
Sir Chetwode looked a little confused. The Duke of St. James, inspirited by his fair ally, rallied, and hoped Sir Chetwode did not back his steed to a fatal extent. ‘If,’ continued he, ‘I had had the slightest idea that any friend of Miss Dacre was indulging in such an indiscretion, I certainly would have interfered, and have let him known that the horse was not to win.’
‘Is that a fact?’ asked Sir Tichborne Tichborne of Tichborne, with a sturdy voice.
‘Can a Yorkshireman doubt it?’ rejoined the Duke. ‘Was it possible for anyone but a mere Newmarket dandy to have entertained for a moment the supposition that anyone but May Dacre should be the Queen of the St. Leger?’
‘I have heard something of this before,’ said Sir Tichborne, ‘but I did not believe it. A young friend of mine consulted me upon the subject. “Would you advise me,” said he, “to settle?” “Why,” said I, “if you can prove any bubble, my opinion is, don’t; but if you cannot prove anything, my opinion is, do.”’
‘Very just! very true!’ were murmured by many in the neighbourhood of the oracle; by no one with more personal sincerity than Lady Tichborne herself.
‘I will write to my young friend,’ continued the Baronet.
‘Oh, no!’ said Miss Dacre. ‘His Grace’s candour must not be abused. I have no idea of being robbed of my well-earned honours. Sir Tichborne, private conversation must be respected, and the sanctity of domestic life must not be profaned. If the tactics of Doncaster are no longer to be fair war, why, half the families in the Riding will be ruined!’
‘Still,’— said Sir Tichborne.
But Mr. Dacre, like a deity in a Trojan battle, interposed, and asked his opinion of a keeper.
‘I hope you are a sportsman,’ said Miss Dacre to the Duke, ‘for this is the palace of Nimrod!’
‘I have hunted; it was not very disagreeable. I sometimes shoot; it is not very stupid.’
‘Then, in fact, I perceive that you are a heretic. Lord Faulconcourt, his Grace is moralising on the barbarity of the chase.’
‘Then he has never had the pleasure of hunting in company with Miss Dacre.’
‘Do you indeed follow the hounds?’ asked the Duke.
‘Sometimes do worse, ride over them; but Lord Faulconcourt is fast emancipating me from the trammels of my frippery foreign education, and I have no doubt that, in another season, I shall fling off quite in style.’
‘You remember Mr. Annesley?’ asked the Duke.
‘It is difficult to forget him. He always seemed to me to think that the world was made on purpose for him to have the pleasure of “cutting” it.’
‘Yet he was your admirer!’
‘Yes, and once paid me a compliment. He told me it was the only one that he had ever uttered.’
‘Oh, Charley, Charley! this is excellent. We shall have a tale when we meet. What was the compliment?’
‘It would be affectation in me to pretend that I have forgotten it. Nevertheless, you must excuse me.’
‘Pray, pray let me have it!’
‘Perhaps you will not like it?’
‘Now, I must hear it.’
‘Well then, he said that talking to me was the only thing that consoled him for having to dine with you and to dance with Lady Shropshire.’
‘Charles is jealous,’ drawled the Duke.
‘Of her Grace?’ asked Miss Dacre, with much anxiety.
‘No; but Charles is aged, and once, when he dined with me, was taken for my uncle.’
The ladies retired, and the gentlemen sat barbarously long. Sir Chetwode Chetwode of Chetwode and Sir Tichborne Tichborne of Tichborne were two men who drank wine independent of fashion, and exacted, to the last glass, the identical quantity which their fathers had drunk half a century before, and to which they had been used almost from their cradle. The only subject of conversation was sporting. Terrible shots, more terrible runs, neat barrels, and pretty fencers. The Duke of St. James was not sufficiently acquainted with the geography of the mansion to make a premature retreat, an operation which is looked upon with an evil eye, and which, to be successful, must be prompt and decisive, and executed with supercilious nonchalance. So he consoled himself by a little chat with Lord Mildmay, who sat smiling, handsome, and mustachioed, with an empty glass, and who was as much out of water as he was out of wine. The Duke was not very learned in Parisian society; but still, with the aid of the Duchess de Berri and the Duchess de Duras, Léontine Fay, and Lady Stuart de Rothesay, they got on, and made out the time until Purgatory ceased and Paradise opened.
For Paradise it was, although there were there assembled some thirty or forty persons not less dull than the majority of our dull race, and in those little tactics that make society less burdensome perhaps even less accomplished. But a sunbeam will make even the cloudiest day break into smiles; a bounding fawn will banish monotony even from a wilderness; and a glass of claret, or perchance some stronger grape, will convert even the platitude of a goblet of water into a pleasing beverage, and so May Dacre moved among her guests, shedding light, life, and pleasure.
She was not one who, shrouded in herself, leaves it to chance or fate to amuse the beings whom she has herself assembled within her halls. Nonchalance is the métier of your modern hostess; and so long as the house be not on fire, or the furniture not kicked, you may be even ignorant who is the priestess of the hospitable fane in which you worship.
They are right; men shrink from a fussy woman. And few can aspire to regulate the destinies of their species, even in so slight a point as an hour’s amusement, without rare powers. There is no greater sin than to be trop prononcée. A want of tact is worse than a want of virtue. Some women, it is said, work on pretty well against the tide without the last: I never knew one who did not sink who ever dared to sail without the first.
Loud when they should be low, quoting the wrong person, talking on the wrong subject, teasing with notice, excruciating with attentions, disturbing a tête-à-tête in order to make up a dance; wasting eloquence in persuading a man to participate in amusement whose reputation depends on his social sullenness; exacting homage with a restless eye, and not permitting the least worthy knot to be untwined without their divinityships’ interference; patronising the meek, anticipating the slow, intoxicated with compliment, plastering with praise, that you in return may gild with flattery; in short, energetic without elegance, active without grace, and loquacious without wit; mistaking bustle for style, raillery for badinage, and noise for gaiety, these are the characters who mar the very career they think they are creating, and who exercise a fatal influence on the destinies of all those who have the misfortune to be connected with them.
