First published in 1878.
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Four years ago — in 1874 — two young Englishmen had occasion to go to the United States. They crossed the ocean at midsummer and, arriving in New York on the first day of August, were much struck with the high, the torrid temperature. Disembarking upon the wharf they climbed into one of the huge high-hung coaches that convey passengers to the hotels, and with a great deal of bouncing and bumping they took their course through Broadway. The midsummer aspect of New York is doubtless not the most engaging, though nothing perhaps could well more solicit an alarmed attention. Of quite other sense and sound from those of any typical English street was the endless rude channel, rich in incongruities, through which our two travellers advanced — looking out on either side at the rough animation of the sidewalks, at the high-coloured heterogeneous architecture, at the huge white marble façades that, bedizened with gilded lettering, seemed to glare in the strong crude light, at the multifarious awnings, banners and streamers, at the extraordinary number of omnibuses, horse-cars and other democratic vehicles, at the vendors of cooling fluids, the white trousers and big straw hats of the policemen, the tripping gait of the modish young persons on the pavement, the general brightness, newness, juvenility, both of people and things. The young men had exchanged few observations, but in crossing Union Square, in front of the monument to Washington — in the very shadow indeed projected by the image of the pater patriae— one of them remarked to the other: “Awfully rum place.”
“Ah, very odd, very odd,” said the other, who was the clever man of the two.
“Pity it’s so beastly hot,” resumed the first speaker after a pause.
“You know we’re in a low latitude,” said the clever man.
“I daresay,” remarked his friend.
“I wonder,” said the second speaker presently, “if they can give one a bath.”
“I daresay not,” the other returned.
“Oh I say!” cried his comrade.
This animated discussion dropped on their arrival at the hotel, recommended to them by an American gentleman whose acquaintance they had made — with whom, indeed, they had become very intimate — on the steamer and who had proposed to accompany them to the inn and introduce them in a friendly way to the proprietor. This plan, however, had been defeated by their friend’s finding his “partner” in earnest attendance on the wharf, with urgent claims on his immediate presence of mind. But the two Englishmen, with nothing beyond their national prestige and personal graces to recommend them, were very well received at the hotel, which had an air of capacious hospitality. They found a bath not unattainable and were indeed struck with the facilities for prolonged and reiterated immersion with which their apartment was supplied. After bathing a good deal — more indeed than they had ever done before on a single occasion — they made their way to the dining-room of the hotel, which was a spacious restaurant with a fountain in the middle, a great many tall plants in ornamental tubs and an array of French waiters. The first dinner on land, after a sea-voyage, is in any connexion a delightful hour, and there was much that ministered to ease in the general situation of our young men. They were formed for good spirits and addicted and appointed to hilarity; they were more observant than they appeared; they were, in an inarticulate accidentally dissimulative fashion, capable of high appreciation. This was perhaps especially the case with the elder, who was also, as I have said, the man of talent. They sat down at a little table which was a very different affair from the great clattering see-saw in the saloon of the steamer. The wide doors and windows of the restaurant stood open, beneath large awnings, to a wide expanse studded with other plants in tubs and rows of spreading trees — beyond which appeared a large shady square without palings and with marble-paved walks. And above the vivid verdure rose other façades of white marble and of pale chocolate-coloured stone, squaring themselves against the deep blue sky. Here, outside, in the light and the shade and the heat, was a great tinkling of the bells of innumerable street-cars and a constant strolling and shuffling and rustling of many pedestrians, extremely frequent among whom were young women in Pompadour-looking dresses. The place within was cool and vaguely lighted; with the plash of water, the odour of flowers and the flitting of French waiters, as I have said, on soundless carpets.
“It’s rather like Paris, you know,” said the younger of our two travellers.
“It’s like Paris — only more so,” his companion returned.
“I suppose it’s the French waiters,” said the first speaker. “Why don’t they have French waiters in London?”
“Ah, but fancy a French waiter at a London club!” said his friend.
The elder man stared as if he couldn’t fancy it. “In Paris I’m very apt to dine at a place where there’s an English waiter. Don’t you know, what’s-his-name’s, close to the thingumbob? They always set an English waiter at me. I suppose they think I can’t speak French.”
“No more you can!” And this candid critic unfolded his napkin.
The other paid no heed whatever to his candour. “I say,” the latter resumed in a moment, “I suppose we must learn to speak American. I suppose we must take lessons.”
“I can’t make them out, you know,” said the clever man.
“What the deuce is he saying?” asked his comrade, appealing from the French waiter.
“He’s recommending some soft-shell crabs,” said the clever man.
And so, in a desultory view of the mysteries of the new world bristling about them, the young Englishmen proceeded to dine — going in largely, as the phrase is, for cooling draughts and dishes, as to which their attendant submitted to them a hundred alternatives. After dinner they went out and slowly walked about the neighbouring streets. The early dusk of waning summer was at hand, but the heat still very great. The pavements were hot even to the stout boot-soles of the British travellers, and the trees along the kerb-stone emitted strange exotic odours. The young men wandered through the adjoining square — that queer place without palings and with marble walks arranged in black and white lozenges. There were a great many benches crowded with shabby-looking people, and the visitors remarked very justly that it wasn’t much like Grosvenor Square. On one side was an enormous hotel, lifting up into the hot darkness an immense array of open and brightly-lighted windows. At the base of this populous structure was an eternal jangle of horse-cars, and all round it, in the upper dusk, a sinister hum of mosquitoes. The ground-floor of the hotel, figuring a huge transparent cage, flung a wide glare of gaslight into the street, of which it formed a public adjunct, absorbing and emitting the passers-by promiscuously. The young Englishmen went in with every one else, from curiosity, and saw a couple of hundred men sitting on divans along a great marble-paved corridor, their legs variously stretched out, together with several dozen more standing in a queue, as at the ticket-office of a railway station, before a vast marble altar of sacrifice, a thing shaped like the counter of a huge shop. These latter persons, who carried portmanteaus in their hands, had a dejected exhausted look; their garments were not fresh, as if telling of some rush, or some fight, for life, and they seemed to render mystic tribute to a magnificent young man with a waxed moustache and a shirt front adorned with diamond buttons, who every now and then dropped a cold glance over their multitudinous patience. They were American citizens doing homage to an hotel-clerk.
“I’m glad he didn’t tell us to go there,” said one of our Englishmen, alluding to their friend on the steamer, who had told them so many things. They walked up the Fifth Avenue, where he had, for instance, told them all the first families lived. But the first families were out of town, and our friends had but the satisfaction of seeing some of the second — or perhaps even the third — taking the evening air on balconies and high flights of doorsteps in streets at right angles to the main straight channel. They went a little way down one of these side-streets and there saw young ladies in white dresses — charming-looking persons — seated in graceful attitudes on the chocolate-coloured steps. In one or two places these young ladies were conversing across the street with other young ladies seated in similar postures and costumes in front of the opposite houses, and in the warm night air their colloquial tones sounded strangely in the ears of the young Englishmen. One of the latter, nevertheless — the younger — betrayed a disposition to intercept some stray item of this interchange and see what it would lead to; but his companion observed pertinently enough that he had better be careful. They mustn’t begin by making mistakes.
“But he told us, you know — he told us,” urged the young man, alluding again to the friend on the steamer.
“Never mind what he told us!” answered his elder, who, if he had more years and a more developed wit, was also apparently more of a moralist.
By bedtime — in their impatience to taste of a terrestrial couch again our seafarers went to bed early — it was still insufferably hot, and the buzz of the mosquitoes at the open windows might have passed for an audible crepitation of the temperature. “We can’t stand this, you know,” the young Englishmen said to each other; and they tossed about all night more boisterously than they had been tossed by Atlantic billows. On the morrow their first thought was that they would reembark that day for England, but it then occurred to them they might find an asylum nearer at hand. The cave of Æolus became their ideal of comfort, and they wondered where the Americans went when wishing to cool off. They hadn’t the least idea, and resolved to apply for information to Mr. J. L. Westgate. This was the name — inscribed in a bold hand on the back of a letter carefully preserved in the pocket-book of our younger gentleman. Beneath the address, in the left-hand corner of the envelope, were the words “Introducing Lord Lambeth and Percy Beaumont Esq.” The letter had been given to the two Englishmen by a good friend of theirs in London, who had been in America two years previously and had singled out Mr. J. L. Westgate from the many friends he had left there as the consignee, as it were, of his compatriots. “He’s really very decent,” the Englishman in London had said, “and he has an awfully pretty wife. He’s tremendously hospitable — he’ll do everything in the world for you, and as he knows every one over there it’s quite needless I should give you any other introduction. He’ll make you see every one — trust him for the right kick-off. He has a tremendously pretty wife.” It was natural that in the hour of tribulation Lord Lambeth and Mr. Percy Beaumont should have bethought themselves of so possible a benefactor; all the more so that he lived in the Fifth Avenue and that the Fifth Avenue, as they had ascertained the night before, was contiguous to their hotel. “Ten to one he’ll be out of town,” said Percy Beaumont; “but we can at least find out where he has gone and can at once give chase. He can’t possibly have gone to a hotter place, you know.”
“Oh there’s only one hotter place,” said Lord Lambeth, “and I hope he hasn’t gone there.”
They strolled along the shady side of the street to the number indicated by the precious letter. The house presented an imposing chocolate-coloured expanse, relieved by facings and window-cornices of florid sculpture and by a couple of dusty rose-trees which clambered over the balconies and the portico. This last-mentioned feature was approached by a monumental flight of steps.
“Rather better than a dirty London thing,” said Lord Lambeth, looking down from this altitude after they had rung the bell.
“It depends upon what London thing you mean,” replied his companion. “You’ve a tremendous chance to get wet between the house-door and your carriage.”
“Well,” said Lord Lambeth, glancing at the blaze of the sky, “I ‘guess’ it doesn’t rain so much here!”
The door was opened by a long negro in a white jacket, who grinned familiarly when Lord Lambeth asked for Mr. Westgate. “He ain’t at home, sir; he’s down town at his office.”
“Oh at his office?” said the visitors. “And when will he be at home?”
“Well, when he goes out dis way in de mo’ning he ain’t liable to come home all day.”
This was discouraging; but the address of Mr. Westgate’s office was freely imparted by the intelligent black and was taken down by Percy Beaumont in his pocket-book. The comrades then returned, languidly enough, to their hotel and sent for a hackney-coach; and in this commodious vehicle they rolled comfortably down town. They measured the whole length of Broadway again and found it a path of fire; and then, deflecting to the left, were deposited by their conductor before a fresh light ornamental structure, ten stories high, in a street crowded with keen-faced light-limbed young men who were running about very nimbly and stopping each other eagerly at corners and in doorways. Passing under portals that were as the course of a twofold torrent, they were introduced by one of the keen-faced young men — he was a charming fellow in wonderful cream-coloured garments and a hat with a blue ribbon, who had evidently recognised them as aliens and helpless — to a very snug hydraulic elevator, in which they took their place with many other persons and which, shooting upward in its vertical socket, presently projected them into the seventh heaven, as it were, of the edifice. Here, after brief delay, they found themselves face to face with the friend of their friend in London. His office was composed of several conjoined rooms, and they waited very silently in one of these after they had sent in their letter and their cards. The letter was not one it would take Mr. Westgate very long to read, but he came out to speak to them more instantly than they could have expected; he had evidently jumped up from work. He was a tall lean personage and was dressed all in fresh white linen; he had a thin sharp familiar face, a face suggesting one of the ingenious modern objects with alternative uses, good as a blade or as a hammer, good for the deeps and for the shallows. His forehead was high but expressive, his eyes sharp but amused, and a large brown moustache, which concealed his mouth, made his chin, beneath it, look small. Relaxed though he was at this moment Lord Lambeth judged him on the spot tremendously clever.
“How do you do, Lord Lambeth, how do you do, sir?”— he held the open letter in his hand. “I’m very glad to meet you — I hope you’re very well. You had better come in here — I think it’s cooler”; and he led the way into another room, where there were law-books and papers and where windows opened wide under striped awnings. Just opposite one of the windows, on a line with his eyes, Lord Lambeth observed the weather-vane of a church-steeple. The uproar of the street sounded infinitely far below, and his lordship felt high indeed in the air. “I say it’s cooler,” pursued their host, “but everything’s relative. How do you stand the heat?”
“I can’t say we like it,” said Lord Lambeth; “but Beaumont likes it better than I.”
“Well, I guess it will break,” Mr. Westgate cheerfully declared; “there’s never anything bad over here but it does break. It was very hot when Captain Littledale was here; he did nothing but drink sherry-cobblers. He expresses some doubt in his letter whether I shall remember him — as if I don’t remember once mixing six sherry-cobblers for him in about fifteen minutes. I hope you left him well. I’d be glad to mix him some more.”
“Oh yes, he’s all right — and without them,” said Lord Lambeth.
“I’m always very glad to see your countrymen,” Mr. Westgate pursued. “I thought it would be time some of you should be coming along. A friend of mine was saying to me only a day or two ago, ‘It’s time for the water-melons and the Englishmen.’”
“The Englishmen and the water-melons just now are about the same thing,” Percy Beaumont observed with a wipe of his dripping forehead.
“Ah well, we’ll put you on ice as we do the melons. You must go down to Newport.”
“We’ll go anywhere!” said Lord Lambeth.
“Yes, you want to go to Newport; that’s what you want to do.” Mr. Westgate was very positive. “But let’s see — when did you get here?”
“Only yesterday,” said Percy Beaumont.
“Ah yes, by the Russia. Where are you staying?”
“At the Hanover, I think they call it.”
“Pretty comfortable?” inquired Mr. Westgate.
“It seems a capital place, but I can’t say we like the gnats,” said Lord Lambeth.
Mr. Westgate stared and laughed. “Oh no, of course you don’t like the gnats. We shall expect you to like a good many things over here, but we shan’t insist on your liking the gnats; though certainly you’ll admit that, as gnats, they’re big things, eh? But you oughtn’t to remain in the city.”
“So we think,” said Lord Lambeth. “If you’d kindly suggest something —”
“Suggest something, my dear sir?”— and Mr. Westgate looked him over with narrowed eyelids. “Open your mouth and shut your eyes! Leave it to me and I’ll fix you all right. It’s a matter of national pride with me that all Englishmen should have a good time, and as I’ve been through a good deal with them I’ve learned to minister to their wants. I find they generally want the true thing. So just please consider yourselves my property; and if any one should try to appropriate you please say, ‘Hands off — too late for the market.’ But let’s see,” continued the American with his face of toil, his voice of leisure and his general intention, apparently, of everything; “let’s see: are you going to make something of a stay, Lord Lambeth?”
“Oh dear no,” said the young Englishman; “my cousin was to make this little visit, so I just came with him, at an hour’s notice, for the lark.”
“Is it your first time over here?”
“Oh dear yes.”
“I was obliged to come on some business,” Percy Beaumont explained, “and I brought Lambeth along for company.”
“And you have been here before, sir?”
“I thought from your referring to business —” Mr. Westgate threw off.
“Oh you see I’m just acting for some English shareholders by way of legal advice. Some of my friends — well, if the truth must be told,” Mr. Beaumont laughed —“have a grievance against one of your confounded railways, and they’ve asked me to come and judge, if possible, on the spot, what they can hope.”
Mr. Westgate’s amused eyes grew almost tender. “What’s your railroad?” he asked.
“The Tennessee Central.”
The American tilted back his chair and poised it an instant. “Well, I’m sorry you want to attack one of our institutions. But I guess you had better enjoy yourself first!”
“I’m certainly rather afraid I can’t work in this weather,” the young emissary confessed.
“Leave that to the natives,” said Mr. Westgate. “Leave the Tennessee Central to me, Mr. Beaumont. I guess I can tell you more about it than most any one. But I didn’t know you Englishmen ever did any work — in the upper classes.”
“Oh we do a lot of work, don’t we, Lambeth?” Percy Beaumont appealed.
“I must certainly be back early for my engagements,” said his companion irrelevantly but gently.
“For the shooting, eh? or is it the yachting or the hunting or the fishing?” inquired his entertainer.
“Oh I must be in Scotland,”— and Lord Lambeth just amiably blushed.
“Well, then,” Mr. Westgate returned, “you had better amuse yourself first also. You must go right down and see Mrs. Westgate.”
“We should be so happy — if you’d kindly tell us the train,” said Percy Beaumont.
“You don’t take any train. You take a boat.”
“Oh I see. And what is the name of — a — the — a — town?”
“It’s a regular old city — don’t you let them hear you call it a village or a hamlet or anything of that kind. They’d half-kill you. Only it’s a city of pleasure — of lawns and gardens and verandahs and views and, above all, of good Samaritans,” Mr. Westgate developed. “But you’ll see what Newport is. It’s cool. That’s the principal thing. You’ll greatly oblige me by going down there and putting yourself in the hands of Mrs. Westgate. It isn’t perhaps for me to say it, but you couldn’t be in better ones. Also in those of her sister, who’s staying with her. She’s half-crazy about Englishmen. She thinks there’s nothing like them.”
“Mrs. Westgate or — a — her sister?” asked Percy Beaumont modestly, yet in the tone of a collector of characteristic facts.