Not one of these was she, the lady of our tale. There was a quiet dignity lurking even under her easiest words and actions which made you feel her notice a compliment: there was a fascination in her calm smile and in her sunlit eye which made her invitation to amusement itself a pleasure. If you refused, you were not pressed, but left to that isolation which you appeared to admire; if you assented, you were rewarded with a word which made you feel how sweet was such society! Her invention never flagged, her gaiety never ceased; yet both were spontaneous, and often were unobserved. All felt amused, and all were unconsciously her agents. Her word and her example seemed, each instant, to call forth from her companions new accomplishments, new graces, new sources of joy and of delight. All were surprised that they were so agreeable.
MORNING came, and the great majority of the gentlemen rose early as Aurora. The chase is the favourite pastime of man and boy; yet some preferred plundering their host’s preserves, by which means their slumbers were not so brief and their breakfast less disturbed. The battue, however, in time, called forth its band, and then one by one, or two by two, or sometimes even three, leaning on each other’s arms and smiling in each other’s faces, the ladies dropped into the breakfast-room at Castle Dacre. There, until two o’clock, a lounging meal might always be obtained, but generally by twelve the coast was clear; for our party were a natural race of beings, and would have blushed if flaming noon had caught them napping in their easy couches. Our bright bird, May Dacre, too, rose from her bower, full of the memory of the sweetest dreams, and fresh as lilies ere they kiss the sun.
She bends before her ivory crucifix, and gazes on her blessed mother’s face, where the sweet Florentine had tinged with light a countenance
Too fair for worship, too divine for love!
And innocence has prayed for fresh support, and young devotion told her holy beads. She rises with an eye of mellowed light, and her soft cheek is tinted with the flush that comes from prayer. Guard over her, ye angels! wheresoe’er and whatsoe’er ye are! For she shall be your meet companion in an after-day. Then love your gentle friend, this sinless child of clay!
The morning passed as mornings ever pass where twenty women, for the most part pretty, are met together. Some read, some drew, some worked, all talked. Some wandered in the library, and wondered why such great books were written. One sketched a favourite hero in the picture gallery, a Dacre, who had saved the State or Church, had fought at Cressy, or flourished at Windsor: another picked a flower out of the conservatory, and painted its powdered petals. Here, a purse, half-made, promised, when finished quite, to make some hero happy. Then there was chat about the latest fashions, caps and bonnets, séduisantes, and sleeves. As the day grew’ old, some rode, some walked, some drove. A pony-chair was Lady Faulconcourt’s delight, whose arm was roundly turned and graced the whip; while, on the other hand, Lady St. Jerome rather loved to try the paces of an ambling nag, because her figure was of the sublime; and she looked not unlike an Amazonian queen, particularly when Lord Mildmay was her Theseus.
He was the most consummate, polished gentleman that ever issued from the court of France. He did his friend Dacre the justice to suppose that he was a victim to his barbarous guests; but for the rest of the galloping crew, who rode and shot all day, and in the evening fell asleep just when they were wanted, he shrugged his shoulders, and he thanked his stars! In short, Lord Mildmay was the ladies’ man; and in their morning dearth of beaux, to adopt their unanimous expression, ‘quite a host!’
Then there was archery for those who could draw a bow or point an arrow; and we are yet to learn the sight that is more dangerous for your bachelor to witness, or the ceremony which more perfectly develops all that the sex would wish us to remark, than this ‘old English’ custom.
With all these resources, all was, of course, free and easy as the air. Your appearance was your own act. If you liked, you might have remained, like a monk or nun, in your cell till dinner-time, but no later. Privacy and freedom are granted you in the morning, that you may not exhaust your powers of pleasing before night, and that you may reserve for those favoured hours all the new ideas that you have collected in the course of your morning adventures.
But where was he, the hero of our tale? Fencing? Craning? Hitting? Missing? Is he over, or is he under? Has he killed, or is he killed? for the last is but the chance of war, and pheasants have the pleasure of sometimes seeing as gay birds as themselves with plumage quite as shattered. But there is no danger of the noble countenance of the Duke of St. James bearing today any evidence of the exploits of himself or his companions. His Grace was in one of his sublime fits, and did not rise. Luigi consoled himself for the bore of this protracted attendance by diddling the page-inwaiting at dominos.
The Duke of St. James was in one of his sublime fits. He had commenced by thinking of May Dacre, and he ended by thinking of himself. He was under that delicious and dreamy excitement which we experience when the image of a lovely and beloved object begins to mix itself up with our own intense self-love. She was the heroine rather of an indefinite reverie than of definite romance. Instead of his own image alone playing about his fancy, her beautiful face and springing figure intruded their exquisite presence. He no longer mused merely on his own voice and wit: he called up her tones of thrilling power; he imagined her in all the triumph of her gay repartee. In his mind’s eye, he clearly watched all the graces of her existence. She moved, she gazed, she smiled. Now he was alone, and walking with her in some rich wood, sequestered, warm, solemn, dim, feeding on the music of her voice, and gazing with intenseness on the wakening passion of her devoted eye. Now they rode together, scudded over champaign, galloped down hills, scampered through valleys, all life, and gaiety, and vivacity, and spirit. Now they were in courts and crowds; and he led her with pride to the proudest kings. He covered her with jewels; but the world thought her brighter than his gems. Now they met in the most unexpected and improbable manner: now they parted with a tenderness which subdued their souls even more than rapture. Now he saved her life: now she blessed his existence. Now his reverie was too vague and misty to define its subject. It was a stream of passion, joy, sweet voices, tender tones, exulting hopes, beaming faces, chaste embraces, immortal transports!
It was three o’clock, and for the twentieth time our hero made an effort to recall himself to the realities of life. How cold, how tame, how lifeless, how imperfect, how inconsecutive, did everything appear! This is the curse of reverie. But they who revel in its pleasures must bear its pains, and are content. Yet it wears out the brain, and unfits us for social life. They who indulge in it most are the slaves of solitude. They wander in a wilderness, and people it with their voices. They sit by the side of running waters, with an eye more glassy than the stream. The sight of a human being scares them more than a wild beast does a traveller; the conduct of life, when thrust upon their notice, seems only a tissue of adventures without point; and, compared with the creatures of their imagination, human nature seems to send forth only abortions.