“Oh I mean my wife,” said Mr. Westgate. “I don’t suppose my sister-inlaw knows much about them yet. You’ll show her anyhow. She has always led a very quiet life. She has lived in Boston.”
Percy Beaumont listened with interest. “That, I believe, is the most intellectual centre.”
“Well, yes — Boston knows it’s central and feels it’s intellectual. I don’t go there much — I stay round here,” Mr. Westgate more loosely pursued.
“I say, you know, we ought to go there,” Lord Lambeth broke out to his companion.
“Oh Lord Lambeth, wait till the great heat’s over!” Mr. Westgate interposed. “Boston in this weather would be very trying; it’s not the temperature for intellectual exertion. At Boston, you know, you have to pass an examination at the city limits, and when you come away they give you a kind of degree.”
Lord Lambeth flushed himself, in his charming way, with wonder, though his friend glanced to make sure he wasn’t looking too credulous — they had heard so much about American practices. He decided in time, at any rate, to take a safe middle course. “I daresay it’s very jolly.”
“I daresay it is,” Mr. Westgate returned. “Only I must impress on you that at present — tomorrow morning at an early hour — you’ll be expected at Newport. We have a house there — many of our most prominent citizens and society leaders go there for the summer. I’m not sure that at this very moment my wife can take you in — she has a lot of people staying with her. I don’t know who they all are — only she may have no room. But you can begin with the hotel and meanwhile you can live at my house. In that way — simply sleeping at the hotel — you’ll find it tolerable. For the rest you must make yourself at home at my place. You mustn’t be shy, you know; if you’re only here for a month that will be a great waste of time. Mrs. Westgate won’t neglect you, and you had better not undertake to resist her. I know something about that. I guess you’ll find some pretty girls on the premises. I shall write to my wife by this afternoon’s mail, and tomorrow she and Miss Alden will look out for you. Just walk right in and get into touch. Your steamer leaves from this part of the city, and I’ll send right out and get you a cabin. Then at half-past four o’clock just call for me here, and I’ll go with you and put you on board. It’s a big boat; you might get lost. A few days hence, at the end of the week, I don’t know but I’ll come down myself and see how you are.”
The two young Englishmen inaugurated the policy of not resisting Mrs. Westgate by submitting, with great docility and thankfulness, to her husband. He was evidently a clear thinker, and he made an impression on his visitors; his hospitality seemed to recommend itself consciously — with a friendly wink, as might be, hinting judicially that you couldn’t make a better bargain. Lord Lambeth and his cousin left their entertainer to his labours and returned to their hotel, where they spent three or four hours in their respective shower-baths. Percy Beaumont had suggested that they ought to see something of the town, but “Oh damn the town!” his noble kinsman had rejoined. They returned to Mr. Westgate’s office in a carriage, with their luggage, very punctually; but it must be reluctantly recorded that this time he so kept them waiting that they felt themselves miss their previous escape and were deterred only by an amiable modesty from dispensing with his attendance and starting on a hasty scramble to embark. But when at last he appeared and the carriage plunged into the purlieus of Broadway they jolted and jostled to such good purpose that they reached the huge white vessel while the bell for departure was still ringing and the absorption of passengers still active. It was indeed, as Mr. Westgate had said, a big boat, and his leadership in the innumerable and interminable corridors and cabins, with which he seemed perfectly acquainted and of which any one and every one appeared to have the entrée, was very grateful to the slightly bewildered voyagers. He showed them their state-room — a luxurious retreat embellished with gas-lamps, mirrors en pied and florid furniture — and then, long after they had been intimately convinced that the steamer was in motion and launched upon the unknown stream they were about to navigate, he bade them a sociable farewell.
“Well, good-bye, Lord Lambeth,” he said. “Goodbye, Mr. Percy Beaumont. I hope you’ll have a good time. Just let them do what they want with you. Take it as it’s meant. Renounce your own personality. I’ll come down by and by and enjoy what’s left of you.”
The young Englishmen emerged from their cabin and amused themselves with wandering about the immense labyrinthine ship, which struck them as a monstrous floating hotel or even as a semi-submerged kindergarten. It was densely crowded with passengers, the larger number of whom appeared to be ladies and very young children; and in the big saloons, ornamented in white and gold, which followed each other in surprising succession, beneath the swinging gas-lights and among the small side-passages where the negro domestics of both sexes assembled with an air of amused criticism, every one was moving to and fro and exchanging loud and familiar observations. Eventually, at the instance of a blackamoor more closely related to the scene than his companions, our friends went and had “supper” in a wonderful place arranged like a theatre, where, from a gilded gallery upon which little boxes appeared to open, a large orchestra played operatic selections and, below, people handed about bills of fare in the manner of programmes. All this was sufficiently curious; but the agreeable thing, later, was to sit out on one of the great white decks in the warm breezy darkness and, the vague starlight aiding, make out the line of low mysterious coast. Our travellers tried American cigars — those of Mr. Westgate — and conversed, as they usually conversed, with many odd silences, lapses of logic and incongruities of transition; like a pair who have grown old together and learned to guess each other’s sense; or, more especially, like persons so conscious of a common point of view that missing links and broken lights and loose ends, the unexpressed and the understood, could do the office of talk.
“We really seem to be going out to sea,” Percy Beaumont observed. “Upon my honour we’re going back to England. He has shipped us off again. I call that ‘real mean.’”
“I daresay it’s all right,” said Lord Lambeth. “I want to see those pretty girls at Newport. You know he told us the place was an island, and aren’t all islands in the sea?”
“Well,” resumed the elder traveller after a while, “if his house is as good as his cigars I guess we shall muddle through.”
“I fancy he’s awfully ‘prominent,’ you know, and I rather liked him,” Lord Lambeth pursued as if this appreciation of Mr. Westgate had but just glimmered on him.
His comrade, however, engaged in another thought, didn’t so much as appear to catch it. “I say, I guess we had better remain at the inn. I don’t think I like the way he spoke of his house. I rather object to turning in with such a tremendous lot of women.”
“Oh I don’t mind,” said Lord Lambeth. And then they smoked a while in silence. “Fancy his thinking we do no work in England!” the young man resumed.
But it didn’t rouse his friend, who only replied: “I daresay he didn’t really a bit think so.”
“Well, I guess they don’t know much about England over here!” his lordship humorously sighed. After which there was another long pause. “He has got us out of a hole,” observed the young nobleman.
Percy Beaumont genially assented. “Nobody certainly could have been more civil.”
“Littledale said his wife was great fun,” Lord Lambeth then contributed.
“Whose wife — Littledale’s?”
“Our benefactor’s. Mrs. Westgate. What’s his name? J. L. It ‘kind of’ sounds like a number. But I guess it’s a high number,” he continued with freshened gaiety.
The same influences appeared, however, with Mr. Beaumont to make rather for anxiety. “What was fun to Littledale,” he said at last a little sententiously, “may be death to us.”
“What do you mean by that?” his companion asked. “I’m as good a man as Littledale.”
“My dear boy, I hope you won’t begin to flirt,” said the elder man.
His friend smoked acutely. “Well, I daresay I shan’t begin.”
“With a married woman, if she’s bent upon it, it’s all very well,” Mr. Beaumont allowed. “But our friend mentioned a young lady — a sister, a sister-inlaw. For God’s sake keep free of her.”
“How do you mean, ‘free’?”
“Depend upon it she’ll try to land you.”
“Oh rot!” said Lord Lambeth.
“American girls are very ‘cute,’” the other urged.
“So much the better,” said the young man.
“I fancy they’re always up to some wily game,” Mr. Beaumont developed.
“They can’t be worse than they are in England,” said Lord Lambeth judicially.
“Ah, but in England you’ve got your natural protectors. You’ve got your mother and sisters.”
“My mother and sisters —!” the youth began with a certain energy. But he stopped in time, puffing at his cigar.
“Your mother spoke to me about it with tears in her eyes,” said his monitor. “She said she felt very nervous. I promised to keep you out of mischief.”
“You had better take care of yourself!” cried Mr. Beaumont’s charge.
“Ah,” the responsible party returned, “I haven’t the expectation of — whatever it is you expect. Not to mention other attractions.”
“Well,” said Lord Lambeth, “don’t cry out before you’re hurt!”
It was certainly very much cooler at Newport, where the travellers found themselves assigned to a couple of diminutive bedrooms in a far-away angle of an immense hotel. They had gone ashore in the early summer twilight and had very promptly put themselves to bed; thanks to which circumstance and to their having, during the previous hours, in their commodious cabin, slept the sleep of youth and health, they began to feel, towards eleven o’clock, very alert and inquisitive. They looked out of their windows across a row of small green fields, bordered with low stone dykes of rude construction, and saw a deep blue ocean lying beneath a deep blue sky and flecked now and then with scintillating patches of foam. A strong fresh breeze came in through the curtainless apertures and prompted our young men to observe generously that it didn’t seem half a bad climate. They made other observations after they had emerged from their rooms in pursuit of breakfast — a meal of which they partook in a huge bare hall where a hundred negroes in white jackets shuffled about on an uncarpeted floor; where the flies were superabundant and the tables and dishes covered over with a strange voluminous integument of coarse blue gauze; and where several little boys and girls, who had risen late, were seated in fastidious solitude at the morning repast. These young persons had not the morning paper before them, but were engaged in languid perusal of the bill of fare.
This latter document was a great puzzle to our friends, who, on reflecting that its bewildering categories took account of breakfast alone, had the uneasy prevision of an encyclopedic dinner-list. They found copious diversion at their inn, an enormous wooden structure for the erection of which it struck them the virgin forests of the West must have been quite laid waste. It was perforated from end to end with immense bare corridors, through which a strong draught freely blew, bearing along wonderful figures of ladies in white morning-dresses and clouds of Valenciennes lace, who floated down the endless vistas on expanded furbelows very much as angels spread their wings. In front was a gigantic verandah on which an army might have encamped — a vast wooden terrace with a roof as high as the nave of a cathedral. Here our young men enjoyed, as they supposed, a glimpse of American society, which was distributed over the measureless expanse in a variety of sedentary attitudes and appeared to consist largely of pretty young girls, dressed as for a fête champêtre, swaying to and fro in rocking-chairs, fanning themselves with large straw fans and enjoying an enviable exemption from social cares. Lord Lambeth had a theory, which it might be interesting to trace to its origin, that it would be not only agreeable, but easily possible, to enter into relations with one of these young ladies; and his companion found occasion to check his social yearning.
“You had better take care — else you’ll have an offended father or brother pulling out a bowie-knife.”
“I assure you it’s all right,” Lord Lambeth replied. “You know the Americans come to these big hotels to make acquaintances.”
“I know nothing about it, and neither do you,” said his comrade, who, like a clever man, had begun to see that the observation of American society demanded a readjustment of their standard.
“Hang it, then, let’s find out!” he cried with some impatience. “You know I don’t want to miss anything.”
“We will find out,” said Percy Beaumont very reasonably. “We’ll go and see Mrs. Westgate and make all the proper inquiries.”
And so the inquiring pair, who had this lady’s address inscribed in her husband’s hand on a card, descended from the verandah of the big hotel and took their way, according to direction, along a large straight road, past a series of fresh-looking villas, embosomed in shrubs and flowers and enclosed in an ingenious variety of wooden palings. The morning shone and fluttered, the villas stood up bravely in their smartness, and the walk of the young travellers turned all to confidence. Everything looked as if it had received a coat of fresh paint the day before — the red roofs, the green shutters, the clean bright browns and buffs of the house-fronts. The flower-beds on the little lawns sparkled in the radiant air and the gravel in the short carriage-sweeps flashed and twinkled. Along the road came a hundred little basket-phaetons in which, almost always, a couple of ladies were sitting — ladies in white dresses and long white gloves, holding the reins and looking at the two Englishmen, whose nationality was not elusive, through fine blue veils, tied tightly about their faces as if to guard their complexions. At last the visitors came within sight of the sea again, and then, having interrogated a gardener over the paling of a villa, turned into an open gate. Here they found themselves face to face with the ocean and with a many-pointed much-balconied structure, resembling a magnified chalet, perched on a green embankment just above it. The house had a verandah of extraordinary width all round, and a great many doors and windows standing open to the verandah. These various apertures had, together, such an accessible hospitable air, such a breezy flutter, within, of light curtains, such expansive thresholds and reassuring interiors, that our friends hardly knew which was the regular entrance and, after hesitating a moment, presented themselves at one of the windows. The room within was indistinct, but in a moment a graceful figure vaguely shaped itself in the rich-looking gloom — a lady came to meet them. Then they saw she had been seated at a table writing, and that, hearing them, she had got up. She stepped out into the light; she wore a frank charming smile, with which she held out her hand to Percy Beaumont.
“Oh you must be Lord Lambeth and Mr. Beaumont. I’ve heard from my husband that you were coming. I make you warmly welcome.” And she shook hands with each of her guests. Her guests were a little shy, but they made a gallant effort; they responded with smiles and exclamations, they apologised for not knowing the front door. The lady returned with vivacity that when she wanted to see people very much she didn’t insist on those distinctions, and that Mr. Westgate had written to her of his English friends in terms that made her really anxious. “He says you’re so terribly prostrated,” she reported.
“Oh you mean by the heat?”— Percy Beaumont rose to it. “We were rather knocked up, but we feel wonderfully better. We had such a jolly — a — voyage down here. It’s so very good of you to mind.”
“Yes, it’s so very kind of you,” murmured Lord Lambeth.
Mrs. Westgate stood smiling; Mrs. Westgate was pretty. “Well, I did mind, and I thought of sending for you this morning to the Ocean House. I’m very glad you’re better, and I’m charmed you’re really with us. You must come round to the other side of the piazza.” And she led the way, with a light smooth step, looking back at the young men and smiling.
The other side of the piazza was, as Lord Lambeth presently remarked, a very jolly place. It was of the most liberal proportions and, with its awnings, its fanciful chairs, its cushions and rugs, its view of the ocean close at hand and tumbling along the base of the low cliffs whose level tops intervened in lawnlike smoothness, formed a charming complement to the drawing-room. As such it was in course of employment at the present hour; it was occupied by a social circle. There were several ladies and two or three gentlemen, to whom Mrs. Westgate proceeded to introduce the distinguished strangers. She mentioned a great many names, very freely and distinctly; the young Englishmen, shuffling about and bowing, were rather bewildered. But at last they were provided with chairs — low wicker chairs, gilded and tied with a great many ribbons — and one of the ladies (a very young person with a little snub nose and several dimples) offered Percy Beaumont a fan. The fan was also adorned with pink love-knots, but the more guarded of our couple declined it, though he was very hot. Presently, however, everything turned to ease; the breeze from the sea was delicious and the view charming; the people sitting about looked fresh and fair. Several of the younger ladies were clearly girls, and the gentlemen slim bright youths such as our friends had seen the day before in New York. The ladies were working on bands of tapestry, and one of the young men had an open book in his lap. Percy afterwards learned from a lady that this young man had been reading aloud — that he was from Boston and was very fond of reading aloud. Percy pronounced it a great pity they had interrupted him; he should like so much (from all he had heard) to listen to a Bostonian read. Couldn’t the young man be induced to go on?
“Oh no,” said this informant very freely; “he wouldn’t be able to get the young ladies to attend to him now.”
There was something very friendly, Beaumont saw, in the attitude of the company; they looked at their new recruits with an air of animated sympathy and interest; they smiled, brightly and unanimously, at everything that dropped from either. Lord Lambeth and his companion felt they were indeed made cordially welcome. Mrs. Westgate seated herself between them, and while she talked continuously to each they had occasion to observe that she came up to their friend Littledale’s promise. She was thirty years old, with the eyes and the smile of a girl of seventeen, and was light and graceful — elegant, exquisite. Mrs. Westgate was, further, what she had occasion to describe some person, among her many winged words, as being, all spontaneity. Frank and demonstrative, she appeared always — while she looked at you delightedly with her beautiful young eyes — to be making sudden confessions and concessions, breaking out after momentary wonders.
“We shall expect to see a great deal of you,” she said to Lord Lambeth with her bland intensity. “We’re very fond of Englishmen here; that is, there are a great many we’ve been fond of. After a day or two you must come and stay with us; we hope you’ll stay a nice long while. Newport’s quite attractive when you come really to know it, when you know plenty of people. Of course you and Mr. Beaumont will have no difficulty about that. Englishmen are very well received here; there are almost always two or three of them about. I think they always like it, and I must say I should think they would. They receive particular attention — I must say I think they sometimes get spoiled; but I’m sure you and Mr. Beaumont are proof against that. My husband tells me you’re friends of Captain Littledale’s; he was such a charming man. He made himself so agreeable here that I wonder he didn’t stay. That would have carried out his system. It couldn’t have been pleasanter for him in his own country. Though I suppose it’s very pleasant in England too — for English people. I don’t know myself; I’ve been there very little. I’ve been a great deal abroad, but I always cling to the Continent. I must say I’m extremely fond of Paris; you know we Americans always are; we go there when we die. Did you ever hear that before? — it was said by a great wit. I mean the good Americans; but we’re all good — you’ll see that for yourself. All I know of England is London, and all I know of London is that place — on that little corner, you know — where you buy jackets, jackets with that coarse braid and those big buttons. They make very good jackets in London, I’ll do you the justice to say that. And some people like the hats. But about the hats I was always a heretic; I always got my hats in Paris. You can’t wear an English hat — at least, I never could — unless you dress your hair à l’anglaise; and I must say that’s a talent I never possessed. In Paris they’ll make things to suit your peculiarities; but in England I think you like much more to have — how shall I say it? — one thing for everybody. I mean as regards dress. I don’t know about other things; but I’ve always supposed that in other things everything was different. I mean according to the people — according to the classes and all that. I’m afraid you’ll think I don’t take a very favourable view; but you know you can’t take a very favourable view in Dover Street and the month of November. That has always been my fate. Do you know Jones’s Hotel in Dover Street? That’s all I know of England. Of course every one admits that the English hotels are your weak point. There was always the most frightful fog — I couldn’t see to try my things on. When I got over to America — into the light — I usually found they were twice too big. The next time I mean to go at the right season; I guess I’ll go next year. I want very much to take my sister; she has never been to England. I don’t know whether you know what I mean by saying that the Englishmen who come here sometimes get spoiled. I mean they take things as a matter of course — things that are done for them. Now naturally anything’s a matter of course only when the Englishmen are very nice. But you’ll say — oh yes you will, or you would if some of you ever did say much! — they’re almost always very nice. You can’t expect this to be nearly such an interesting country as England; there are not nearly so many things to see, and we haven’t your country life. I’ve never seen anything of your country life; when I’m in Europe I’m always on the Continent. But I’ve heard a great deal about it; I know that when you’re among yourselves in the country you have the most beautiful time. Of course we’ve nothing of that sort, we’ve nothing on that scale. I don’t apologise, Lord Lambeth; some Americans are always apologising; you must have noticed that. We’ve the reputation of always boasting and ‘blowing’ and waving the American flag; but I must say that what strikes me is that we’re perpetually making excuses and trying to smooth things over. The American flag has quite gone out of fashion; it’s very carefully folded up, like a tablecloth the worse for wear. Why should we apologise? The English never apologise — do they? No, I must say I never apologise. You must take us as we come — with all our imperfections on our heads. Of course we haven’t your country life and your old ruins and your great estates and your leisure-class and all that — though I don’t really know anything about them, because when I go over I always cling to the Continent. But if we haven’t I should think you might find it a pleasant change — I think any country’s pleasant where they have pleasant manners. Captain Littledale told me he had never seen such pleasant manners as at Newport, and he had been a great deal in European society. Hadn’t he been in the diplomatic service? He told me the dream of his life was to get appointed to a diplomatic post in Washington. But he doesn’t seem to have succeeded. Perhaps that was only a part of his pleasant manners. I suppose at any rate that in England promotion — and all that sort of thing — is fearfully slow. With us, you know, it’s a great deal too quick. You see I admit our drawbacks. But I must confess I think Newport an ideal place. I don’t know anything like it anywhere. Captain Littledale told me he didn’t know anything like it anywhere. It’s entirely different from most watering-places; it’s a much more refined life. I must say I think that when one goes to a foreign country one ought to enjoy the differences. Of course there are differences; otherwise what did one come abroad for? Look for your pleasure in the differences, Lord Lambeth; that’s the way to do it; and then I am sure you’ll find American society — at least the Newport phase quite unique. I wish very much Mr. Westgate were here; but he’s dreadfully confined to New York. I suppose you think that’s very strange — for a gentleman. Only you see we haven’t any leisure-class.”
Mrs. Westgate’s discourse was delivered with a mild merciless monotony, a paucity of intonation, an impartial flatness that suggested a flowery mead scrupulously “done over” by a steam roller that had reduced its texture to that of a drawing-room carpet. Lord Lambeth listened to her with, it must be confessed, a rather ineffectual attention, though he summoned to his aid such a show as he might of discriminating motions and murmurs. He had no great faculty for apprehending generalisations. There were some three or four indeed which, in the play of his own intelligence, he had originated and which had sometimes appeared to meet the case — any case; yet he felt he had never known such a case as Mrs. Westgate or as her presentation of her cases. But at the present time he could hardly have been said to follow this exponent as she darted fish-like through the sea of speculation. Fortunately she asked for no special rejoinder, since she looked about at the rest of the company as well and smiled at Mr. Beaumont on the other side of her as if he too must understand her and agree with her. He was measurably more successful than his companion; for besides being, as we know, cleverer, his attention was not vaguely distracted by close vicinity to a remarkably interesting young person with dark hair and blue eyes. This was the situation of Lord Lambeth, to whom it occurred after a while that the young person with blue eyes and dark hair might be the pretty sister of whom Mrs. Westgate had spoken. She presently turned to him with a remark establishing her identity.
“It’s a great pity you couldn’t have brought my brother-inlaw with you. It’s a great shame he should be in New York on such days as these.”
“Oh yes — it’s very stuffy,” said Lord Lambeth.
“It must be dreadful there,” said the pretty sister.
“I daresay he’s immensely taken up,” the young man returned with a sense of conscientiously yearning toward American realities.
“The gentlemen in America work too much,” his friend went on.
“Oh do they? Well, I daresay they like it,” he hopefully threw out.
“I don’t like it. One never sees them.”
“Don’t you really?” asked Lord Lambeth. “I shouldn’t have fancied that.”
“Have you come to study American manners?” the blue eyes and dark hair went on.
“Oh I don’t know. I just came over for the joke of it. I haven’t got long.” Then occurred a pause, after which he began again. “But he will turn up here, won’t he?”
“I certainly hope he will. He must help to entertain you and Mr. Beaumont.”
Lord Lambeth looked at her from handsome eyes that were brown. “Do you suppose he’d have come down with us if we had pressed it?”
The pretty girl treated this as rather an easy conundrum. “I daresay he would,” she smiled.
“Really!” said the young Englishman. “Well, he was no end civil.”
His young woman seemed much amused; this at least was in her eyes, which freely met Lord Lambeth’s. “He would be. He’s a perfect husband. But all Americans are that,” she confidently continued.
“Really!” Lord Lambeth exclaimed again; and wondered whether all American ladies had such a passion for generalising as these two.
He sat there a good while: there was a great deal of talk; it was all pitched in a key of expression and emphasis rather new to him. Every one present, the cool maidens not least, personally addressed him, and seemed to make a particular point of doing so by the friendly repetition of his name. Three or four other persons came in, and there was a shifting of seats, a changing of places; the gentlemen took, individually, an interest in the visitors, putting somehow more imagination and more “high comedy” into this effort than the latter had ever seen displayed save in a play or a story. These well-wishers feared the two Britons mightn’t be comfortable at their hotel — it being, as one of them said, “not so private as those dear little English inns of yours.” This last gentleman added that as yet perhaps, alas, privacy wasn’t quite so easily obtained in America as might be desired; still, he continued, you could generally get it by paying for it; in fact you could get everything in America nowadays by paying for it. The life was really growing more private; it was growing greatly to resemble European — which wasn’t to be wondered at when two-thirds of the people leading it were so awfully much at home in Europe. Europe, in the course of this conversation, was indeed, as Lord Lambeth afterwards remarked to his compatriot, rather bewilderingly rubbed into them: did they pretend to be European, and when had they ever been entered under that head? Everything at Newport, at all events, was described to them as thoroughly private; they would probably find themselves, when all was said, a good deal struck with that. It was also represented to the strangers that it mattered very little whether their hotel was agreeable, as every one would want them to “visit round,” as somebody called it: they would stay with other people and in any case would be constantly at Mrs. Westgate’s. They would find that charming; it was the pleasantest house in Newport. It was only a pity Mr. Westgate was never there — he being a tremendously fine man, one of the finest they had. He worked like a horse and left his wife to play the social part. Well, she played it all right, if that was all he wanted. He liked her to enjoy herself, and she did know how. She was highly cultivated and a splendid converser — the sort of converser people would come miles to hear. But some preferred her sister, who was in a different style altogether. Some even thought her prettier, but decidedly Miss Alden wasn’t so smart. She was more in the Boston style — the quiet Boston; she had lived a great deal there and was very highly educated. Boston girls, it was intimated, were more on the English model.
Lord Lambeth had presently a chance to test the truth of this last proposition; for, the company rising in compliance with a suggestion from their hostess that they should walk down to the rocks and look at the sea, the young Englishman again found himself, as they strolled across the grass, in proximity to Mrs. Westgate’s sister. Though Miss Alden was but a girl of twenty she appeared conscious of the weight of expectation — unless she quite wantonly took on duties she might have let alone; and this was perhaps the more to be noticed as she seemed by habit rather grave and backward, perhaps even proud, with little of the other’s free fraternising. She might have been thought too deadly thin, not to say also too deadly pale; but while she moved over the grass, her arms hanging at her sides, and, seriously or absently, forgot expectations, though again brightly to remember them and to look at the summer sea, as if that was what she really cared for, her companion judged her at least as pretty as Mrs. Westgate and reflected that if this was the Boston style, “the quiet Boston,” it would do very well. He could fancy her very clever, highly educated and all the rest of it; but clearly also there were ways in which she could spare a fellow — could ease him; she wouldn’t keep him so long on the stretch at once. For all her cleverness, moreover, he felt she had to think a little what to say; she didn’t say the first thing that came into her head: he had come from a different part of the world, from a different society, and she was trying to adapt her conversation. The others were scattered about the rocks; Mrs. Westgate had charge of Percy Beaumont.
“Very jolly place for this sort of thing,” Lord Lambeth said. “It must do beautifully to sit.”
“It does indeed; there are cosy nooks and there are breezy ones, which I often try — as if they had been made on purpose.”
“Ah I suppose you’ve had a lot made,” he fell in.
She seemed to wonder. “Oh no, we’ve had nothing made. It’s all pure nature.”
“I should think you’d have a few little benches — rustic seats and that sort of thing. It might really be so jolly to ‘develop’ the place,” he suggested.
It made her thoughtful — even a little rueful. “I’m afraid we haven’t so many of those things as you.”
“Ah well, if you go in for pure nature, as you were saying, there’s nothing like that. Nature, over here, must be awfully grand.” And Lord Lambeth looked about him.
The little coast-line that contributed to the view melted away, but it too much lacked presence and character — a fact Miss Alden appeared to rise to a perception of. “I’m afraid it seems to you very rough. It’s not like the coast-scenery in Kingsley’s novels.”
He wouldn’t let her, however, undervalue it. “Ah, the novels always overdo everything, you know. You mustn’t go by the novels.”
They wandered a little on the rocks; they stopped to look into a narrow chasm where the rising tide made a curious bellowing sound. It was loud enough to prevent their hearing each other, and they stood for some moments in silence. The girl’s eyes took in her companion, observing him attentively but covertly, as those of women even in blinking youth know how to do. Lord Lambeth repaid contemplation; tall straight and strong, he was handsome as certain young Englishmen, and certain young Englishmen almost alone, are handsome; with a perfect finish of feature and a visible repose of mind, an inaccessibility to questions, somehow stamped in by the same strong die and pressure that nature, designing a precious medal, had selected and applied. It was not that he looked stupid; it was only, we assume, that his perceptions didn’t show in his face for restless or his imagination for irritable. He was not, as he would himself have said, tremendously clever; but, though there was rather a constant appeal for delay in his waiting, his perfectly patient eye, this registered simplicity had its beauty as well and, whatever it might have appeared to plead for, didn’t plead in the name of indifference or inaction. This most searching of his new friends thought him the handsomest young man she had ever seen; and Bessie Alden’s imagination, unlike that of her companion, was irritable. He, however, had already made up his mind, quite originally and without aid, that she had a grace exceedingly her own.
“I daresay it’s very gay here — that you’ve lots of balls and parties,” he said; since, though not tremendously clever, he rather prided himself on having with women a strict sufficiency of conversation.
“Oh yes, there’s a great deal going on. There are not so many balls, but there are a good many other pleasant things,” Bessie Alden explained. “You’ll see for yourself; we live rather in the midst of it.”
“It will be very kind of you to let us see. But I thought you Americans were always dancing.”
“I suppose we dance a good deal, though I’ve never seen much of it. We don’t do it much, at any rate in summer. And I’m sure,” she said, “that we haven’t as many balls as you in England.”
He wondered — these so many prompt assumptions about his own country made him gape a little. “Ah, in England it all depends, you know.”
“You’ll not think much of our gaieties,” she said — though she seemed to settle it for him with a quaver of interrogation. The interrogation sounded earnest indeed and the decision arch; the mixture, at any rate, was charming. “Those things with us are much less splendid than in England.”
“I fancy you don’t really mean that,” her companion laughed.
“I assure you I really mean everything I say,” she returned. “Certainly from what I’ve read about English society it is very different.”
“Ah well, you know,” said Lord Lambeth, who appeared to cling to this general theory, “those things are often described by fellows who know nothing about them. You mustn’t mind what you read.”
“Ah, what a blasphemous speech — I must mind what I read!” our young woman protested. “When I read Thackeray and George Eliot how can I help minding?”
“Oh well, Thackeray and George Eliot”— and her friend pleasantly bethought himself. “I’m afraid I haven’t read much of them.”
“Don’t you suppose they knew about society?” asked Bessie Alden.
“Oh I daresay they knew; they must have got up their subject. Good writers do, don’t they? But those fashionable novels are mostly awful rot, you know.”
His companion rested on him a moment her dark blue eyes; after which she looked down into the chasm where the water was tumbling about. “Do you mean Catherine Grace Gore, for instance?” she then more aspiringly asked.
But at this he broke down — he coloured, laughed, gave up. “I’m afraid I haven’t read that either. I’m afraid you’ll think I’m not very intellectual.”
“Reading Mrs. Gore is no proof of intellect. But I like reading everything about English life — even poor books. I’m so curious about it,” said Bessie Alden.
“Aren’t ladies curious about everything?” he asked with continued hilarity.
“I don’t think so. I don’t think we’re enough so — that we care about many things. So it’s all the more of a compliment,” she added, “that I should want to know so much about England.”
The logic here seemed a little close; but Lord Lambeth, advised of a compliment, found his natural modesty close at hand. “I’m sure you know a great deal more than I do.”
“I really think I know a great deal — for a person who has never been there.”
“Have you really never been there?” cried he. “Fancy!”
“Never — except in imagination. And I have been to Paris,” she admitted.
“Fancy,” he repeated with gaiety —“fancy taking those brutes first! But you will come soon?”
“It’s the dream of my life!” Bessie Alden brightly professed.
“Your sister at any rate seems to know a tremendous lot about us,” Lord Lambeth went on.
She appeared to take her view of this. “My sister and I are two very different persons. She has been a great deal in Europe. She has been in England a little — not intimately. But she has met English people in other countries, and she arrives very quickly at conclusions.”
“Ah, I guess she does,” he laughed. “But you must have known some too.”
“No — I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to one before. You’re the first Englishman that — to my knowledge — I’ve ever talked with.”
Bessie Alden made this statement with a certain gravity — almost, as it seemed to the young man, an impressiveness. The impressive always made him feel awkward, and he now began to laugh and swing his stick. “Ah, you’d have been sure to know!” And then he added after an instant: “I’m sorry I’m not a better specimen.”
The girl looked away, but taking it more gaily. “You must remember you’re only a beginning.” Then she retraced her steps, leading the way back to the lawn, where they saw Mrs. Westgate come toward them with Percy Beaumont still at her side. “Perhaps I shall go to England next year,” Miss Alden continued; “I want to immensely. My sister expects to cross about then, and she has asked me to go with her. If I do I shall make her stay as long as possible in London.”
“Ah, you must come early in July,” said Lord Lambeth. “That’s the time when there’s most going on.”
“I don’t think I can wait even till early in July,” his friend returned. “By the first of May I shall be very impatient.” They had gone further, and Mrs. Westgate and her companion were near. “Kitty,” said the younger sister, “I’ve given out that we go to London next May. So please to conduct yourself accordingly.”
Percy Beaumont wore a somewhat animated — even a slightly irritated — air. He was by no means of so handsome an effect as his comrade, though in the latter’s absence he might, with his manly stature and his fair dense beard, his fresh clean skin and his quiet outlook, have pleased by a due affirmation of the best British points. Just now Beaumont’s clear eyes had a rather troubled light, which, after glancing at Bessie Alden while she spoke, he turned with some intensity on Lord Lambeth. Mrs. Westgate’s beautiful radiance of interest and dissent fell meanwhile impartially everywhere.
“You had better wait till the time comes,” she said to her sister. “Perhaps next May you won’t care so much for London. Mr. Beaumont and I,” she went on, smiling at her companion, “have had a tremendous discussion. We don’t agree about anything. It’s perfectly delightful.”
“Oh I say, Percy!” exclaimed Lord Lambeth.
“I disagree,” said Beaumont, raising his eyebrows and stroking down his back hair, “even to the point of thinking it not delightful.”
“Ah, you must have been getting it!” cried his friend.
“I don’t see anything delightful in my disagreeing with Mrs. Westgate,” said Percy Beaumont.
“Well, I do!” Mrs. Westgate declared as she turned again to her sister. “You know you’ve to go to town. There must be something at the door for you. You had better take Lord Lambeth.”