‘I must up,’ said the young Duke; ‘and this creature on whom I have lived for the last eight hours, who has, in herself, been to me the universe, this constant companion, this cherished friend, whose voice was passion and whose look was love, will meet me with all the formality of a young lady, all the coldness of a person who has never even thought of me since she saw me last. Damnable delusion! To-morrow I will get up and hunt.’
He called Luigi, and a shower-bath assisted him in taking a more healthy view of affairs. Yet his faithful fancy recurred to her again. He must indulge it a little. He left off dressing and flung himself in a chair.
‘And yet,’ he continued, ‘when I think of it again, there surely can be no reason that this should not turn into a romance of real life. I perceived that she was a little piqued when we first met at Don-caster. Very natural! Very flattering! I should have been piqued. Certainly, I behaved decidedly ill. But how, in the name of Heaven, was I to know that she was the brightest little being that ever breathed! Well, I am here now! She has got her wish. And I think an evident alteration has already taken place. But she must not melt too quickly. She will not; she will do nothing but what is exquisitely proper. How I do love this child! I dote upon her very image. It is the very thing that I have always been wanting. The women call me inconstant. I have never been constant. But they will not listen to us without we feign feelings, and then they upbraid us for not being influenced by them. I have sighed, I have sought, I have wept, for what I now have found. What would she give to know what is passing in my mind! By Heavens! there is no blood in England that has a better chance of being a Duchess!’
A CANTER is the cure for every evil, and brings the mind back to itself sooner than all the lessons of Chrysippus and Crantor. It is the only process that at the same time calms the feelings and elevates the spirits, banishes blue devils and raises one to the society of ‘angels ever bright and fair.’ It clears the mind; it cheers the heart. It is the best preparation for all enterprises, for it puts a man in good humour both with the world and himself; and, whether you are going to make a speech or scribble a scene, whether you are about to conquer the world or yourself, order your horse. As you bound along, your wit will brighten and your eloquence blaze, your courage grow more adamantine, and your generous feelings burn with a livelier flame. And when the exercise is over the excitement does not cease, as when it grows from music, for your blood is up, and the brilliancy of your eye is fed by your bubbling pulses. Then, my young friend, take my advice: rush into the world, and triumph will grow out of your quick life, like Victory bounding from the palm of Jove!
Our Duke ordered his horses, and as he rattled along recovered from the enervating effects of his soft reverie. On his way home he fell in with Mr. Dacre and the two Baronets, returning on their hackneys from a hard fought field.
‘Gay sport?’ asked his Grace.
‘A capital run. I think the last forty minutes the most splitting thing we have had for a long time!’ answered Sir Chetwode. ‘I only hope Jack Wilson will take care of poor Fanny. I did not half like leaving her. Your Grace does not join us?’
‘I mean to do so; but I am, unfortunately, a late riser.’
‘Hem!’ said Sir Tichborne. The monosyllable meant much.
‘I have a horse which I think will suit your Grace,’ said Mr. Dacre, ‘and to which, in fact, you are entitled, for it bears the name of your house. You have ridden Hauteville, Sir Tichborne?’
‘Yes; fine animal!’
‘I shall certainly try his powers,’ said the Duke. ‘When is your next field-day?’
‘Thursday,’ said Sir Tichborne; ‘but we shall be too early for you, I am afraid,’ with a gruff smile.
‘Oh, no!’ said the young Duke, who saw his man; ‘I assure you I have been up today nearly two hours. Let us get on.’
The first person that his Grace’s eye met, when he entered the room in which they assembled before dinner, was Mrs. Dallington Vere.
Dinner was a favourite moment with the Duke of St. James during this visit at Castle Dacre, since it was the only time in the day that, thanks to his rank, which he now doubly valued, he could enjoy a tête-à-tête with its blooming mistress.
‘I am going to hunt,’ said the Duke, ‘and I am to ride Hauteville. I hope you will set me an example on Thursday, and that I shall establish my character with Sir Tichborne.’
‘I am to lead on that day a bold band of archers. I have already too much neglected my practising, and I fear that my chance of the silver arrow is slight.’
‘I have betted upon you with everybody,’ said the Duke of St. James.
‘Remember Doncaster! I am afraid that May Dacre will again be the occasion of your losing your money.’
‘But now I am on the right side. Together we must conquer.’
‘I have a presentiment that our union will not be a fortunate one.’
‘Then I am ruined,’ said his Grace with rather a serious tone.
‘I hope you have not really staked anything upon such nonsense?’ said Miss Dacre.
‘I have staked everything,’ said his Grace.
‘Talking of stakes,’ said Lord St. Jerome, who pricked up his ears at a congenial subject, ‘do you know what they are going to do about that affair of Anderson’s?’
‘What does he say for himself?’ asked Sir Chetwode.
‘He says that he had no intention of embezzling the money, but that, as he took it for granted the point could never be decided, he thought it was against the usury laws to allow money to lie idle.’
‘That fellow has always got an answer,’ said Sir Tichborne. ‘I hate men who have always got an answer. There is no talking common sense with them.’
The Duke made his escape today, and, emboldened by his illustrious example, Charles Faulcon, Lord St. Jerome, and some other heroes followed, to the great disgust of Sir Chetwode and Sir Tichborne.
As the evening glided on conversation naturally fell upon the amusements of society.
‘I am sure we are tired of dancing every night,’ said Miss Dacre. ‘I wonder if we could introduce any novelty. What think you, Bertha? You can always suggest.’
‘You remember the tableaux vivants?’ said Mrs. Dallington Vere.
‘Beautiful! but too elaborate a business, I fear, for us. We want something more impromptu. The tableaux are nothing without brilliant and accurate costume, and to obtain that we must work at least for a week, and then, after all, in all probability, a failure. Ils sont trop recherchés,’ she said, lowering her voice to Mrs. Dallington, ‘pour nous ici. They must spring out of a society used to such exhibitions.’