Mr. Beaumont, at this point, looked straight at his comrade, trying to catch his eye. But Lord Lambeth wouldn’t look at him; his own eyes were better occupied. “I shall be very happy”— Bessie Alden rose straight to their hostess’s suggestion. “I’m only going to some shops. But I’ll drive you about and show you the place.”
“An American woman who respects herself,” said Mrs. Westgate, turning to the elder man with her bright expository air, “must buy something every day of her life. If she can’t do it herself she must send out some member of her family for the purpose. So Bessie goes forth to fulfil my mission.”
The girl had walked away with Lord Lambeth by her side, to whom she was talking still; and Percy Beaumont watched them as they passed toward the house. “She fulfils her own mission,” he presently said; “that of being very attractive.”
But even here Mrs. Westgate discriminated. “I don’t know that I should precisely say attractive. She’s not so much that as she’s charming when you really know her. She’s very shy.”
“Oh indeed?” said Percy Beaumont with evident wonder. And then as if to alternate with a certain grace the note of scepticism: “I guess your shyness, in that case, is different from ours.”
“Everything of ours is different from yours,” Mrs. Westgate instantly returned. “But my poor sister’s given over, I hold, to a fine Boston gaucherie that has rubbed off on her by being there so much. She’s a dear good girl, however; she’s a charming type of girl. She is not in the least a flirt; that isn’t at all her line; she doesn’t know the alphabet of any such vulgarity. She’s very simple, very serious, very true. She has lived, however, rather too much in Boston with another sister of mine, the eldest of us, who married a Bostonian. Bessie’s very cultivated, not at all like me — I’m not in the least cultivated and am called so only by those who don’t know what true culture is. But Bessie does; she has studied Greek; she has read everything; she’s what they call in Boston ‘thoughtful.’”
“Ah well, it only depends on what one thinks about,” said Mr. Beaumont, who appeared to find her zeal for distinctions catching.
“I really believe,” Mrs. Westgate pursued, “that the most charming girl in the world is a Boston superstructure on a New York fond, or perhaps a New York superstructure on a Boston fond. At any rate it’s the mixture,” she declared, continuing to supply her guest with information and to do him the honours of the American world with a zeal that left nothing to be desired.
Lord Lambeth got into a light low pony-cart with Bessie Alden, and she drove him down the long Avenue, whose extent he had measured on foot a couple of hours before, into the ancient town, as it was called in that part of the world, of Newport. The ancient town was a curious affair — a collection of fresh-looking little wooden houses, painted white, scattered over a hill-side and clustering about a long straight street paved with huge old cobbles. There were plenty of shops, a large allowance of which appeared those of fruit-vendors, with piles of huge water-melons and pumpkins stacked in front of them; while, drawn up before the shops or bumping about on the round stones, were innumerable other like or different carts freighted with ladies of high fashion who greeted each other from vehicle to vehicle and conversed on the edge of the pavement in a manner that struck Lord Lambeth as of the last effusiveness: with a great many “Oh my dears” and little quick sounds and motions — obscure native words, shibboleths and signs. His companion went into seventeen shops — he amused himself with counting them — and accumulated at the bottom of the trap a pile of bundles that hardly left the young Englishman a place for his feet. As she had no other attendant he sat in the phaeton to hold the pony; where, though not a particularly acute observer, he saw much harmlessly to divert him — especially the ladies just mentioned, who wandered up and down with an aimless intentness, as if looking for something to buy, and who, tripping in and out of their vehicles, displayed remarkably pretty feet. It all seemed to Lord Lambeth very odd and bright and gay. And he felt by the time they got back to the villa that he had made a stride in intimacy with Miss Alden.
The young Englishmen spent the whole of that day and the whole of many successive days in the cultivation, right and left, far and near, of this celerity of social progress. They agreed that it was all extremely jolly — that they had never known anything more agreeable. It is not proposed to report the detail of their sojourn on this charming shore; though were it convenient I might present a record of impressions none the less soothing that they were not exhaustively analysed. Many of them still linger in the minds of our travellers, attended by a train of harmonious images — images of early breezy shining hours on lawns and piazzas that overlooked the sea; of innumerable pretty girls saying innumerable quaint and familiar things; of infinite lounging and talking and laughing and flirting and lunching and dining; of a confidence that broke down, of a freedom that pulled up, nowhere; of an idyllic ease that was somehow too ordered for a primitive social consciousness and too innocent for a developed; of occasions on which they so knew every one and everything that they almost ached with reciprocity; of drives and rides in the late afternoon, over gleaming beaches, on long sea-roads, beneath a sky lighted up by marvellous sunsets; of tea-tables, on the return, informal, irregular, agreeable; of evenings at open windows or on the perpetual verandahs, in the summer starlight, above the warm Atlantic and amid irrelevant outbursts of clever minstrelsy. The young Englishmen were introduced to everybody, entertained by everybody, intimate with everybody, and it was all the book of life, of American life, at least; with the chapter of “complications” bodily omitted. At the end of three days they had removed their luggage from the hotel and had gone to stay with Mrs. Westgate — a step as to which Percy Beaumont at first took up an attitude of mistrust apparently founded on some odd and just a little barbaric talk forced on him, he would have been tempted to say, and very soon after their advent, by Miss Alden. He had indeed been aware of her occasional approach or appeal, since she wasn’t literally always in conversation with Lord Lambeth. He had meditated on Mrs. Westgate’s account of her sister and discovered for himself that the young lady was “sharp” (Percy’s critical categories remained few and simple) and appeared to have read a great deal. She seemed perfectly well-bred, though he couldn’t make out that, as Mrs. Westgate funnily insisted, she was shy. If she was shy she carried it off with an ease —!
“Mr. Beaumont,” she had said, “please tell me something about Lord Lambeth’s family. How would you say it in England? — his position.”
“His position?” Percy’s instinct was to speak as if he had never heard of such a matter.
“His rank — or whatever you call it. Unfortunately we haven’t got a ‘Peerage,’ like the people in Thackeray.”
“That’s a great pity,” Percy pleaded. “You’d find the whole matter in black and white, and upon my honour I know very little about it.”
The girl seemed to wonder at this innocence. “You know at least whether he’s what they call a great noble.”
“Oh yes, he’s in that line.”
“Is he a ‘peer of the realm’?”
“Well, as yet — very nearly.”
“And has he any other title than Lord Lambeth?”
“His title’s the Marquis of Lambeth.” With which the fountain of Bessie’s information appeared to run a little dry. She looked at him, however, with such interest that he presently added: “He’s the son of the Duke of Bayswater.”
“The eldest —?”
“The only one.”
“And are his parents living?”
“Naturally — as to his father. If he weren’t living Lambeth would be a duke.”
“So that when ‘the old lord’ dies”— and the girl smiled with more simplicity than might have been expected in one so “sharp”—“he’ll become Duke of Bayswater?”
“Of course,” said their common friend. “But his father’s in excellent health.”
“And his mother?”
Percy seemed amused. “The Duchess is built to last!”
“And has he any sisters?”
“Yes, there are two.”
“And what are they called?”
“One of them’s married. She’s the Countess of Pimlico.”
“And the other?”
“The other’s unmarried — she’s plain Lady Julia.”
Bessie entered into it all. “Is she very plain?”
He began to laugh again. “You wouldn’t find her so handsome as her brother,” he said; and it was after this that he attempted to dissuade the heir of the Duke of Bayswater from accepting Mrs. Westgate’s invitation. “Depend upon it,” he said, “that girl means to have a go at you.”
“It seems to me you’re doing your best to make a fool of me,” the modest young nobleman answered.
“She has been asking me,” his friend imperturbably pursued, “all about your people and your possessions.”
“I’m sure it’s very good of her!” Lord Lambeth returned.
“Well, then,” said Percy, “if you go straight into it, if you hurl yourself bang upon the spears, you do so with your eyes open.”
“Damn my eyes!” the young man pronounced. “If one’s to be a dozen times a day at the house it’s a great deal more convenient to sleep there. I’m sick of travelling up and down this beastly Avenue.”
Since he had determined to go Percy would of course have been very sorry to allow him to go alone; he was a man of many scruples — in the direction in which he had any at all — and he remembered his promise to the Duchess. It was obviously the memory of this promise that made Mr. Beaumont say to his companion a couple of days later that he rather wondered he should be so fond of such a girl.
“In the first place how do you know how fond I am?” asked Lord Lambeth. “And in the second why shouldn’t I be fond of her?”
“I shouldn’t think she’d be in your line.”
“What do you call my ‘line’? You don’t set her down, I suppose, as ‘fast’?”
“Exactly so. Mrs. Westgate tells me that there’s no such thing as the fast girl in America; that it’s an English invention altogether and that the term has no meaning here.”
“All the better. It’s an animal I detest,” said Lord Lambeth.
“You prefer, then, rather a priggish American précieuse?”
Lord Lambeth took his time. “Do you call Miss Alden all that?”
“Her sister tells me,” said Percy Beaumont, “that she’s tremendously literary.”
“Well, why shouldn’t she be? She’s certainly very clever and has every appearance of a well-stored mind.”
Percy for an instant watched his young friend, who had turned away. “I should rather have supposed you’d find her stores oppressive.”
The young man, after this, faced him again. “Why, do you think me such a dunce?” And then as his friend but vaguely protested: “The girl’s all right,” he said — and quite as if this judgement covered all the ground. It wasn’t that there was no ground — but he knew what he was about.
Percy, for a while further, and a little uncomfortably flushed with the sense of his false position — that of presenting culture in a “mean” light, as they said at Newport — Percy kept his peace; but on August 10th he wrote to the Duchess of Bayswater. His conception of certain special duties and decencies, as I have said, was strong, and this step wholly fell in with it. His companion meanwhile was having much talk with Miss Alden — on the red sea-rocks beyond the lawn; in the course of long island rides, with a slow return in the glowing twilight; on the deep verandah, late in the evening. Lord Lambeth, who had stayed at many houses, had never stayed at one in which it was possible for a young man to converse so freely and frequently with a young lady. This young lady no longer applied to their other guest for information concerning his lordship. She addressed herself directly to the young nobleman. She asked him a great many questions, some of which did, according to Mr. Beaumont’s term, a little oppress him; for he took no pleasure in talking about himself.
“Lord Lambeth”— this had been one of them —“are you an hereditary legislator?”
“Oh I say,” he returned, “don’t make me call myself such names as that.”
“But you’re natural members of Parliament.”
“I don’t like the sound of that either.”
“Doesn’t your father sit in the House of Lords?” Bessie Alden went on.
“Very seldom,” said Lord Lambeth.
“Is it a very august position?” she asked.
“Oh dear no,” Lord Lambeth smiled.
“I should think it would be very grand”— she serenely kept it up, as the female American, he judged, would always keep anything up —“to possess simply by an accident of birth the right to make laws for a great nation.”
“Ah, but one doesn’t make laws. There’s a lot of humbug about it.”
“I don’t believe that,” the girl unconfusedly declared. “It must be a great privilege, and I should think that if one thought of it in the right way — from a high point of view — it would be very inspiring.”
“The less one thinks of it the better, I guess!” Lord Lambeth after a moment returned.
“I think it’s tremendous”— this at least she kept up; and on another occasion she asked him if he had any tenantry. Hereupon it was that, as I have said, he felt a little the burden of her earnestness.
But he took it good-humouredly. “Do you want to buy up their leases?”
“Well — have you got any ‘livings’?” she demanded as if the word were rich and rare.
“Oh I say!” he cried. “Have you got a pet clergyman looking out?” But she made him plead guilty to his having, in prospect, a castle; he confessed to but one. It was the place in which he had been born and brought up, and, as he had an old-time liking for it, he was beguiled into a few pleasant facts about it and into pronouncing it really very jolly. Bessie listened with great interest, declaring she would give the world to see such a place. To which he charmingly made answer: “It would be awfully kind of you to come and stay there, you know.” It was not inconvenient to him meanwhile that Percy Beaumont hadn’t happened to hear him make this genial remark.
Mr. Westgate, all this time, hadn’t, as they said at Newport, “come on.” His wife more than once announced that she expected him on the morrow; but on the morrow she wandered about a little, with a telegram in her jewelled fingers, pronouncing it too “fiendish” he should let his business so dreadfully absorb him that he could but platonically hope, as she expressed it, his two Englishmen were having a good time. “I must say,” said Mrs. Westgate, “that it’s no thanks to him if you are!” And she went on to explain, while she kept up that slow-paced circulation which enabled her well-adjusted skirts to display themselves so advantageously, that unfortunately in America there was no leisure-class and that the universal passionate surrender of the men to business-questions and business-questions only, as if they were the all in all of life, was a tide that would have to be stemmed. It was Lord Lambeth’s theory, freely propounded when the young men were together, that Percy was having a very good time with Mrs. Westgate and that under the pretext of meeting for the purpose of animated discussion they were indulging in practices that imparted a shade of hypocrisy to the lady’s regret for her husband’s absence.
“I assure you we’re always discussing and differing,” Mr. Beaumont however asseverated. “She’s awfully argumentative. American ladies certainly don’t mind contradicting you flat. Upon my word I don’t think I was ever treated so by a woman before. We have ours ever so much more in hand. She’s so devilish positive.”
The superlative degree so variously affirmed, however, was evidently a source of attraction in Mrs. Westgate, for the elder man was constantly at his hostess’s side. He detached himself one day to the extent of going to New York to talk over the Tennessee Central with her husband; but he was absent only forty-eight hours, during which, with that gentleman’s assistance, he completely settled this piece of business. “They know how to put things — and put people —‘through’ in New York,” he subsequently and quite breathlessly observed to his comrade; and he added that Mr. Westgate had seemed markedly to fear his wife might suffer for loss of her guest — he had been in such an awful hurry to send him back to her. “I’m afraid you’ll never come up to an American husband — if that’s what the wives expect,” he said to Lord Lambeth.
Mrs. Westgate, however, was not to enjoy much longer the entertainment with which an indulgent husband had desired to keep her provided. August had still a part of its course to run when his lordship received from his mother the disconcerting news that his father had been taken ill and that he had best at once come home. The young nobleman concealed his chagrin with no great success. “I left the Duke but the other day absolutely all right — so what the deuce does it mean?” he asked of his comrade. “What’s a fellow to do?”
Percy Beaumont was scarce less annoyed; he had deemed it his duty, as we know, to report faithfully to the Duchess, but had not expected this distinguished woman to act so promptly on his hint. “It means,” he said, “that your father is somehow, and rather suddenly, laid up. I don’t suppose it’s anything serious, but you’ve no option. Take the first steamer, but take it without alarm.”
This really struck Lord Lambeth as meaning that he essentially needn’t take it, since alarm would have been his only good motive; yet he nevertheless, after an hour of intenser irritation than he could quite have explained to himself, made his farewells; in the course of which he exchanged a few last words with Bessie Alden that are the only ones making good their place in our record. “Of course I needn’t assure you that if you should come to England next year I expect to be the very first person notified of it.”
She looked at him in that way she had which never quite struck him as straight and clear, yet which always struck him as kind and true. “Oh, if we come to London I should think you’d sufficiently hear of it.”
Percy Beaumont felt it his duty also to embark, and this same rigour compelled him, one windless afternoon, in mid-Atlantic, to say to his friend that he suspected the Duchess’s telegram to have been in part the result of something he himself had written her. “I wrote her — as I distinctly warned you I had promised in general to do — that you were extremely interested in a little American girl.”
The young man, much upset by this avowal, indulged for some moments in the strong and simple language of resentment. But if I have described him as inclined to candour and to reason I can give no better proof of it than the fact of his being ready to face the truth by the end of half an hour. “You were quite right after all. I’m very much interested in her. Only, to be fair,” he added, “you should have told my mother also that she’s not — at all seriously — interested in poor me.”
Mr. Beaumont gave the rein to mirth and mockery. “There’s nothing so charming as modesty in a young man in the position of ‘poor’ you. That speech settles for me the question of what’s the matter with you.”
Lord Lambeth’s handsome eyes turned rueful and queer. “Is anything so flagrantly the matter with me?”
“Everything, my dear boy,” laughed his companion, passing a hand into his arm for a walk.
“Well, she isn’t interested — she isn’t!” the young man insisted.
“My poor friend,” said Percy Beaumont rather gravely, “you’re very far gone!”
In point of fact, as the latter would have said, Mrs. Westgate disembarked by the next mid-May on the British coast. She was accompanied by her sister, but unattended by any other member of her family. To the lost comfort of a husband respectably to produce, as she phrased it, she was now habituated; she had made half a dozen journeys to Europe under this drawback of looking ill-temperedly separated and yet of being thanklessly enslaved, and she still decently accounted for her spurious singleness to wondering friends on this side of the Atlantic by formulating the grim truth — the only grimness indeed in all her view — that in America there is no leisure-class. The two ladies came up to London and alighted at Jones’s Hotel, where Mrs. Westgate, who had made on former occasions the most agreeable impression at this establishment, received an obsequious greeting. Bessie Alden had felt much excited about coming to England; she had expected the “associations” would carry her away and counted on the joy of treating her eyes and her imagination to all the things she had read of in poets and historians. She was very fond of the poets and historians, of the picturesque, of the past, of associations, of relics and reverberations of greatness; so that on coming into the great English world, where strangeness and familiarity would go hand in hand, she was prepared for a swarm of fresh emotions. They began very promptly — these tender fluttering sensations; they began with the sight of the beautiful English landscape, whose dark richness was quickened and brightened by the season; with the carpeted fields and flowering hedge-rows, as she looked at them from the window of the train; with the spires of the rural churches peeping above the rook-haunted tree-tops; with the oak-studded, deer-peopled parks, the ancient homes, the cloudy light, the speech, the manners, all the significant differences. Mrs. Westgate’s response was of course less quick and less extravagant, and she gave but a wandering attention to her sister’s ejaculations and rhapsodies.
“You know my enjoyment of England’s not so intellectual as Bessie’s,” she said to several of her friends in the course of her visit to this country. “And yet if it’s not intellectual I can’t say it’s in the least sensual. I don’t think I can quite say what it is, my enjoyment of England.” When once it was settled that the two ladies should come abroad and should spend a few weeks in London and perhaps in other parts of the celebrated island on their way to the Continent, they of course exchanged a good many allusions to their English acquaintance.
“It will certainly be much nicer having friends there,” was a remark that had one day dropped from Bessie while she sat on the sunny deck of the steamer, at her sister’s feet, from under which spread conveniently a large soft rug.
“Whom do you mean by friends?” Mrs. Westgate had then invited the girl to say.
“All those English gentlemen you’ve known and entertained. Captain Littledale, for instance. And Lord Lambeth and Mr. Beaumont,” the girl further mentioned.
“Do you expect them to give us a very grand reception?”
She reflected a moment; she was addicted, as we know, to fine reflexion. “Well — to be nice.”
“My poor sweet child!” murmured her sister.
“What have I said that’s so silly?” Bessie asked.
“You’re a little too simple; just a little. It’s very becoming, but it pleases people at your expense.”
“I’m certainly too simple to understand you,” said our young lady.
Mrs. Westgate had an ominous pause. “Shall I tell you a story?”
“If you’d be so good. That’s what’s frequently done to amuse simple people.”
Mrs. Westgate consulted her memory while her companion sat at gaze of the shining sea. “Did you ever hear of the Duke of Green–Erin?”
“I think not,” said Bessie.
“Well, it’s no matter,” her sister went on.
“It’s a proof of my simplicity.”
“My story’s meant to illustrate that of some other people,” said Mrs. Westgate. “The Duke of Green–Erin’s what they call in England a great swell, and some five years ago he came to America. He spent most of his time in New York, and in New York he spent his days and his nights at the Butterworths’. You’ve heard at least of the Butterworths. Bien. They did everything in the world for him — the poor Butterworths — they turned themselves inside out. They gave him a dozen dinner-parties and balls, and were the means of his being invited to fifty more. At first he used to come into Mrs. Butterworth’s box at the opera in a tweed travelling-suit, but some one stopped that. At any rate he had a beautiful time and they parted the best friends in the world. Two years elapse and the Butterworths come abroad and go to London. The first thing they see in all the papers — in England those things are in the most prominent place — is that the Duke of Green–Erin has arrived in town for the season. They wait a little, and then Mr. Butterworth — as polite as ever — goes and leaves a card. They wait a little more; the visit’s not returned; they wait three weeks: silence de mort, the Duke gives no sign. The Butterworths see a lot of other people, put down the Duke of Green–Erin as a rude ungrateful man and forget all about him. One fine day they go to Ascot Races — where they meet him face to face. He stares a moment and then comes up to Mr. Butterworth, taking something from his pocket-book — something which proves to be a banknote. ‘I’m glad to see you, Mr. Butterworth,’ he says, ‘so that I can pay you that ten pounds I lost to you in New York. I saw the other day you remembered our bet; here are the ten pounds, Mr. Butterworth. Good-bye, Mr. Butterworth.’ And off he goes, and that’s the last they see of the Duke of Green–Erin.”
“Is that your story?” asked Bessie Alden.
“Don’t tell me you don’t think it interesting!” her sister replied.
“I don’t think I believe it,” said the girl.
“Ah, then,” cried Mrs. Westgate, “mademoiselle isn’t of such an unspotted candeur! Believe it or not as you like. There’s at any rate no smoke without fire.”
“Is that the way,” asked Bessie after a moment, “that you expect your friends to treat you?”
“I defy them to treat me very ill, for the simple reason that I shall never give them the opportunity. With the best will in the world, in that case, they can’t be very disobliging.”
Our young lady for a time said nothing. “I don’t see what makes you talk that way,” she then resumed. “The English are a great people.”
“Exactly; and that’s just the way they’ve grown great — by dropping you when you’ve ceased to be useful. People say they aren’t clever, but I find them prodigiously clever.”
“You know you’ve liked them — all the Englishmen you’ve seen,” Bessie brought up.
“They’ve liked me,” her sister returned; “so I think I’d rather put it. And of course one likes that.”
Bessie pursued for some moments her studies in sea-green. “Well,” she said, “whether they like me or not, I mean to like them. And happily,” she wound up, “Lord Lambeth doesn’t owe me ten pounds.”
During the first few days after their arrival at Jones’s Hotel our charming Americans were much occupied with what they would have called looking about them. They found occasion to make numerous purchases, and their opportunities for inquiry and comment were only those supplied by the deferential London shopmen. Bessie Alden, even in driving from the station, felt to intensity the many-voiced appeal of the capital of the race from which she had sprung, and, at the risk of exhibiting her as a person of vulgar tastes, it must be recorded that for many days she desired no higher pleasure than to roll about the crowded streets in the public conveyances. They presented to her attentive eyes strange pictures and figures, and it’s at least beneath the dignity of our historic muse to enumerate the trivial objects and incidents in which the imagination of this simple young lady from Boston lost itself. It may be freely mentioned, however, that whenever, after a round of visits in Bond Street and Regent Street, she was about to return with her sister to Jones’s Hotel, she desired they should, at whatever cost to convenience, be driven home by way of Westminster Abbey. She had begun by asking if it wouldn’t be possible to take the Tower en route to their lodgings; but it happened that at a more primitive stage of her culture Mrs. Westgate had paid a visit to this venerable relic, which she spoke of ever afterwards, vaguely, as a dreadful disappointment. She thus expressed the liveliest disapproval of any attempt to combine historical researches with the purchase of hair-brushes and notepaper. The most she would consent to do in the line of backward brooding was to spend half an hour at Madame Tussaud’s, where she saw several dusty wax effigies of members of the Royal Family. It was made clear to Bessie that if she wished to go to the Tower she must get some one else to take her. Bessie expressed hereupon an earnest disposition to go alone; but in respect to this proposal as well Mrs. Westgate had the cold sense of complications.
“Remember,” she said, “that you’re not in your innocent little Boston. It’s not a question of walking up and down Beacon Street.” With which she went on to explain that there were two classes of American girls in Europe — those who walked about alone and those who didn’t. “You happen to belong, my dear,” she said to her sister, “to the class that doesn’t.”
“It’s only,” laughed Bessie, though all yearningly, “because you happen quite arbitrarily to place me.” And she devoted much private meditation to this question of effecting a visit to the Tower of London.
Suddenly it seemed as if the problem might be solved; the two ladies at Jones’s Hotel received a visit from Willie Woodley. So was familiarly designated a young American who had sailed from New York a few days after their own departure and who, enjoying some freedom of acquaintance with them in that city, had lost no time, on his arrival in London, in coming to pay them his respects. He had in fact gone to see them directly after going to see his tailor; than which there can be no greater exhibition of promptitude on the part of a young American just installed at the Charing Cross Hotel. He was a slight, mild youth, without high colour but with many elegant forms, famous for the authority with which he led the “German” in New York. He was indeed, by the young ladies who habitually figured in such evolutions, reckoned “the best dancer in the world”; it was in those terms he was always spoken of and his pleasant identity indicated. He was the most convenient gentle young man, for almost any casual light purpose, it was possible to meet; he was beautifully dressed —“in the English style”— and knew an immense deal about London. He had been at Newport during the previous summer, at the time of our young Englishmen’s visit, and he took extreme pleasure in the society of Bessie Alden, whom he never addressed but as “Miss Bessie.” She immediately arranged with him, in the presence of her sister, that he should guide her to the scene of Lady Jane Grey’s execution.
“You may do as you please,” said Mrs. Westgate. “Only — if you desire the information — it is not the custom here for young ladies to knock about London with wild young men.”
“Miss Bessie has waltzed with me so often — not to call it so wildly,” the young man returned, “that she can surely go out with me in a jog-trot cab.”
“I consider public waltzing,” said Mrs. Westgate, “the most innocent, because the most guarded and regulated, pleasure of our time.”
“It’s a jolly compliment to our time!” Mr. Woodley cried with a laugh of the most candid significance.
“I don’t see why I should regard what’s done here,” Bessie pursued. “Why should I suffer the restrictions of a society of which I enjoy none of the privileges?”
“That’s very good — very good,” her friend applauded.
“Oh, go to the Tower and feel the axe if you like!” said Mrs. Westgate. “I consent to your going with Mr. Woodley; but I wouldn’t let you go with an Englishman.”
“Miss Bessie wouldn’t care to go with an Englishman!” Mr. Woodley declared with an asperity doubtless not unnatural in a young man who, dressing in a manner that I have indicated and knowing a great deal, as I have said, about London, saw no reason for drawing these sharp distinctions. He agreed upon a day with Miss Bessie — a day of that same week; while an ingenious mind might perhaps have traced a connexion between the girl’s reference to her lack of social privilege or festal initiation and a question she asked on the morrow as she sat with her sister at luncheon.
“Don’t you mean to write to — to any one?”
“I wrote this morning to Captain Littledale,” Mrs. Westgate replied.
“But Mr. Woodley believes Captain Littledale away in India.”
“He said he thought he had heard so; he knows nothing about it.”
For a moment Bessie said nothing more; then at last, “And don’t you intend to write to — to Mr. Beaumont?” she inquired.
Her sister waited with a look at her. “You mean to Lord Lambeth.”
“I said Mr. Beaumont because he was — at Newport — so good a friend of yours.”
Mrs. Westgate prolonged the attitude of sisterly truth. “I don’t really care two straws for Mr. Beaumont.”
“You were certainly very nice to him.”
“I’m very nice to every one,” said Mrs. Westgate simply.
Nothing indeed could have been simpler save perhaps the way Bessie smiled back: “To every one but me.”
Her sister continued to look at her. “Are you in love with Lord Lambeth?”
Our young woman stared a moment, and the question was too unattended with any train even to make her shy. “Not that I know of.”
“Because if you are,” Mrs. Westgate went on, “I shall certainly not send for him.”
“That proves what I said,” Bessie gaily insisted —“that you’re not really nice to me.”
“It would be a poor service, my dear child,” said her sister.
“In what sense? There’s nothing against Lord Lambeth that I know of.”
Mrs. Westgate seemed to cover much country in a few moments. “You are in love with him then?”
Bessie stared again, but this time blushing a little. “Ah, if you’ll not be serious we won’t mention him again.”
For some minutes accordingly Lord Lambeth was shrouded in silence, and it was Mrs. Westgate who, at the end of this period, removed the ban. “Of course I shall let him know we’re here. I think he’d be hurt — justly enough — if we should go away without seeing him. It’s fair to give him a chance to come and thank me for the kindness we showed him. But I don’t want to seem eager.”
“Neither do I,” said Bessie very simply.
“Though I confess,” her companion added, “that I’m curious to see how he’ll behave.”
“He behaved very well at Newport.”
“Newport isn’t London. At Newport he could do as he liked; but here it’s another affair. He has to have an eye to consequences.”
“If he had more freedom then at Newport,” argued Bessie, “it’s the more to his credit that he behaved well; and if he has to be so careful here it’s possible he’ll behave even better.”
“Better, better?” echoed her sister a little impatiently. “My dear child, what do you mean by better and what’s your point of view?”
Bessie wondered. “What do you mean by my point of view?”
“Don’t you care for Lord Lambeth — a tiny speck?” Mrs. Westgate demanded.
This time Bessie Alden took it with still deeper reserve. She slowly got up from table, turning her face away. “You’ll oblige me by not talking so.”
Mrs. Westgate sat watching her for some moments as she moved slowly about the room and went and stood at the window. “I’ll write to him this afternoon,” she said at last.
“Do as you please!” Bessie answered; after which she turned round. “I’m not afraid to say I like Lord Lambeth. I like him very much.”
Mrs. Westgate bethought herself. “He’s not clever.”
“Well, there have been clever people whom I’ve disliked,” the girl said; “so I suppose I may like a stupid one. Besides, Lord Lambeth’s no stupider than any one else.”
“No stupider than he gives you warning of,” her sister smiled.
“If I were in love with him as you said just now,” Bessie returned, “it would be bad policy on your part to abuse him.”
“My dear child, don’t give me lessons in policy!” cried Mrs. Westgate. “The policy I mean to follow is very deep.”
The girl began once more to walk about; then she stopped before her companion. “I’ve never heard in the course of five minutes so many hints and innuendoes. I wish you’d tell me in plain English what you mean.”
“I mean you may be much annoyed.”
“That’s still only a hint,” said Bessie.
Her sister just hesitated. “It will be said of you that you’ve come after him — that you followed him.”
Bessie threw back her pretty head much as a startled hind, and a look flashed into her face that made Mrs. Westgate get up. “Who says such things as that?”
“I don’t believe it.”
“You’ve a very convenient faculty of doubt. But my policy will be, as I say, very deep. I shall leave you to find out as many things as possible for yourself.”
Bessie fixed her eyes on her sister, and Mrs. Westgate could have believed there were tears in them. “Do they talk that way here?”
“You’ll see. I shall let you alone.”
“Don’t let me alone,” said Bessie Alden. “Take me away.”
“No; I want to see what you make of it,” her sister continued.
“I don’t understand.”
“You’ll understand after Lord Lambeth has come,” said Mrs. Westgate with a persistence of private amusement.
The two ladies had arranged that on this afternoon Willie Woodley should go with them to Hyde Park, where Bessie expected it would prove a rich passage to have sat on a little green chair under the great trees and beside Rotten Row. The want of a suitable escort had hitherto hampered this adventure; but no escort, now, for such an expedition, could have been more suitable than their devoted young countryman, whose mission in life, it might almost be said, was to find chairs for ladies and who appeared on the stroke of half-past five adorned with every superficial grace that could qualify him for the scene.
“I’ve written to Lord Lambeth, my dear,” Mrs. Westgate mentioned on coming into the room where Bessie, drawing on long grey gloves, had given their visitor the impression that she was particularly attuned. Bessie said nothing, but Willie Woodley exclaimed that his lordship was in town; he had seen his name in the Morning Post. “Do you read the Morning Post?” Mrs. Westgate thereupon asked.
“Oh yes; it’s great fun.” Mr. Woodley almost spoke as if the pleasure were attended with physical risk.
“I want so to see it,” said Bessie, “there’s so much about it in Thackeray.”
“I’ll send it to you every morning!” cried the young man with elation.
He found them what Bessie thought excellent places under the great trees and beside the famous avenue the humours of which had been made familiar to the girl’s childhood by the pictures in Punch. The day was bright and warm and the crowd of riders and spectators, as well as the great procession of carriages, proportionately dense and many-coloured. The scene bore the stamp of the London social pressure at its highest, and it made our young woman think of more things than she could easily express to her companions. She sat silent, under her parasol, while her imagination, according to its wont, kept pace with the deep strong tide of the exhibition. Old impressions and preconceptions became living things before the show, and she found herself, amid the crowd of images, fitting a history to this person and a theory to that, and making a place for them all in her small private museum of types. But if she said little her sister on one side and Willie Woodley on the other delivered themselves in lively alternation.
“Look at that green dress with blue flounces. Quelle toilette!” said Mrs. Westgate.
“That’s the Marquis of Blackborough,” the young man was able to contribute —“the one in the queer white coat. I heard him speak the other night in the House of Lords; it was something about ramrods; he called them wamwods. He’s an awful swell.”
“Did you ever see anything like the way they’re pinned back?” Mrs. Westgate resumed. “They never know where to stop.”
“They do nothing but stop,” said Willie Woodley. “It prevents them from walking. Here comes a great celebrity — Lady Beatrice Bellevue. She’s awfully fast; see what little steps she takes.”
“Well, my dear,” Mrs. Westgate pursued to Bessie, “I hope you’re getting some ideas for your couturière?”
“I’m getting plenty of ideas,” said Bessie, “but I don’t know that my couturière would particularly appreciate them.”
Their companion presently perceived a mounted friend who drew up beside the barrier of the Row and beckoned to him. He went forward and the crowd of pedestrians closed about him, so that for some minutes he was hidden from sight. At last he reappeared, bringing a gentleman with him — a gentleman whom Bessie at first supposed to be his friend dismounted. But at a second glance she found herself looking at Lord Lambeth, who was shaking hands with her sister.
“I found him over there,” said Willie Woodley, “and I told him you were here.”
And then Lord Lambeth, raising his hat afresh, shook hands with Bessie —“Fancy your being here!” He was blushing and smiling; he looked very handsome and he had a note of splendour he had not had in America. The girl’s free fancy, as we know, was just then in marked exercise; so that the tall young Englishman, as he stood there looking down at her, had the benefit of it. “He’s handsomer and more splendid than anything I’ve ever seen,” she said to herself. And then she remembered he was a Marquis and she thought he somehow looked a Marquis.