‘I have a costume dress here,’ said the Duke of
‘And I have a uniform,’ said Lord Mildmay.
‘And then,’ said Mrs. Dallington, ‘there are cashmeres, and scarfs, and jewels to be collected. I see, however, you think it impossible.’
‘I fear so. However, we will think of it. In the meantime, what shall we do now? Suppose we act a fairy tale?’
‘None of the girls can act,’ said Mrs. Dallington, with a look of kind pity.
‘Let us teach them. That itself will be an amusement. Suppose we act Cinderella? There is the music of Cendrillon, and you can compose, when necessary, as you go on. Clara Howard!’ said May Dacre, ‘come here, love! We want you to be Cinderella in a little play.’
‘I act! oh! dear May! How can you laugh at me so! I cannot act.’
‘You will not have to speak. Only just move about as I direct you while Bertha plays music.’
‘Oh! dear May, I cannot, indeed! I never did act. Ask Eugenia!’
‘Eugenia! If you are afraid, I am sure she will faint. I asked you because I thought you were just the person for it.’
‘But only think,’ said poor Clara, with an imploring voice, ‘to act, May! Why, acting is the most difficult thing in the world. Acting is quite a dreadful thing. I know many ladies who will not act.’
‘But it is not acting, Clara. Well! I will be Cinderella, and you shall be one of the sisters.’
‘No, dear May!’
‘Well, then, the Fairy?’ ‘No, dear, dear, dear May!’
‘Well, Duke of St. James, what am I to do with this rebellious troop?’
‘Let me be Cinderella!’
‘It is astonishing,’ said Miss Dacre, ‘the difficulty which you encounter in England, if you try to make people the least amusing or vary the regular dull routine, which announces dancing as the beautiful of diversions and cards as the sublime.’
‘We are barbarians,’ said the Duke. ‘We were not,’ said May Dacre. ‘What are tableaux, or acted charades, or romances, to masques, which were the splendid and various amusement of our ancestors. Last Christmas we performed “Comus” here with great effect; but then we had Arundel, and he is an admirable actor.’
‘Curse Arundel!’ thought the Duke. ‘I had forgotten him.’
‘I do not wonder,’ said Mrs. Dallington Vere, ‘at people objecting to act regular plays, for, independently of the objections, not that I think anything of them myself, which are urged against “private theatricals,” the fact is, to get up a play is a tremendous business, and one or two is your bound. But masques, where there is so little to learn by rote, a great consideration, where music and song are so exquisitely introduced, where there is such an admirable opportunity for brilliant costume, and where the scene may be beautiful without change — such an important point — I cannot help wondering that this national diversion is not revived.’
‘Suppose we were to act a romance without the costume?’ said the Duke. ‘Let us consider it a rehearsal. And perhaps the Misses Howard will have no objection to sing?’
‘It is difficult to find a suitable romance,’ said Miss Dacre. ‘All our modern English ones are too full of fine poetry. We tried once an old ballad, but it was too long. Last Christmas we got up a good many, and Arundel, Isabella, and myself used to scribble some nonsense for the occasion. But I am afraid they are all either burnt or taken away. I will look in the music-case.’
She went to the music-case with the Duke and Mrs. Dallington.
‘No,’ she continued; ‘not one, not a single one. But what are these?’ She looked at some lines written in pencil in a music-book. ‘Oh! here is something; too slight, but it will do. You see,’ she continued, reading it to the Duke, ‘by the introduction of the same line in every verse, describing the same action, a back-scene is, as it were, created, and the story, if you can call it such, proceeds in front. Really, I think, we might make something of this.’
Mr. Dacre and some others were at whist. The two Baronets were together, talking over the morning’s sport. Ecarté covered a flirtation between Lord Mildmay and Lady St. Jerome. Miss Dacre assembled her whole troop; and, like a manager with a new play, read in the midst of them the ballad, and gave them directions for their conduct. A japan screen was unfolded at the end of the room. Two couches indicated the limits of the stage. Then taking her guitar, she sang with a sweet voice and arch simplicity these simpler lines:—
Childe Dacre stands in his father’s hall,
While all the rest are dancing;
Childe Dacre gazes on the wall,
While brightest eyes are glancing.
Then prythee tell me, gentles gay!
What makes our Childe so dull today?
Each verse was repeated.
In the background they danced a cotillon.
In the front, the Duke of St. James, as Childe Dacre, leant against the wall, with arms folded and eyes fixed; in short, in an attitude which commanded great applause.
I cannot tell, unless it be,
While all the rest are dancing,
The Lady Alice, on the sea,
With brightest eyes is glancing,
Or muses on the twilight hour
Will bring Childe Dacre to her bower.
Mrs. Dallington Vere advances as the Lady Alice. Her walk is abrupt, her look anxious and distracted; she seems to be listening for some signal. She falls into a musing attitude, motionless and graceful as a statue. Clara Howard alike marvels at her genius and her courage.
Childe Dacre hears the curfew chime,
While all the rest are dancing;
Unless I find a fitting rhyme,
Oh! here ends my romancing!
But see! her lover’s at her feet!
Oh! words of joy! oh! meeting sweet!
The Duke advances, chivalric passion in his every gesture. The Lady Alice rushes to his arms with that look of trembling transport which tells the tale of stolen love. They fall into a group which would have made the fortune of an Annual.
Then let us hope, when next I sing,
And all the rest are dancing,
Our Childe a gentle bride may bring,
All other joys enhancing.
Then we will bless the twilight hour
That call’d him to a lady’s bower.
The Duke led Mrs. Dallington to the dancers with courtly grace. There was great applause, but the spirit of fun and one-and-twenty inspired him, and he led off a gallop. In fact, it was an elegant romp. The two Baronets started from their slumbers, and Lord Mildmay called for Mademoiselle Dacre. The call was echoed. Miss Dacre yielded to the public voice, and acted to the life the gratified and condescending air of a first-rate performer. Lord Mildmay called for Madame Dallington. Miss Dacre led on her companion as Sontag would Malibran. There was no wreath at hand, but the Duke of St. James robbed his coat of its rose, and offered it on his knee to Mademoiselle, who presented it with Parisian feeling to her rival. The scene was as superb as anything at the Académie.
‘WE CERTAINLY must have a masque,’ said the young Duke, as he threw himself into his chair, satisfied with his performance.
‘You must open Hauteville with one,’ said Mrs. Dallington.
‘A capital idea; but we will practise at Dacre first.’
‘When is Hauteville to be finished?’ asked Mrs. Dallington. ‘I shall really complain if we are to be kept out of it much longer. I believe I am the only person in the Riding who has not been there.’
‘I have been there,’ said the Duke, ‘and am afraid I must go again; for Sir Carte has just come down for a few days, and I promised to meet him. It is a sad bore. I wish it were finished.’
‘Take me with you,’ said Mrs. Dallington; ‘take us all, and let us make a party.’
‘An admirable idea,’ exclaimed the young Duke, with a brightening countenance. ‘What admirable ideas you have, Mrs. Dallington! This is, indeed, turning business into pleasure! What says our hostess?’
‘I will join you.’
‘To-morrow, then?’ said the Duke.
‘To-morrow! You are rapid!’
‘Never postpone, never prepare: that is your own rule. To-morrow, tomorrow, all must go.’
‘Papa, will you go tomorrow to Hauteville?’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Yes,’ said Miss Dacre: ‘we never postpone; we never prepare.’
‘But do not you think a day, at least, had better intervene?’ urged Mr. Dacre; ‘we shall be unexpected.’
‘I vote for tomorrow,’ said the Duke.
‘To-morrow!’ was the universal exclamation. Tomorrow was carried.
‘I will write to Blanche at once,’ said the Duke.
Mrs. Dallington Vere ran for the writing materials, and his Grace indicted the following pithy note:—
‘Half-past Ten, Castle Dacre.
‘Dear Sir Carte,
‘Our party here intend to honour Hauteville with a visit tomorrow, and anticipate the pleasure of viewing the improvements, with yourself for their cicerone. Let Rawdon know immediately of this. They tell me here that the sun rises about six. As we shall not be with you till noon, I have no doubt your united energies will be able to make all requisite preparations. We may be thirty or forty. Believe me, dear Sir Carte,
‘Your faithful servant,
‘Carlstein bears this, which you will receive in an hour. Let me have a line by return.’
IT WAS a morning all dew and sunshine, soft yet bright, just fit for a hawking party, for dames of high degree, feathered cavaliers, ambling palfreys, and tinkling bells. Our friends rose early, and assembled punctually. All went, and all went on horseback; but they sent before some carriages for the return, in case the ladies should be wearied with excessive pleasure. The cavalcade, for it was no less, broke into parties which were often out of sight of each other. The Duke and Lord St. Jerome, Clara Howard and Charles Faulcon, Miss Dacre and Mrs. Dallington, formed one, and, as they flattered themselves, not the least brilliant. They were all in high spirits, and his Grace lectured on riding-habits with erudite enthusiasm.
Their road lay through a country wild and woody, where crag and copse beautifully intermixed with patches of rich cultivation. Halfway, they passed Rosemount, a fanciful pavilion where the Dukes of St. James sometimes sought that elegant simplicity which was not afforded by all the various charms of their magnificent Hauteville. At length they arrived at the park-gate of the castle, which might itself have passed for a tolerable mansion. It was ancient and embattled, flanked by a couple of sturdy towers, and gave a noble promise of the baronial pile which it announced. The park was a petty principality; and its apparently illimitable extent, its rich variety of surface, its ancient woods and numerous deer, attracted the attention and the admiration even of those who had been born in such magical enclosures.
Away they cantered over the turf, each moment with their blood more sparkling. A turn in the road, and Hauteville, with its donjon keep and lordly flag, and many-windowed line of long perspective, its towers, and turrets, and terraces, bathed with the soft autumnal sun, met their glad sight.
‘Your Majesty is welcome to my poor castle!’ said the young Duke, bowing with head uncovered to Miss Dacre.
‘Nay, we are at the best but captive princesses about to be immured in that fearful keep; and this is the way you mock us!’
‘I am content that you shall be my prisoner.’
‘A struggle for freedom!’ said Miss Dacre, looking back to Mrs. Dallington, and she galloped towards the castle.
Lord Mildmay and Lady St. Jerome cantered up, and the rest soon assembled. Sir Carte came forward, all smiles, with a clerk of the works bearing a portfolio of plans. A crowd of servants, for the Duke maintained an establishment at Hauteville, advanced, and the fair equestrians were dismounted. They shook their habits and their curls, vowed that riding was your only exercise, and that dust in the earthly economy was a blunder. And then they entered the castle.
Room after room, gallery after gallery; you know the rest. Shall we describe the silk hangings and the reverend tapestry, the agate tables and the tall screens, the china and the armour, the state beds and the curious cabinets, and the family pictures mixed up so quaintly with Italian and Flemish art? But we pass from meek Madonnas and seraphic saints, from gleaming Claudes and Guidos soft as Eve, from Rubens’s satyrs and Albano’s boys, and even from those gay and natural medleys, paintings that cheer the heart, where fruit and flower, with their brilliant bloom, call to a feast the butterfly and bee; we pass from these to square-headed ancestors by Holbein, all black velvet and gold chains; cavaliers, by Vandyke, all lace and spurs, with pointed beards, that did more execution even than their pointed swords; patriots and generals, by Kneller, in Blenheim wigs and Steen-kirk cravats, all robes and armour; scarlet judges that supported ship-money, and purple bishops, who had not been sent to the Tower. Here was a wit who had sipped his coffee at Button’s, and there some mad Alcibiades duke who had exhausted life ere he had finished youth, and yet might be consoled for all his flashing follies could he witness the bright eyes that lingered on his countenance, while they glanced over all the patriotism and all the piety, all the illustrious courage and all the historic craft, which, when living, it was daily told him that he had shamed. Ye dames with dewy eyes that Lely drew! have we forgotten you? No! by that sleepy loveliness that reminds us that night belongs to beauty, ye were made for memory! And oh! our grandmothers, that we now look upon as girls, breathing in Reynolds’s playful canvas, let us also pay our homage to your grace!