“Really, you know,” he cried, “you ought to have let a fellow know you’ve come!”
“I wrote to you an hour ago,” said Mrs. Westgate.
“Doesn’t all the world know it?” smiled Bessie.
“I assure you I didn’t know it!” he insisted. “Upon my honour I hadn’t heard of it. Ask Woodley now; had I, Woodley?”
“Well, I think you’re rather a humbug,” this gentleman brought forth.
“You don’t believe that — do you, Miss Alden?” asked his lordship. “You don’t believe I’m rather a humbug, eh?”
“No,” said Bessie after an instant, but choosing and conferring a grace on the literal —“I don’t.”
“You’re too tall to stand up, Lord Lambeth,” Mrs. Westgate pronounced. “You approach the normal only when you sit down. Be so good as to get a chair.”
He found one and placed it sidewise, close to the two ladies. “If I hadn’t met Woodley I should never have found you,” he went on. “Should I, Woodley?”
“Well, I guess not,” said the young American.
“Not even with my letter?” asked Mrs. Westgate.
“Ah, well, I haven’t got your letter yet; I suppose I shall get it this evening. It was awfully kind of you to write.”
“So I said to Bessie,” the elder lady observed.
“Did she say so, Miss Alden?” Lord Lambeth a little pointlessly inquired. “I daresay you’ve been here a month.”
“We’ve been here three,” mocked Mrs. Westgate.
“Have you been here three months?” the young man asked again of Bessie.
“It seems a long time,” Bessie answered.
He had but a brief wonder — he found something. “I say, after that you had better not call me a humbug! I’ve only been in town three weeks, but you must have been hiding away. I haven’t seen you anywhere.”
“Where should you have seen us — where should we have gone?” Mrs. Westgate fairly put to him.
It found Willie Woodley at least ready. “You should have gone to Hurlingham.”
“No, let Lord Lambeth tell us,” Mrs. Westgate insisted.
“There are plenty of places to go to,” he said —“each one stupider than the other. I mean people’s houses. They send you cards.”
“No one has sent us a scrap of a card,” Bessie laughed.
Mrs. Westgate attenuated. “We’re very quiet. We’re here as travellers.”
“We’ve been to Madame Tussaud’s,” Bessie further mentioned.
“Oh I say!” cried Lord Lambeth.
“We thought we should find your image there,” said Mrs. Westgate —“yours and Mr. Beaumont’s.”
“In the Chamber of Horrors?” laughed the young man.
“It did duty very well for a party,” said Mrs. Westgate. “All the women were décolletées, and many of the figures looked as if they could almost speak.”
“Upon my word,” his lordship returned, “you see people at London parties who look a long way from that!”
“Do you think Mr. Woodley could find us Mr. Beaumont?” asked the elder of the ladies.
He stared and looked about. “I daresay he could. Percy sometimes comes here. Don’t you think you could find him, Woodley? Make a dive or a dash for it.”
“Thank you; I’ve had enough of violent movement,” said Willie Woodley. “I’ll wait till Mr. Beaumont comes to the surface.”
“I’ll bring him to see you,” said Lord Lambeth. “Where are you staying?”
“You’ll find the address in my letter — Jones’s Hotel.”
“Oh, one of those places just out of Piccadilly? Beastly hole, isn’t it?” Lord Lambeth inquired.
“I believe it’s the best hotel in London,” said Mrs. Westgate.
“But they give you awful rubbish to eat, don’t they?” his lordship went on.
Mrs. Westgate practised the same serenity. “Awful.”
“I always feel so sorry for people who come up to town and go to live in those dens,” continued the young man. “They eat nothing but filth.”
“Oh I say!” cried Willie Woodley.
“Well, and how do you like London, Miss Alden?” Lord Lambeth asked, unperturbed by this ejaculation.
The girl was prompt. “I think it grand.”
“My sister likes it, in spite of the ‘filth’!” Mrs. Westgate recorded.
“I hope then you’re going to stop a long time.”
“As long as I can,” Bessie replied.
“And where’s wonderful Mr. Westgate?” asked Lord Lambeth of this gentleman’s wife.
“He’s where he always is — in that tiresome New York.”
“He must have staying power,” said the young man.
She appeared to consider. “Well, he stays ahead of every one else.”
Lord Lambeth sat nearly an hour with his American friends; but it is not our purpose to relate their conversation in full. He addressed a great many remarks to the younger lady and finally turned toward her altogether, while Willie Woodley wasted a certain amount of effort to regale Mrs. Westgate. Bessie herself was sparing of effusion; she thought, on her guard, of what her sister had said to her at luncheon. Little by little, however, she interested herself again in her English friend very much as she had done at Newport; only it seemed to her he might here become more interesting. He would be an unconscious part of the antiquity, the impressiveness, the picturesqueness of England; of all of which things poor Bessie Alden, like most familiars of the overciphered tabula rasa, was terribly at the mercy.
“I’ve often wished I were back at Newport,” the young man candidly stated. “Those days I spent at your sister’s were awfully jolly.”
“We enjoyed them very much; I hope your father’s better.”
“Oh dear yes. When I got to England the old humbug was out grouse-shooting. It was what you call in America a gigantic fraud. My mother had got nervous. My three weeks at Newport seemed a happy dream.”
“America certainly is very different from England,” said Bessie.
“I hope you like England better, eh?” he returned almost persuasively.
“No Englishman can ask that seriously of a person of another country.”
He turned his cheerful brown eyes on her. “You mean it’s a matter of course?”
“If I were English,” said Bessie, “it would certainly seem to me a matter of course that every one should be a good patriot.”
“Oh dear, yes; patriotism’s everything.” He appeared not quite to follow, but was clearly contented. “Now what are you going to do here?”
“On Thursday I’m going to the Tower.”
“The Tower of London. Did you never hear of it?”
“Oh yes, I’ve been there,” said Lord Lambeth. “I was taken there by my governess when I was six years old. It’s a rum idea your going there.”
“Do give me a few more rum ideas then. I want to see everything of that sort. I’m going to Hampton Court and to Windsor and to the Dulwich Gallery.”
He seemed greatly amused. “I wonder you don’t go to Rosherville Gardens.”
Bessie yearned. “Are they interesting?”
“Are they weirdly old? That’s all I care for,” she said.
“They’re tremendously old; they’re all falling to ruins.”
The girl rose to it. “I think there’s nothing so charming as an old ruinous garden. We must certainly go there.”
Her friend broke out into mirth. “I say, Woodley, here’s Miss Alden wants to go down to Rosherville Gardens! Hang it, they are ‘weird’!”
Willie Woodley looked a little blank; he was caught in the fact of ignorance of an apparently conspicuous feature of London life. But in a moment he turned it off. “Very well,” he said, “I’ll write for a permit.”
Lord Lambeth’s exhilaration increased. “‘Gad, I believe that, to get your money’s worth over here, you Americans would go anywhere!”
“We wish to go to Parliament,” said Bessie. “That’s one of the first things.”
“Ah, it would bore you to death!” he returned.
“We wish to hear you speak.”
“I never speak — except to young ladies.”
She looked at him from under the shade of her parasol. “You’re very strange,” she then quietly concluded. “I don’t think I approve of you.”
“Ah, now don’t be severe, Miss Alden!” he cried with the note of sincerity. “Please don’t be severe. I want you to like me — awfully.”
“To like you awfully? You mustn’t laugh at me then when I make mistakes. I regard it as my right — as a free-born American — to make as many mistakes as I choose.”
“Upon my word I didn’t laugh at you,” the young man pleaded.
“And not only that,” Bessie went on; “but I hold that all my mistakes should be set down to my credit. You must think the better of me for them.”
“I can’t think better of you than I do,” he declared.
Again, shadily, she took him in. “You certainly speak very well to young ladies. But why don’t you address the House? — isn’t that what they call it?”
“Because I’ve nothing to say.”
“Haven’t you a great position?” she demanded.
He looked a moment at the back of his glove. “I’ll set that down as one of your mistakes — to your credit.” And as if he disliked talking about his position he changed the subject. “I wish you’d let me go with you to the Tower and to Hampton Court and to all those other places.”
“We shall be most happy,” said Bessie.
“And of course I shall be delighted to show you the Houses of Parliament — some day that suits you. There are a lot of things I want to do for you. I want you to have a good time. And I should like very much to present some of my friends to you if it wouldn’t bore you. Then it would be awfully kind of you to come down to Branches.”
“We’re much obliged to you, Lord Lambeth,” said Bessie. “And what may Branches be?”
“It’s a house in the country. I think you might like it.”
Willie Woodley and Mrs. Westgate were at this moment sitting in silence, and the young man’s ear caught these last words of the other pair. “He’s inviting Miss Bessie to one of his castles,” he murmured to his companion.
Mrs. Westgate hereupon, foreseeing what she mentally called “complications,” immediately got up; and the two ladies, taking leave of their English friend, returned, under conduct of their American, to Jones’s Hotel.
Lord Lambeth came to see them on the morrow, bringing Percy Beaumont with him — the latter having at once declared his intention of neglecting none of the usual offices of civility. This declaration, however, on his kinsman’s informing him of the advent of the two ladies, had been preceded by another exchange.
“Here they are then and you’re in for it.”
“And what am I in for?” the younger man had inquired.
“I’ll let your mother give it a name. With all respect to whom,” Percy had added, “I must decline on this occasion to do any more police duty. The Duchess must look after you herself.”
“I’ll give her a chance,” the Duchess’s son had returned a trifle grimly. “I shall make her go and see them.”
“She won’t do it, my boy.”
“We’ll see if she doesn’t,” said Lord Lambeth.
But if Mr. Beaumont took a subtle view of the arrival of the fair strangers at Jones’s Hotel he was sufficiently capable of a still deeper refinement to offer them a smiling countenance. He fell into animated conversation — conversation animated at least on her side — with Mrs. Westgate, while his companion appealed more confusedly to the younger lady. Mrs. Westgate began confessing and protesting, declaring and discriminating.
“I must say London’s a great deal brighter and prettier just now than it was when I was here last — in the month of November. There’s evidently a great deal going on, and you seem to have a good many flowers. I’ve no doubt it’s very charming for all you people and that you amuse yourselves immensely. It’s very good of you to let Bessie and me come and sit and look at you. I suppose you’ll think I’m very satirical, but I must confess that that’s the feeling I have in London.”
“I’m afraid I don’t quite understand to what feeling you allude,” said Percy Beaumont.
“The feeling that it’s all very well for you English people. Everything’s beautifully arranged for you.”
“It seems to me it’s very well arranged here for some Americans sometimes,” Percy plucked up spirit to answer.
“For some of them, yes — if they like to be patronised. But I must say I don’t like to be patronised. I may be very eccentric and undisciplined and unreasonable, but I confess I never was fond of patronage. I like to associate with people on the same terms as I do in my own country; that’s a peculiar taste that I have. But here people seem to expect something else — really I can’t make out quite what. I’m afraid you’ll think I’m very ungrateful, for I certainly have received in one way and another a great deal of attention. The last time I was here a lady sent me a message that I was at liberty to come and pay her my respects.”
“Dear me, I hope you didn’t go,” Mr. Beaumont cried.
“You’re deliciously naïf, I must say that for you!” Mrs. Westgate promptly pursued. “It must be a great advantage to you here in London. I suppose that if I myself had a little more naïveté— of your blessed national lack of any approach to a sense for shades — I should enjoy it more. I should be content to sit on a chair in the Park and see the people pass, to be told that this is the Duchess of Suffolk and that the Lord Chamberlain, and that I must be thankful for the privilege of beholding them. I daresay it’s very peevish and critical of me to ask for anything else. But I was always critical — it’s the joy of my life — and I freely confess to the sin of being fastidious. I’m told there’s some remarkably superior second-rate society provided here for strangers. Merci! I don’t want any superior second-rate society. I want the society I’ve been accustomed to.”
Percy mustered a rueful gaiety. “I hope you don’t call Lambeth and me second-rate!”
“Oh I’m accustomed to you!” said Mrs. Westgate. “Do you know you English sometimes make the most wonderful speeches? The first time I came to London I went out to dine — as I told you, I’ve received a great deal of attention. After dinner, in the drawing-room, I had some conversation with an old lady — no, you mustn’t look that way: I assure you I had! I forget what we talked about, but she presently said, in allusion to something we were discussing: ‘Oh, you know, the aristocracy do so-and-so, but in one’s own class of life it’s very different.’ In one’s own class of life! What’s a poor unprotected American woman to do in a country where she is liable to have that sort of thing said to her?”
“I should say she’s not to mind, not a rap — though you seem to get hold of some very queer old ladies. I compliment you on your acquaintance!” Percy pursued. “If you’re trying to bring me to admit that London’s an odious place you’ll not succeed. I’m extremely fond of it and think it the jolliest place in the world.”
“Pour vous autres — I never said the contrary,” Mrs. Westgate retorted — an expression made use of, this last, because both interlocutors had begun to raise their voices. Mr. Beaumont naturally didn’t like to hear the seat of his existence abused, and Mrs. Westgate, no less naturally, didn’t like a stubborn debater.
“Hallo!” said Lord Lambeth; “what are they up to now?” And he came away from the window, where he had been standing with Bessie.
“I quite agree with a very clever countrywoman of mine,” the elder lady continued with charming ardour even if with imperfect relevancy. She smiled at the two gentlemen for a moment with terrible brightness, as if to toss at their feet — upon their native heath — the gauntlet of defiance. “For me there are only two social positions worth speaking of — that of an American lady and that of the Emperor of Russia.”
“And what do you do with the American gentlemen?” asked Lord Lambeth.
“She leaves them in America!” said his comrade.
On the departure of their visitors Bessie mentioned that Lord Lambeth would come the next day, to go with them to the Tower, and that he had kindly offered to bring his “trap” and drive them all through the city. Mrs. Westgate listened in silence to this news and for some time afterwards also said nothing. But at last, “If you hadn’t requested me the other day not to speak of it,” she began, “there’s something I’d make bold to ask you.” Bessie frowned a little; her dark blue eyes grew more dark than blue. But her sister went on. “As it is I’ll take the risk. You’re not in love with Lord Lambeth: I believe it perfectly. Very good. But is there by chance any danger of your becoming so? It’s a very simple question — don’t take offence. I’ve a particular reason,” said Mrs. Westgate, “for wanting to know.”
Bessie for some moments said nothing; she only looked displeased. “No; there’s no danger,” she at last answered with a certain dryness.
“Then I should like to frighten them!” cried her sister, clasping jewelled hands.
“To frighten whom?”
“All these people. Lord Lambeth’s family and friends.”
The girl wondered. “How should you frighten them?”
“It wouldn’t be I— it would be you. It would frighten them to suppose you holding in thrall his lordship’s young affections.”
Our young lady, her clear eyes still overshadowed by her dark brows, continued to examine it. “Why should that frighten them?”
Mrs. Westgate winged her shaft with a smile before launching it. “Because they think you’re not good enough. You’re a charming girl, beautiful and amiable, intelligent and clever, and as bien-élevée as it is possible to be; but you’re not a fit match for Lord Lambeth.”
Bessie showed again a coldness. “Where do you get such extraordinary ideas? You’ve said some such odd things lately. My dear Kitty, where do you collect them?”
But Kitty, unabashed, held to her idea. “Yes, it would put them on pins and needles, and it wouldn’t hurt you. Mr. Beaumont’s already most uneasy. I could soon see that.”
The girl turned it over. “Do you mean they spy on him, that they interfere with him?”
“I don’t know what power they have to interfere, but I know that a British materfamilias— and when she’s a Duchess into the bargain — is often a force to be reckoned with.”
It has already been intimated that before certain appearances of strange or sinister cast our young woman was apt to shy off into scepticism. She abstained on the present occasion from expressing disbelief, for she wished not to irritate her sister. But she said to herself that Kitty had been misinformed — that this was a traveller’s tale. Though she was a girl of quick imagination there could in the nature of things be no truth for her in the attribution to her of a vulgar identity. Only the form she gave her doubt was: “I must say that in that case I’m very sorry for Lord Lambeth.”
Mrs. Westgate, more and more exhilarated by her own scheme, irradiated interest. “If I could only believe it was safe! But when you begin to pity him I, on my side, am afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Of your pitying him too much.”
Bessie turned impatiently off — then at the end of a minute faced about. “What if I should pity him too much?”
Mrs. Westgate hereupon averted herself, but after a moment’s reflexion met the case. “It would come, after all, to the same thing.”