The chapel, where you might trace art from the richly Gothic tomb, designed by some neighbouring abbot, to the last effort of Flaxman; the riding-house, where, brightly framed, looked down upon you with a courtly smile the first and gartered duke, who had been Master of the Horse, were alike visited, and alike admired. They mounted the summit of the round tower, and looked around upon the broad county, which they were proud to call their own. Amid innumerable seats, where blazed the hearths of the best blood of England, they recognised, with delight, the dome of Dacre and the woods of Dallington. They walked along a terrace not unworthy of the promenade of a court; they visited the flower gardens, where the peculiar style of every nation was in turn imitated; they loitered in the vast conservatories, which were themselves a palace; they wandered in the wilderness, where the invention of consummate art presented them with the ideal of nature. In this poetic solitude, where all was green, and still, and sweet, or where the only sound was falling water or fluttering birds, the young Duke recurred to the feelings which, during the last momentous week, had so mastered his nature, and he longed to wind his arm round the beautiful being without whom this enchanting domain was a dreary waste.
They assembled in a green retreat, where the energetic Sir Carte had erected a marquée, and where a collation greeted the eyes of those who were well prepared for it. Rawdon had also done his duty, and the guests, who were aware of the sudden manner in which the whole affair had arisen, wondered at the magic which had produced a result worthy of a week’s preparation. But it is a great thing to be a young Duke. The pasties, and the venison, and the game, the pines, and the peaches, and the grapes, the cakes, and the confectionery, and the ices, which proved that the still-room at Hauteville was not an empty name, were all most popular. But the wines, they were marvellous! And as the finest cellars in the country had been ransacked for excellence and variety, it is not wonderful that their produce obtained a panegyric. There was hock of a century old, which made all stare, though we, for our part, cannot see, or rather taste, the beauty of this antiquity. Wine, like woman, in our opinion, should not be too old, so we raise our altar to the infant Bacchus; but this is not the creed of the million, nor was it the persuasion of Sir Chetwode Chetwode or of Sir Tichborne Tichborne, good judges both. The Johannisberger quite converted them. They no longer disliked the young Duke. They thought him a fool, to be sure, but at the same time a good-natured one. In the meantime, all were interested, and Carlstein with his key bugle, from out a neighbouring brake, afforded the only luxury that was wanting.
It is six o’clock, carriages are ordered, and horses are harnessed. Back, back to Dacre! But not at the lively rate at which they had left that lordly hall this morning. They are all alike inclined to move slowly; they are silent, yet serene and satisfied; they ponder upon the reminiscences of a delightful morning, and also of a delightful meal. Perhaps they are a little weary; perhaps they wish to gaze upon the sunset.
It is eight o’clock, and they enter the park gates. Dinner is universally voted a bore, even by the Baronets. Coffee covers the retreat of many a wearied bird to her evening bower. The rest lounge on a couch or sofa, or chew the cud of memory on an ottoman. It was a day of pleasure which had been pleasant. That was certain: but that was past. Who is to be Duchess of St. James? Answer this. May Dacre, or Bertha Vere, or Clara Howard? Lady St. Jerome, is it to be a daughter of thy house? Lady Faulconcourt, art thou to be hailed as the unrivalled mother?’ Tis mystery all, as must always be the future of this world. We muse, we plan, we hope, but naught is certain but that which is naught; for, a question answered, a doubt satisfied, an end attained; what are they but fit companions for clothes out of fashion, cracked china, and broken fans?
Our hero was neither wearied nor sleepy, for his mind was too full of exciting fancies to think of the interests of his body. As all were withdrawing, he threw his cloak about him and walked on the terrace. It was a night soft as the rhyme that sighs from Rogers’ shell, and brilliant as a phrase just turned by Moore. The thousand stars smiled from their blue pavilions, and the moon shed the mild light that makes a lover muse. Fragrance came in airy waves from trees rich with the golden orange, and from out the woods there ever and anon arose a sound, deep and yet hushed, and mystical, and soft. It could not be the wind!
His heart was full, his hopes were sweet, his fate pledged on a die. And in this shrine, where all was like his love, immaculate and beautiful, he vowed a faith which had not been returned. Such is the madness of love! Such is the magic of beauty!
Music rose upon the air. Some huntsmen were practising their horns. The triumphant strain elevated his high hopes, the tender tone accorded with his emotions. He paced up and down the terrace in excited reverie, fed by the music. In imagination she was with him: she spoke, she smiled, she loved. He gazed upon her beaming countenance: his soul thrilled with tones which, only she could utter. He pressed her to his throbbing and tumultuous breast!
The music stopped. He fell from his seventh heaven. He felt all the exhaustion of his prolonged reverie. All was flat, dull, unpromising. The moon seemed dim, the stars were surely fading, the perfume of the trees was faint, the wind of the woods was a howling demon. Exhausted, dispirited, ay! almost desperate, with a darkened soul and staggering pace, he regained his chamber.
THERE is nothing more strange, but nothing more certain, than the different influence which the seasons of night and day exercise upon the moods of our minds. Him whom the moon sends to bed with a head full of misty meaning the sun-will summon in the morning with a brain clear and lucid as his beam. Twilight makes us pensive; Aurora is the goddess of activity. Despair curses at midnight; Hope blesses at noon.
And the bright beams of Phoebus — why should this good old name be forgotten? — called up our Duke rather later than a monk at matins, in a less sublime disposition than that in which he had paced among the orange-trees of Dacre. His passion remained, but his poetry was gone. He was all confidence, and gaiety, and love, and panted for the moment when he could place his mother’s coronet on the only head that was worthy to share the proud fortunes of the house of Hauteville.
‘Luigi, I will rise. What is going on today?’ ‘The gentlemen are all out, your Grace.’
‘And the ladies?’
‘Are going to the Archery Ground, your Grace.’
‘Ah! she will be there, Luigi?’
‘Yes, your Grace.’
‘My robe, Luigi.’
‘Yes, your Grace.’
‘I forgot what I was going to say. Luigi!’