Lord Lambeth came the next day with his trap, when the two ladies, attended by Willie Woodley, placed themselves under his guidance and were conveyed eastward, through some of the most fascinating, as Bessie called them, even though the duskiest districts, to the great turreted donjon that overlooks the London shipping. They alighted together to enter the famous fortress, where they secured the services of a venerable beef-eater, who, ignoring the presence of other dependants on his leisure, made a fine exclusive party of them and marched them through courts and corridors, through armouries and prisons. He delivered his usual peripatetic discourse, and they stopped and stared and peeped and stooped according as he marshalled and directed them. Bessie appealed to this worthy — even on more heads than he seemed aware of; she overtaxed, in her earnestness, his learnt lesson and found the place, as she more than once mentioned to him, quite delirious. Lord Lambeth was in high good-humour; his delirium at least was gay and he betrayed afresh that aptitude for the simpler forms of ironic comment that the girl had noted in him. Willie Woodley kept looking at the ceilings and tapping the walls with the knuckle of a pearl-grey glove; and Mrs. Westgate, asking at frequent intervals to be allowed to sit down and wait till they came back, was as frequently informed that they would never do anything so weak. When it befell that Bessie’s glowing appeals, chiefly on collateral points of English history, but left the warder gaping she resorted straight to Lord Lambeth. His lordship then pleaded gross incompetence, declaring he knew nothing about that sort of thing and greatly diverted, to all appearance, at being treated as an authority.
“You can’t honestly expect people to know as awfully much as you,” he said.
“I should expect you to know a great deal more,” Bessie Alden returned.
“Well, women always know more than men about names and dates and historical characters,” he said. “There was Lady Jane Grey we’ve just been hearing about, who went in for Latin and Greek and all the learning of her age.”
“You have no right to be ignorant at all events,” Bessie argued with all her freedom.
“Why haven’t I as good a right as any one else?”
“Because you’ve lived in the midst of all these things.”
“What things do you mean? Axes and blocks and thumbscrews?”
“All these historical things. You belong to an historical family.”
“Bessie really harks back too much to the dead past — she makes too much of it,” Mrs. Westgate opined, catching the sense of this colloquy.
“Yes, you hark back,” the young man laughed, thankful for a formula. “You do make too much of the dead past.”
He went with the ladies a couple of days later to Hampton Court, Willie Woodley being also of the party. The afternoon was charming, the famous horse-chestnuts blossomed to admiration, and Lord Lambeth, who found in Miss Alden the improving governess, he declared, of his later immaturity, as Mademoiselle Boquet, dragging him by the hand to view all lions, had been that of his earliest, pronounced the old red palace not half so beastly as he had supposed. Bessie herself rose to raptures; she went about murmuring and “raving.” “It’s too lovely; it’s too enchanting; it’s too exactly what it ought to be!”
At Hampton Court the tinkling flocks are not provided with an official bellwether, but are left to browse at discretion on the tough herbage of History. It happened in this manner that, in default of another informant, our young woman, who on doubtful questions was able to suggest a great many alternatives, found herself again apply for judicious support to Lord Lambeth. He, however, could but once more declare himself a broken reed and that his education, in such matters, had been sadly neglected.
“And I’m sorry it makes you so wretched,” he further professed.
“You’re so disappointing, you know,” she returned; but more in pity — pity for herself — than in anger.
“Ah, now, don’t say that! That’s the worst thing you could possibly say.”
“No”— she spoke with a sad lucidity —“it’s not so bad as to say that I had expected nothing of you.”
“I don’t know”— and he seemed to rejoice in a chance to demur. “Give me a notion of the sort of thing you expected.”
“Well, that you’d be more what I should like to be — what I should try to be — in your place.”
“Ah, my place!” he groaned. “You’re always talking about my place.”
The girl gave him a look; he might have thought she coloured; and for a little she made no rejoinder. “Does it strike you that I’m always talking about your place?”
“I’m sure you do it a great honour,” he said as if fearing he had sounded uncivil.
“I’ve often thought about it,” she went on after a moment. “I’ve often thought of your future as an hereditary legislator. An hereditary legislator ought to know so many things, oughtn’t he?”
“Not if he doesn’t legislate.”
“But you will legislate one of these days — you may have to at any time; it’s absurd your saying you won’t. You’re very much looked up to here — I’m assured of that.”
“I don’t know that I ever noticed it.”
“It’s because you’re used to it then. You ought to fill the place.”
“How do you mean, fill it?” asked Lord Lambeth.
“You ought to be very clever and brilliant — to be ‘up’ in almost everything.”
He turned on her his handsome young face of profane wonder. “Shall I tell you something? A young man in my position, as you call it —”
“I didn’t invent the term,” she interposed. “I’ve seen it in a great many books.”
“Hang it, you’re always at your books! A fellow in my position then does well enough at the worst — he muddles along whatever he does. That’s about what I mean to say.”
“Well, if your own people are content with you,” Bessie laughed, “it’s not for me to complain. But I shall always think that properly you should have a great mind — a great character.”
“Ah, that’s very theoretic!” the young man promptly brought out. “Depend upon it, that’s a Yankee prejudice.”
“Happy the country then,” she as eagerly declared, “where people’s prejudices make so for light.”
He stopped short, with his slightly strained gaiety, as for the pleasantness of high argument. “What it comes to then is that we’re all here a pack of fools and me the biggest of the lot?”
“I said nothing so rude of a great people — and a great person. But I must repeat that you personally are — in your representative capacity that’s to be — disappointing.”
“My dear Miss Alden,” he simply cried at this, “I’m the best fellow in the world!”
“Ah, if it were not for that!” she beautifully smiled.
Mrs. Westgate had many more friends in London than she pretended, and before long had renewed acquaintance with most of them. Their hospitality was prompt, so that, one thing leading to another, she began, as the phrase is, to go out. Bessie Alden, in this way, saw a good deal of what she took great pleasure in calling to herself English society. She went to balls and danced, she went to dinners and talked, she went to concerts and listened — at concerts Bessie always listened — she went to exhibitions and wondered. Her enjoyment was keen and her curiosity insatiable, and, grateful in general for all her opportunities, she especially prized the privilege of meeting certain celebrated persons, authors and artists, philosophers and statesmen, of whose renown she had been a humble and distant beholder and who now, as part of the frequent furniture of London drawing-rooms, struck her as stars fallen from the firmament and become palpable — revealing also sometimes on contact qualities not to have been predicted of bodies sidereal. Bessie, who knew so many of her contemporaries by reputation, lost in this way certain fond illusions; but on the other hand she had innumerable satisfactions and enthusiasms, and she laid bare the wealth of her emotions to a dear friend of her own sex in Boston, with whom she was in voluminous correspondence. Some of her sentiments indeed she sought mildly to flash upon Lord Lambeth, who came almost every day to Jones’s Hotel and whom Mrs. Westgate admitted to be really devoted. Captain Littledale, it appeared, had gone to India; and of several others of this lady’s expensioners — gentlemen who, as she said, had made, in New York, a club-house of her drawing-room — no tidings were to be obtained; but this particular friend of other days was certainly attentive enough to make up for the accidental absences, the short memories, the remarked lapses, of every one else. He drove the sisters in the Park, took them to visit private collections of pictures and, having a house of his own, invited them to luncheon, to tea, to dinner, to supper even after the arduous German opera. Mrs. Westgate, following the fashion of many of her countrywomen, caused herself and her companion to be presented at the English Court by her diplomatic representative — for it was in this manner that she alluded to the American Minister to England, inquiring what on earth he was put there for if not to make the proper arrangements for her reception at Court.
Lord Lambeth expressed a hatred of Courts, but he had social privileges or exercised some court function — these undiscriminated attributes, dim backgrounds where old gold seemed to shine through transparent conventions, were romantically rich to our young heroine — that involved his support of his sovereign on the day on which the two ladies at Jones’s Hotel repaired to Buckingham Palace in a remarkable coach sent by his lordship to fetch them. He appeared in a gorgeous uniform, and Bessie Alden was particularly struck with his glory — especially when on her asking him, rather foolishly as she felt, if he were a loyal subject, he replied that he was a loyal subject to herself. This pronouncement was emphasised by his dancing with her at a royal ball to which the two ladies afterwards went, and was not impaired by the fact that she thought he danced very ill. He struck her as wonderfully kind; she asked herself with growing vivacity why he should be so kind. It was just his character — that seemed the natural reply. She had told her relative how much she liked him, and now that she liked him more she wondered at her excess. She liked him for his clear nature; to this question as well that seemed the natural answer. The truth was that when once the impressions of London life began to crowd thickly upon her she completely forgot her subtle sister’s warning on the cynicism of public opinion. It had given her great pain at the moment; but there was no particular reason why she should remember it: it corresponded too little with any sensible reality. Besides which there was her habit, her beautiful system, of consenting to know nothing of human baseness or of the vulgar side. There were things, just as there were people, that were as nought from the moment one ignored them. She was accordingly not haunted with the sense of a low imputation. She wasn’t in love with Lord Lambeth — she assured herself of that. It will immediately be observed that when such assurances become necessary the state of a young lady’s affections is already ambiguous; and indeed the girl made no attempt to dissimulate (to her finer intelligence) that “appeal of type”— she had a ready name for it — to which her gallant hovering gentleman caused her wonderingly to respond. She was fully aware that she liked it, this so unalloyed image of the simple candid manly healthy English temperament. She spoke to herself of it as if she liked the man for it instead of her liking it for the man. She cherished the thought of his bravery, which she had never in the least seen tested, enjoyed a fond view in him of the free and instinctive range of the “gentlemanly” character, and was as familiar with his good looks as if she habitually handed him out his neckties. She was perfectly conscious, moreover, of privately dilating on his more adventitious merits — of the effect on her imagination of the large opportunities of so splendid a person; opportunities she hardly knew for what, but, as she supposed, for doing great things, for setting an example, for exerting an influence, for conferring happiness, for encouraging the arts. She had an ideal of conduct for a young man who should find himself in this grand position, and she tried to adapt it to her friend’s behaviour as you might attempt to fit a silhouette in cut paper over a shadow projected on a wall. Bessie Alden’s silhouette, however, refused to coincide at all points with his lordship’s figure; a want of harmony that she sometimes deplored beyond discretion. It was his own affair she at moments told herself — it wasn’t her concern the least in the world. When he was absent it was of course less striking — then he might have seemed sufficiently to unite high responsibilities with high braveries. But when he sat there within sight, laughing and talking with his usual effect of natural salubrity and mental mediocrity, she took the measure of his shortcoming and felt acutely that if his position was, so to speak, heroic, there was little of that large line in the young man himself. Then her imagination wandered away from him — very far away; for it was an incontestable fact that at these moments he lagged ever so much behind it. He affected her as on occasion, dreadful to say, almost actively stupid. It may have been that while she so curiously inquired and so critically brooded her personal wit, her presence of mind, made no great show — though it is also possible that she sometimes positively charmed, or at least interested, her friend by this very betrayal of the frequent, the distant and unreported, excursion. So it would have hung together that a part of her unconscious appeal to him from the first had been in his feeling her judge and appraise him more freely and irresponsibly — more at her ease and her leisure, as it were — than several young ladies with whom he had passed for adventurously intimate. To be convinced of her “cleverness” and yet also to be aware of her appreciation — when the cleverness might have been after all but dangerous and complicating — all made, to Lord Lambeth’s sense, for convenience and cheer. Hadn’t he compassed the satisfaction, that high aim of young men greatly placed and greatly moneyed, of being liked for himself? It was true a cynical counsellor might have whispered to him: “Liked for yourself? Ah, not so very awfully much!” He had at any rate the constant hope of adding to that quantity.
It may not seem to fit in — but the truth was strange — that Bessie Alden, when he struck her as “deficient,” found herself aspiring by that very reason to some finer way of liking him. This was fairly indeed on grounds of conscience — because she felt he had been thoroughly “nice” to her sister and so deemed it no more than fair that she should think as well of him as he thought of her. The effort in question was possibly sometimes not so successful as it might have been, the result being at moments an irritation, which, though consciously vague, was yet, with inconsequence, acute enough to express itself in hostile criticism of several British institutions. Bessie went to entertainments at which she met Lord Lambeth, but also to others at which he was neither actually nor imaginably present; and it was chiefly at these latter that she encountered those literary and artistic celebrities of whom mention has been made. After a while she reduced the matter to a principle. If he should appear anywhere she might take it for a flat sign that there would be neither poets nor philosophers; and as a result — for it was almost a direct result — she used to enumerate to the young man these objects of her admiration.
“You seem to be awfully fond of that sort of people,” he said one day as if the idea had just occurred to him.
“They’re the people in England I’m most curious to see,” she promptly replied.
“I suppose that’s because you’ve read so much,” Lord Lambeth gallantly threw off.
“I’ve not read so much. It’s because we think so much of them at home.”
“Oh I see! In your so awfully clever Boston.”
“Not only in our awfully clever Boston, but in our just commonly clever everywhere. We hold them in great honour,” said Bessie. “It’s they who go to the best dinner-parties.”
“I daresay you’re right. I can’t say I know many of them.”
“It’s a pity you don’t,” she returned. “It would do you some good.”
“I daresay it would,” said the young man very humbly. “But I must say I don’t like the looks of some of them.”
“Neither do I— of some of them. But there are all kinds, and many of them are charming.”
“I’ve talked with two or three of them,” Lord Lambeth went on, “and I thought they had a kind of fawning manner.”
“Why should they fawn?” Bessie demanded.
“I’m sure I don’t know. Why indeed?”
“Perhaps you only thought so,” she suggested.
“Well, of course,” her companion allowed, “that’s a kind of thing that can’t be proved.”
“In America they don’t fawn,” she went on.
“Don’t they? Ah, well, then they must be better company.”
She had a pause. “That’s one of the few things I don’t like about England — your keeping the distinguished people apart.”
“How do you mean, apart?”
“Why, letting them come only to certain places. You never see them.”
All his pleasant face wondered — he seemed to take it as another of her rather stiff riddles. “What people do you mean?”
“The eminent people; the authors and artists; the clever people.”
“Oh there are other eminent people besides those!” said Lord Lambeth.
“Well, you certainly keep them apart,” Bessie earnestly contended.
“And there are plenty of other clever people.”
It was spoken with a fine simple faith, yet the tone of it made her laugh. “‘Plenty’? How many?”
On another occasion — just after a dinner-party — she mentioned something else in England she didn’t like.
“Oh I say!” he cried; “haven’t you abused us enough?”
“I’ve never abused you at all,” said Bessie; “but I don’t like your ‘precedence.’”
She was to feel relieved at his not taking it solemnly. “It isn’t my precedence!”
“Yes, it’s yours — just exactly yours; and I think it’s odious,” she insisted.
“I never saw such a young lady for discussing things! Has some one had the impudence to go before you?” Lord Lambeth asked.
“It’s not the going before me I object to,” said Bessie; “it’s their pretending they’ve a right to do it — a right I should grovellingly recognise.”
“I never saw such a person, either, for not ‘recognising,’ let alone for not ‘grovelling.’ Every one here has to grovel to somebody or to something — and no doubt it’s all beastly. But one takes the thick with the thin, and it saves a lot of trouble.”
“It makes a lot of trouble, by which I mean a lot of ugliness. It’s horrid!” Bessie maintained.
“But how would you have the first people go?” the young man asked. “They can’t go last, you know.”
“Whom do you mean by the first people?”
“Ah, if you mean to question first principles!” said Lord Lambeth.
“If those are your first principles no wonder some of your arrangements are horrid!” she cried, with a charming but not wholly sincere ferocity. “I’m a silly chit, no doubt, so of course I go last; but imagine what Kitty must feel on being informed that she’s not at liberty to budge till certain other ladies have passed out!”
“Oh I say, she’s not ‘informed’!” he protested. “No one would do such a thing as that.”
“She’s made to feel it — as if they were afraid she’d make a rush for the door. No, you’ve a lovely country”— she clung as for consistency to her discrimination —“but your precedence is horrid.”
“I certainly shouldn’t think your sister would like it,” Lord Lambeth said, with even exaggerated gravity. But she couldn’t induce him — amused as he almost always was at the effect of giving her, as he called it, her head — to join her in more formal reprobation of this repulsive custom, which he spoke of as a convenience she would destroy without offering a better in its place.
Percy Beaumont had all this time been a very much less frequent visitor at Jones’s Hotel than his former fellow traveller; he had in fact called but twice on the two American ladies. Lord Lambeth, who often saw him, reproached him with his neglect and declared that though Mrs. Westgate had said nothing about it he made no doubt she was secretly wounded by it. “She suffers too much to speak,” said his comrade.
“That’s all gammon,” Percy returned; “there’s a limit to what people can suffer!” And though sending no apologies to Jones’s Hotel he undertook in a manner to explain his absence. “You’re always there yourself, confound you, and that’s reason enough for my not going.”
“I don’t see why. There’s enough for both of us.”
“Well, I don’t care to be a witness of your reckless passion,” said Percy Beaumont.
His friend turned on him a cold eye and for a moment said nothing, presently, however, speaking a little stiffly. “My passion doesn’t make such a show as you might suppose, considering what a demonstrative beggar I am.”
“I don’t want to know anything about it — anything whatever,” said Beaumont. “Your mother asks me every time she sees me whether I believe you’re really lost — and Lady Pimlico does the same. I prefer to be able to answer that I’m in complete ignorance, that I never go there. I stay away for consistency’s sake. As I said the other day, they must look after you themselves.”
“Well, you’re wonderfully considerate,” the young man returned. “They never question me.”
“They’re afraid of you. They’re afraid of annoying you and making you worse. So they go to work very cautiously, and, somewhere or other, they get their information. They know a great deal about you. They know you’ve been with those ladies to the dome of Saint Paul’s and — where was the other place? — to the Thames Tunnel.”
“If all their knowledge is as accurate as that it must be very valuable,” said Lord Lambeth.
“Well, at any rate, they know you’ve been visiting the ‘sights of the metropolis.’ They think — very naturally, as it seems to me — that when you take to visiting the sights of the metropolis with a little nobody of an American girl something may be supposed to be ‘up.’” The young man met this remark with scornful laughter, but his companion continued after a pause: “I told you just now that I cultivate my ignorance, but I find I can no longer stand my suspense. I confess I do want to know whether you propose to marry Miss Alden.”
On this point Lord Lambeth gave his questioner no prompt satisfaction; he only mused — frowningly, portentously. “By Jove they go rather too far. They shall have cause to worry — I promise them.”
Percy Beaumont, however, continued to aim at lucidity. “You don’t, it’s true, quite redeem your threats. You said the other day you’d make your mother call.”
Lord Lambeth just hung fire. “Well, I asked her to.”
“And she declined?”
“Yes, but she shall do it yet.”
“Upon my word,” said Percy, “if she gets much more scared I verily believe she will.” His friend watched him on this, and he went on. “She’ll go to the girl herself.”
“How do you mean ‘go’ to her?”
“She’ll try to get ‘at’ her — to square her. She won’t care what she does.”
Lord Lambeth turned away in silence; he took twenty steps and slowly returned. “She had better take care what she does. I’ve invited Mrs. Westgate and Miss Alden to Branches, and this evening I shall name a day.”
“And shall you invite your mother and your sisters to meet them?”
Lord Lambeth indulged in one of his rare discriminations. “I shall give them the opportunity.”
“That will touch the Duchess up,” said Percy Beaumont. “I ‘guess’ she’ll come.”
“She may do as she pleases.”
“Then do you really propose to marry the little sister?”
“I like the way you talk about it!” the young man cried. “She won’t gobble me down. Don’t be afraid.”
“She won’t leave you on your knees,” Percy declared. “What the devil’s the inducement?”
“You talk about proposing — wait till I have proposed,” Lord Lambeth went on.
His friend looked at him harder. “That’s right, my dear chap. Think of all the bearings.”
“She’s a charming girl,” pursued his lordship.
“Of course she’s a charming girl. I don’t know a girl more charming — in a very quiet way. But there are other charming girls — charming in all sorts of ways — nearer home.”
“I particularly like her spirit,” said Bessie’s admirer — almost as on a policy of aggravation.
“What’s the peculiarity of her spirit?”
“She’s not afraid, and she says things out and thinks herself as good as any one. She’s the only girl I’ve ever seen,” Lord Lambeth explained, “who hasn’t seemed to me dying to marry me.”
Mr. Beaumont considered it. “How do you know she isn’t dying if you haven’t felt her pulse? I mean if you haven’t asked her?”
“I don’t know how; but I know it.”
“I’m sure she asked me— over there — questions enough about your property and your titles,” Percy declared.
“She has done that to me too — again and again,” his friend returned. “But she wants to know about everything.”
“Everything? Ah, I’ll warrant she wants to know. Depend upon it she’s dying to marry you just as much, and just by the same law, as all the rest of them.”
It appeared to give the young man, for a moment, something rather special to think of. “I shouldn’t like her to refuse me — I shouldn’t like that.”
“If the thing would be so disagreeable then, both to you and to her, in heaven’s name leave it alone.” Such was the moral drawn by Mr. Beaumont; which left him practically the last word in the discussion.
Mrs. Westgate, on her side, had plenty to say to her sister about the rarity of the latter’s visits and the non-appearance at their own door of the Duchess of Bayswater. She confessed, however, to taking more pleasure in this hush of symptoms than she could have taken in the most lavish attentions on the part of that great lady. “It’s unmistakable,” she said, “delightfully unmistakable; a most interesting sign that we’ve made them wretched. The day we dined with him I was really sorry for the poor boy.” It will have been gathered that the entertainment offered by Lord Lambeth to his American friends had been graced by the presence of no near relation. He had invited several choice spirits to meet them, but the ladies of his immediate family were to Mrs. Westgate’s sense — a sense perhaps morbidly acute — conspicuous by their hostile absence.
“I don’t want to work you up any further,” Bessie at last ventured to remark, “but I don’t know why you should have so many theories about Lord Lambeth’s poor mother. You know a great many young men in New York without knowing their mothers.”
Mrs. Westgate rested deep eyes on her sister and then turned away. “My dear Bessie, you’re superb!”
“One thing’s certain”— the girl continued not to blench at her irony. “If I believed I were a cause of annoyance, however unwitting, to Lord Lambeth’s family I should insist —”
“Insist on my leaving England?” Mrs. Westgate broke in.
“No, not that. I want to go to the National Gallery again; I want to see Stratford-on-Avon and Canterbury Cathedral. But I should insist on his ceasing relations with us.”
“That would be very modest and very pretty of you — but you wouldn’t do it at this point.”
“Why do you say ‘at this point’?” Bessie asked. “Have I ceased to be modest?”
“You care for him too much. A month ago, when you said you didn’t, I believe it was quite true. But at present, my dear child,” said Mrs. Westgate, “you wouldn’t find it quite so simple a matter never to see Lord Lambeth again. I’ve watched it come on.”
“You’re mistaken,” Bessie declared. “You don’t understand.”
“Ah, you poor proud thing, don’t be perverse!” her companion returned.
The girl gave the matter, thus admonished, some visible thought. “I know him better certainly, if you mean that. And I like him very much. But I don’t like him enough to make trouble for him with his family. However, I don’t believe in that.”
“I like the way you say ‘however’!” Mrs. Westgate commented. “Do you pretend you wouldn’t be glad to marry him?”
Again Bessie calmly considered. “It would take a great deal more than is at all imaginable to make me marry him.”
Her relative showed an impatience. “And what’s the great difficulty?”
“The great difficulty is that I shouldn’t care to,” said Bessie Alden.
The morning after Lord Lambeth had had with his own frankest critic that exchange of ideas which has just been narrated, the ladies at Jones’s Hotel received from him a written invitation to pay their projected visit to Branches Castle on the following Tuesday. “I think I’ve made up a very pleasant party,” his lordship went on. “Several people whom you know, and my mother and sisters, who have been accidentally prevented from making your acquaintance sooner.” Bessie at this lost no time in calling her sister’s attention to the injustice she had done the Duchess of Bayswater, whose hostility was now proved to be a vain illusion.
“Wait till you see if she comes,” said Mrs. Westgate. “And if she’s to meet us at her son’s house the obligation’s all the greater for her to call on us.”
Bessie hadn’t to wait long, for it appeared that her friend’s parent now descried the direction in which, according to her companion’s observation, courtesy pointed. On the morrow, early in the afternoon, two cards were brought to the apartment of the American ladies — one of them bearing the name of the Duchess of Bayswater and the other that of the Countess of Pimlico. Mrs. Westgate glanced at the clock. “It isn’t yet four,” she said; “they’ve come early; they want really to find us. We’ll receive them.” And she gave orders that her visitors should be admitted. A few moments later they were introduced and a solemn exchange of amenities took place. The Duchess was a large lady with a fine fresh colour; the Countess of Pimlico was very pretty and elegant.
The Duchess looked about her as she sat down — looked not especially at Mrs. Westgate. “I daresay my son has told you that I’ve been wanting to come to see you,” she dropped — and from no towering nor inconvenient height.
“You’re very kind,” said Mrs. Westgate vaguely — her conscience not allowing her to assent to this proposition, and indeed not permitting her to enunciate her own with any appreciable emphasis.
“He tells us you were so kind to him in America,” said the Duchess.
“We’re very glad,” Mrs. Westgate replied, “to have been able to make him feel a little more — a little less — a little at home.”
“I think he stayed at your house,” the visitor more heavily breathed, but as an overture, across to Bessie Alden.
Mrs. Westgate intercepted the remark. “A very short time indeed.”
“Oh!” said the Duchess; and she continued to address her interest to Bessie, who was engaged in conversation with her daughter.
“Do you like London?” Lady Pimlico had asked of Bessie, after looking at her a good deal — at her face and her hands, her dress and her hair.
The girl was prompt and clear. “Very much indeed.”
“Do you like this hotel?”
“It’s very comfortable.”
“Do you like stopping at hotels?” Lady Pimlico asked after a pause.
“I’m very fond of travelling, and I suppose hotels are a necessary part of it. But they’re not the part I’m fondest of,” Bessie without difficulty admitted.
“Oh I hate travelling!” said Lord Lambeth’s sister, who transferred her attention to Mrs. Westgate.
“My son tells me you’re going to Branches,” the Duchess presently resumed.
“Lord Lambeth has been so good as to ask us,” said Mrs. Westgate, who felt herself now under the eyes of both visitors and who had her customary happy consciousness of a distinguished appearance. The only mitigation of her felicity on this point was that, having taken in every item of that of the Duchess, she said to herself: “She won’t know how well I’m dressed!”
“He has been so good as to tell me he expects me, but I’m not quite sure of what I can do,” the noble lady exhaled.
“He had offered us the p — the prospect of meeting you,” Mrs. Westgate further contributed.
“I hate the country at this season,” the Duchess went on.
Her hostess melted to sweetness. “I delight in it at all seasons. And I think it now above all pleasanter than London.”
But the Duchess’s eyes were absent again; she was looking very fixedly at Bessie. In a minute she slowly rose, passed across the room with a great rustle and an effect of momentous displacement, reached a chair that stood empty at the girl’s right hand and silently seated herself. As she was a majestic voluminous woman this little transaction had inevitably an air of somewhat impressive intention. It diffused a certain awkwardness, which Lady Pimlico, as a sympathetic daughter, perhaps desired to rectify in turning to Mrs. Westgate. “I suppose you go out immensely.”
“No, very little. We’re strangers, and we didn’t come for the local society.”
“I see,” said Lady Pimlico. “It’s rather nice in town just now.”
“I’ve known it of course duskier and dingier. But we only go to see a few people,” Mrs. Westgate added —“old friends or persons we particularly like.”
“Of course one can’t like every one,” Lady Pimlico conceded.
“It depends on one’s society,” Mrs. Westgate returned.
The Duchess meanwhile had addressed herself to Bessie. “My son tells me the young ladies in America are so clever.”
“I’m glad they made so good an impression on him,” our heroine smiled.
The Duchess took the case, clearly, as no matter for grimacing; there reigned in her large pink face a meridian calm. “He’s very susceptible. He thinks every one clever — and sometimes they are.”
“Sometimes,” Bessie cheerfully assented.
The Duchess continued all serenely and publicly to appraise her. “Lambeth’s very susceptible, but he’s very volatile too.”
“Volatile?” Bessie echoed.
“He’s very inconstant. It won’t do to depend on him.”
“Ah,” the girl returned, “I don’t recognise that description. We’ve depended on him greatly, my sister and I, and have found him so faithful. He has never disappointed us.”
“He’ll disappoint you yet,” said her Grace with a certain rich force.
Bessie gave a laugh of amusement as at such a contention from such a quarter. “I suppose it will depend on what we expect of him.”
“The less you expect the better,” said her massive monitress.
“Well, we expect nothing unreasonable.”
The Duchess had a fine contemplative pause — evidently with more to say. She made, in the quantity, her next selection. “Lambeth says he has seen so much of you.”
“He has been with us very often — he has been a ministering angel,” Bessie hastened to put on record.
“I daresay you’re used to that. I’m told there’s a great deal of that in America.”
“A great deal of angelic ministering?” the girl laughed again.
“Is that what you call it? I know you’ve different expressions.”
“We certainly don’t always understand each other,” said Mrs. Westgate, the termination of whose interview with Lady Pimlico had allowed her to revert to their elder visitor.
“I’m speaking of the young men calling so much on the young ladies,” the Duchess explained.
“But surely in England,” Mrs. Westgate appealed, “the young ladies don’t call on the young men?”
“Some of them do — almost!” Lady Pimlico declared. “When a young man’s a great parti.”
“Bessie, you must make a note of that,” said Mrs. Westgate. “My sister”— she gave their friends the benefit of the knowledge —“is a model traveller. She writes down all the curious facts she hears in a little book she keeps for the purpose.”
The Duchess took it, with a noble art of her own, as if she hadn’t heard it; and while she was so occupied — for this involved a large deliberation — her daughter turned to Bessie. “My brother has told us of your being so clever.”
“He should have said my sister,” Bessie returned —“when she treats you to such flights as that.”
“Shall you be long at Branches?” the Duchess abruptly asked of her.
Bessie was to have afterwards a vivid remembrance of wondering what her Grace (she was so glad Duchesses had that predicate) would mean by “long.” But she might as well somehow have wondered what the occupants of the planet Mars would. “He has invited us for three days.”
“I think I must really manage it,” the Duchess declared —“and my daughter too.”
“That will be charming!”
“Delightful!” cried Mrs. Westgate.
“I shall expect to see a deal of you,” the Duchess continued. “When I go to Branches I monopolise my son’s guests.”
“They must give themselves up to you,” said Mrs. Westgate all graciously.
“I quite yearn to see it — to see the Castle,” Bessie went on to the larger lady. “I’ve never seen one — in England at least; and you know we’ve none in America.”
“Ah, you’re fond of castles?”— her Grace quite took it up.
“Of the idea of them — which is all I know — immensely.” And the girl’s pale light deepened for the assurance. “It has been the dream of my life to live in one.”
The Duchess looked at her as if hardly knowing how to take such words, which, from the ducal point of view, had either to be very artless or very aggressive. “Well,” she said, rising, “I’ll show you Branches myself.” And upon this the noble ladies took their departure.
“What did they mean by it?” Mrs. Westgate sought to know when they had gone.
“They meant to do the friendly thing,” Bessie surmised, “because we’re going to meet them.”
“It’s too late to do the friendly thing,” Mrs. Westgate replied almost grimly. “They meant to overawe us by their fine manners and their grandeur; they meant to make you lâcher prise.”
“Lâcher prise? What strange things you say!” the girl sighed as fairly for pain.
“They meant to snub us so that we shouldn’t dare to go to Branches,” Mrs. Westgate substituted with confidence.
“On the contrary,” said Bessie, “the Duchess offered to show me the place herself.”
“Yes, you may depend upon it she won’t let you out of her sight. She’ll show you the place from morning till night.”
“You’ve a theory for everything,” our young woman a little more helplessly allowed.
“And you apparently have none for anything.”
“I saw no attempt to ‘overawe’ us,” Bessie nevertheless persisted. “Their manners weren’t fine.”
“They were not even good!” Mrs. Westgate declared.
Her sister had a pause, but in a few moments claimed the possession of an excellent theory. “They just came to look at me!” she brought out as with much ingenuity. Mrs. Westgate did the idea justice; she greeted it with a smile and pronounced it a credit to a fresh young mind; while in reality she felt that the girl’s scepticism, or her charity, or, as she had sometimes called it appropriately, her idealism, was proof against irony. Bessie, however, remained meditative all the rest of that day and well on into the morrow. She privately ached — almost as under a dishonour — with the aftersense of having been inspected in that particular way.
On the morrow before luncheon Mrs. Westgate, having occasion to go out for an hour, left her sister writing a letter. When she came back she met Lord Lambeth at the door of the hotel and in the act of leaving it. She thought he looked considerably embarrassed; he certainly, she said to herself, had no spring. “I’m sorry to have missed you. Won’t you come back?” she asked.
“No — I can’t. I’ve seen your sister. I can never come back.” Then he looked at her a moment and took her hand. “Good-bye, Mrs. Westgate — you’ve been very kind to me.” And with what she thought a strange sad air on his handsome young face he turned away.
She went in only to find Bessie still writing her letter; find her, that is, seated at the table with the arrested pen in her hand. She put her question after a moment. “Lord Lambeth has been here?”
Then Bessie got up and showed her a pale serious face — bending it on her for some time, confessing silently and, a little, pleading. “I told him,” the girl said at last, “that we couldn’t go to Branches.”
Mrs. Westgate gave a gasp of temporary disappointment. “He might have waited,” she nevertheless smiled, “till one had seen the Castle.” An hour afterwards she spoke again. “I do wish, you know, you might have accepted him.”
“I couldn’t,” said Bessie, with the slowest gravest gentlest of headshakes.
“He’s really such a dear,” Mrs. Westgate pursued.
“I couldn’t,” Bessie repeated.
“If it’s only,” her sister added, “because those women will think they succeeded — that they paralysed us!”
Our young lady turned away, but presently added: “They were interesting. I should have liked to see them again.”
“So should I!” cried Mrs. Westgate, with much point.
“And I should have liked to see the Castle,” said Bessie. “But now we must leave England.”
Her sister’s eyes studied her. “You won’t wait to go to the National Gallery?”
“Nor to Canterbury Cathedral?”
Bessie lost herself for a little in this. “We can stop there on our way to Paris,” she then said.
Lord Lambeth didn’t tell Percy Beaumont that the contingency he was not prepared at all to like had occurred; but that gentleman, on hearing that the two ladies had left London, wondered with some intensity what had happened; wondered, that is, till the Duchess of Bayswater came a little to his assistance. The two ladies went to Paris — when Mrs. Westgate beguiled the journey by repeating several times: “That’s what I regret; they’ll think they petrified us.” But Bessie Alden, strange and charming girl, seemed to regret nothing.
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