‘Yes, your Grace.’
‘Luigi, Luigi, Luigi,’ hummed the Duke, perfectly unconscious, and beating time with his brush. His valet stared, but more when his lord, with eyes fixed on the ground, fell into a soliloquy, not a word of which, most provokingly, was audible, except to my reader.
‘How beautiful she looked yesterday upon the keep when she tried to find Dacre! I never saw such eyes in my life! I must speak to Lawrence immediately. I think I must have her face painted in four positions, like that picture of Lady Alice Gordon by Sir Joshua. Her full face is sublime; and yet there is a piquancy in the profile, which I am not sure — and yet again, when her countenance is a little bent towards you, and her neck gently turned, I think that is, after all — but then when her eyes meet yours, full! oh! yes! yes! yes! That first look at Doncaster! It is impressed upon my brain like self-consciousness. I never can forget it. But then her smile! When she sang on Tuesday night! By Heavens!’ he exclaimed aloud, ‘life with such a creature is immortality!’
About one o’clock the Duke descended into empty chambers. Not a soul was to be seen. The birds had flown. He determined to go to the Archery Ground. He opened the door of the music-room.
He found Miss Dacre alone at a table, writing. She looked up, and his heart yielded as her eye met his.
‘You do not join the nymphs?’ asked the Duke.
‘I have lent my bow,’ she said, ‘to an able substitute.’
She resumed her task, which he perceived was copying music. He advanced, he seated himself at the table, and began playing with a pen. He gazed upon her, his soul thrilled with unwonted sensations, his frame shook with emotions which, for a moment, deprived him even of speech. At length he spoke in a low and tremulous tone:—
‘I fear I am disturbing you, Miss Dacre?’
‘By no means,’ she said, with a courteous air; and then, remembering she was a hostess, ‘Is there anything that you require?’
‘Much; more than I can hope. O Miss Dacre! suffer me to tell you how much I admire, how much I love you!’
She started, she stared at him with distended eyes, and her small mouth was open like a ring.
‘Yes!’ he continued in a rapid and impassioned tone. ‘I at length find an opportunity of giving way to feelings which it has been long difficult for me to control. O beautiful being! tell me, tell me that I am blessed!’
‘My Lord! I— I am most honoured; pardon me if I say, most surprised.’
‘Yes! from the first moment that your ineffable loveliness rose on my vision my mind has fed upon your image. Our acquaintance has only realised, of your character, all that my imagination had preconceived, Such unrivalled beauty, such unspeakable grace, could only have been the companions of that exquisite taste and that charming delicacy which, even to witness, has added great felicity to my existence. Oh! tell me — tell me that they shall be for me something better than a transient spectacle. Condescend to share the fortune and the fate of one who only esteems his lot in life because it enables him to offer you a station not utterly unworthy of your transcendent excellence!’
‘I have permitted your Grace to proceed too far. For your — for my own sake, I should sooner have interfered, but, in truth, I was so astounded at your unexpected address that I have but just succeeded in recalling my scattered senses. Let me again express to you my acknowledgments for an honour which I feel is great; but permit me to regret that for your offer of your hand and fortune these acknowledgments are all I can return.’
‘Miss Dacre! am I then to wake to the misery of being rejected?’
‘A little week ago, Duke of St. James, we were strangers. It would be hard if it were in the power of either of us now to deliver the other to misery.’
‘You are offended, then, at the presumption which, on so slight an acquaintance, has aspired to your hand. It is indeed a high possession. I thought only of you, not of myself. Your perfections require no time for recognition. Perhaps my imperfections require time for indulgence. Let me then hope!’
‘You have misconceived my meaning, and I regret that a foolish phrase should occasion you the trouble of fresh solicitude, and me the pain of renewed refusal. In a word, it is not in my power to accept your hand.’
He rose from the table, and stifled the groan which struggled in his throat. He paced up and down the room with an agitated step and a convulsed brow, which marked the contest of his passions. But he was not desperate. His heart was full of high resolves and mighty meanings, indefinite but great, He felt like some conqueror, who, marking the battle going against him, proud in his infinite resources and invincible power, cannot credit the madness of a defeat. And the lady, she leant her head upon her delicate arm, and screened her countenance from his scrutiny.
‘Miss Dacre! pardon this prolonged intrusion; forgive this renewed discourse. But let me only hope that a more favoured rival is the cause of my despair, and I will thank you ——’
‘My Lord Duke,’ she said, looking up with a faint blush, but with a flashing eye, and in an audible and even energetic tone, ‘the question you ask is neither fair nor manly; but, as you choose to press me, I will say that it requires no recollection of a third person to make me decline the honour which you intended me.’
‘Miss Dacre! you speak in anger, almost in bitterness. Believe me,’ he added, rather with an air of pique, ‘had I imagined from your conduct towards me that I was an object of dislike, I would have spared you this inconvenience and myself this humiliation.’
‘At Castle Dacre, my conduct to all its inmates is the same. The Duke of St. James, indeed, hath both hereditary and personal claims to be considered here as something better than a mere inmate; but your Grace has elected to dissolve all connection with our house, and I am not desirous of assisting you in again forming any.’
‘Harsh words, Miss Dacre!’
‘Harsher truth, my Lord Duke,’ said Miss Dacre, rising from her seat, and twisting a pen with agitated energy. ‘You have prolonged this interview, not I. Let it end, for I am not skilful in veiling my mind; and I should regret, here at least, to express what I have hitherto succeeded in concealing.’
‘It cannot end thus,’ said his Grace: ‘let me, at any rate, know the worst. You have, if not too much kindness, at least too much candour, to part sol’ ‘I am at a loss to understand,’ said Miss Dacre, ‘what other object our conversation can have for your Grace than to ascertain my feelings, which I have already declared more than once, upon a point which you have already more than once urged. If I have not been sufficiently explicit or sufficiently clear, let me tell you, sir, that nothing but the request of a parent whom I adore would have induced me even to speak to the person who had dared to treat him with contempt.’ ‘Miss Dacre!’
‘You are moved, or you affect to be moved. ’Tis well: if a word from a stranger can thus affect you, you may be better able to comprehend the feelings of that person whose affections you have so long outraged; your equal in blood, Duke of St. James, your superior in all other respects.’
‘Beautiful being!’ said his Grace, advancing, falling on his knee, and seizing her hand. ‘Pardon, pardon, pardon! Like your admirable sire, forgive; cast into oblivion all remembrance of my fatal youth. Is not your anger, is not this moment, a bitter, an utter expiation for all my folly, all my thoughtless, all my inexperienced folly; for it was no worse? On my knees, and in the face of Heaven, let me pray you to be mine. I have staked my happiness upon this venture. In your power is my fate. On you it depends whether I shall discharge my duty to society, to the country to which I owe so much, or whether I shall move in it without an aim, an object, or a hope. Think, think only of the sympathy of our dispositions; the similarity of our tastes. Think, think only of the felicity that might be ours. Think of the universal good we might achieve! Is there anything that human reason could require that we could not command? any object which human mind could imagine that we could not obtain? And, as for myself, I swear that I will be the creature of your will. Nay, nay! oaths are mockery, vows are idle! Is it possible to share existence with you, beloved girl! without watching for your every wish, without —’
‘My Lord Duke, this must end. You do not recommend yourself to me by this rhapsody. What do you know of me, that you should feel all this? I may be different from what you expected; that is all. Another week, and another woman may command a similar effusion. I do not believe you to be insincere. There would be more hope for you if you were. You act from impulse, and not from principle. This is your best excuse for your conduct to my father. It is one that I accept, but which will certainly ever prevent me from becoming your wife. Farewell!’ ‘Nay, nay! let us not part in enmity!’ ‘Enmity and friendship are strong words; words that are much abused. There is another, which must describe our feelings towards the majority of mankind, and mine towards you. Substitute for enmity indifference.’
She quitted the room: he remained there for some minutes, leaning on the mantelpiece, and then rushed into the park. He hurried for some distance with the rapid and uncertain step which betokens a tumultuous and disordered mind. At length he found himself among the ruins of Dacre Abbey. The silence and solemnity of the scene made him conscious, by the contrast, of his own agitated existence; the desolation of the beautiful ruin accorded with his own crushed and beautiful hopes. He sat himself at the feet of the clustered columns, and, covering his face with his hands, he wept.
They were the first tears that he had shed since childhood, and they were agony. Men weep but once, but then their tears are blood. We think almost their hearts must crack a little, so heartless are they ever after. Enough of this.
It is bitter to leave our fathers hearth for the first time; bitter is the eve of our return, when a thousand fears rise in our haunted souls. Bitter are hope deferred, and self-reproach, and power unrecognised. Bitter is poverty; bitterer still is debt. It is bitter to be neglected; it is more bitter to be misunderstood. It is bitter to lose an only child. It is bitter to look upon the land which once was ours. Bitter is a sister’s woe, a brother’s scrape; bitter a mother’s tear, and bitterer still a father’s curse. Bitter are a briefless bag, a curate’s bread, a diploma that brings no fee. Bitter is half-pay!
It is bitter to muse on vanished youth; it is bitter to lose an election or a suit. Bitter are rage suppressed, vengeance unwreaked, and prize-money kept back. Bitter are a failing crop, a glutted market, and a shattering spec. Bitter are rents in arrear and tithes in kind. Bitter are salaries reduced and perquisites destroyed. Bitter is a tax, particularly if misapplied; a rate, particularly if embezzled. Bitter is a trade too full, and bitterer still a trade that has worn out. Bitter is a bore!
It is bitter to lose one’s hair or teeth. It is bitter to find our annual charge exceed our income. It is bitter to hear of others’ fame when we are boys. It is bitter to resign the seals we fain would keep. It is bitter to hear the winds blow when we have ships at sea, or friends. Bitter are a broken friendship and a dying love. Bitter a woman scorned, a man betrayed!
Bitter is the secret woe which none can share. Bitter are a brutal husband and a faithless wife, a silly daughter and a sulky son. Bitter are a losing card, a losing horse. Bitter the public hiss, the private sneer. Bitter are old age without respect, manhood without wealth, youth without fame. Bitter is the east wind’s blast; bitter a stepdame’s kiss. It is bitter to mark the woe which we cannot relieve. It is bitter to die in a foreign land.
But bitterer far than this, than these, than all, is waking from our first delusion! For then we first feel the nothingness of self; that hell of sanguine spirits. All is dreary, blank, and cold. The sun of hope sets without a ray, and the dim night of dark despair shadows only phantoms. The spirits that guard round us in our pride have gone. Fancy, weeping, flies. Imagination droops her glittering pinions and sinks into the earth. Courage has no heart, and love seems a traitor. A busy demon whispers in our ear that all is vain and worthless, and we among the vainest of a worthless crew!
And so our young friend here now depreciated as much as he had before exaggerated his powers. There seemed not on the earth’s face a more forlorn, a more feeble, a less estimable wretch than himself, but just now a hero. O! what a fool, what a miserable, contemptible fool was he! With what a light tongue and lighter heart had he spoken of this woman who despised, who spurned him! His face blushed, ay! burnt, at the remembrance of his reveries and his fond monologues! the very recollection made him shudder with disgust. He looked up to see if any demon were jeering him among the ruins.
His heart was so crushed that hope could not find even one desolate chamber to smile in. His courage was so cowed that, far from indulging in the distant romance to which, under these circumstances, we sometimes fly, he only wondered at the absolute insanity which, for a moment, had permitted him to aspire to her possession. ‘Sympathy of dispositions! Similarity of tastes, forsooth! Why, we are different existences! Nature could never have made us for the same world or with the same clay! O consummate being! why, why did we meet? Why, why are my eyes at length unsealed? Why, why do I at length feel conscious of my utter worthlessness? O God! I am miserable!’ He arose and hastened to the house. He gave orders to Luigi and his people to follow him to Rosemount with all practicable speed, and having left a note for his host with the usual excuse, he mounted his horse, and in half an hour’s time, with a countenance like a stormy sea, was galloping through the park gates of Dacre.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07