Life was very pleasant at Royallieu.
It lay in the Melton country, and was equally well placed for Pytchley, Quorn, and Belvoir, besides possessing its own small but very perfect pack of “little ladies,” or the “demoiselles,” as they were severally nicknamed; the game was closely preserved, pheasants were fed on Indian corn till they were the finest birds in the country, and in the little winding paths of the elder and bilberry coverts thirty first-rate shots, with two loading-men to each, could find flock and feather to amuse them till dinner, with rocketers and warm corners enough to content the most insatiate of knickerbockered gunners. The stud was superb; the cook, a French artist of consummate genius, who had a brougham to his own use and wore diamonds of the first water; in the broad beech-studded grassy lands no lesser thing than doe and deer ever swept through the thick ferns in the sunlight and the shadow; a retinue of powdered servants filled the old halls, and guests of highest degree dined in its stately banqueting room, with its scarlet and gold, its Vandykes and its Vernets, and yet — there was terribly little money at Royallieu with it all. Its present luxury was purchased at the cost of the future, and the parasite of extravagance was constantly sapping, unseen, the gallant old Norman-planted oak of the family-tree. But then, who thought of that? Nobody. It was the way of the House never to take count of the morrow. True, any one of them would have died a hundred deaths rather than have had one acre of the beautiful green diadem of woods felled by the ax of the timber contractor, or passed to the hands of a stranger; but no one among them ever thought that this was the inevitable end to which they surely drifted with blind and unthinking improvidence. The old Viscount, haughtiest of haughty nobles, would never abate one jot of his accustomed magnificence; and his sons had but imbibed the teaching of all that surrounded them; they did but do in manhood what they had been unconsciously molded to do in boyhood, when they were set to Eton at ten with gold dressing-boxes to grace their Dame’s tables, embryo Dukes for their cofags, and tastes that already knew to a nicety the worth of the champagnes at the Christopher. The old, old story — how it repeats itself! Boys grow up amid profuse prodigality, and are launched into a world where they can no more arrest themselves than the feather-weight can pull in the lightning stride of the two-year-old, who defies all check and takes the flat as he chooses. They are brought up like young Dauphins, and tossed into the costly whirl to float as best they can — on nothing. Then, on the lives and deaths that follow; on the graves where a dishonored alien lies forgotten by the dark Austrian lakeside, or under the monastic shadow of some crumbling Spanish crypt; where a red cross chills the lonely traveler in the virgin solitudes of Amazonian forest aisles, or the wild scarlet creepers of Australia trail over a nameless mound above the trackless stretch of sun-warmed waters — then at them the world “shoots out its lips with scorn.” Not on them lies the blame.
A wintry, watery sun was shining on the terraces as Lord Royallieu paced up and down the morning after the Grand Military; his step and limbs excessively enfeebled, but the carriage of his head and the flash of his dark hawk’s eyes as proud and untamable as in his earliest years. He never left his own apartments; and no one, save his favorite “little Berk,” ever went to him without his desire. He was too sensitive a man to thrust his age and ailing health in among the young leaders of fashion, the wild men of pleasure, the good wits and the good shots of his son’s set; he knew very well that his own day was past; that they would have listened to him out of the patience of courtesy, but that they would have wished him away as “no end of a bore.” He was too shrewd not to know this; but he was too quickly galled ever to bear to have it recalled to him.
He looked up suddenly and sharply: coming toward him he saw the figure of the Guardsman. For “Beauty” the Viscount had no love; indeed, well-nigh a hatred, for a reason never guessed by others, and never betrayed by him.
Bertie was not like the Royallieu race; he resembled his mother’s family. She, a beautiful and fragile creature whom her second son had loved, for the first years of his life, as he would have thought it now impossible that he could love anyone, had married the Viscount with no affection toward him, while he had adored her with a fierce and jealous passion that her indifference only inflamed. Throughout her married life, however, she had striven to render loyalty and tenderness toward a lord into whose arms she had been thrown, trembling and reluctant; of his wife’s fidelity he could not entertain a doubt; though, that he had never won her heart, he could not choose but know. He knew more, too; for she had told it him with a noble candor before he wedded her; knew that the man she did love was a penniless cousin, a cavalry officer, who had made a famous name among the wild mountain tribes of Northern India. This cousin, Alan Bertie — a fearless and chivalrous soldier, fitter for the days of knighthood than for these — had seen Lady Royallieu at Nice, some three years after her marriage; accident had thrown them across each other’s path; the old love, stronger, perhaps, now than it had ever been, had made him linger in her presence — had made her shrink from sending him to exile. Evil tongues at last had united their names together; Alan Bertie had left the woman he idolized lest slander should touch her through him, and fallen two years later under the dark dank forests on the desolate moor-side of the hills of Hindostan, where long before he had rendered “Bertie’s Horse” the most famous of all the wild Irregulars of the East.
After her death, Lord Royallieu found Alan’s miniature among her papers, and recalled those winter months by the Mediterranean till he cherished, with the fierce, eager, self-torture of a jealous nature, doubts and suspicions that, during her life, one glance from her eyes would have disarmed and abashed. Her second and favorite child bore her family name — her late lover’s name; and, in resembling her race, resembled the dead soldier. It was sufficient to make him hate Bertie with a cruel and savage detestation, which he strove indeed to temper, for he was by nature a just man, and, in his better moments, knew that his doubts wronged both the living and the dead; but which colored, too strongly to be dissembled, all his feelings and his actions toward his son, and might both have soured and wounded any temperament less nonchalantly gentle and supremely careless than Cecil’s.
As it was, Bertie was sometimes surprised at his father’s dislike to him, but never thought much about it, and attributed it, when he did think of it, to the caprices of a tyrannous old man. To be jealous of the favor shown to his boyish brother could never for a moment have come into his imagination. Lady Royallieu with her last words had left the little fellow, a child of three years old, in the affection and the care of Bertie — himself then a boy of twelve or fourteen — and little as he thought of such things now, the trust of his dying mother had never been wholly forgotten.
A heavy gloom came now over the Viscount’s still handsome aquiline, saturnine face, as his second son approached up the terrace; Bertie was too like the cavalry soldier whose form he had last seen standing against the rose light of a Mediterranean sunset. The soldier had been dead eight-and-twenty years; but the jealous hate was not dead yet.
Cecile took off his hunting-cap with a courtesy that sat very well on his habitual languid nonchalance; he never called his father anything but “Royal”; rarely saw, still less rarely consulted him, and cared not a straw for his censure or opinion; but he was too thoroughbred by nature to be able to follow the underbred indecorum of the day which makes disrespect to old age the fashion. “You sent for me?” he asked, taking the cigarette out of his mouth.
“No, sir,” answered the old lord curtly; “I sent for your brother. The fools can’t take even a message right now, it seems.”
“Shouldn’t have named us so near alike; it’s often a bore!” said Bertie.
“I didn’t name you, sir; your mother named you,” answered his father sharply; the subject irritated him.
“It’s of no consequence which!” murmured Cecil, with an expostulatory wave of his cigar. “We’re not even asked whether we like to come into the world; we can’t expect to be asked what we like to be called in it. Good-day to you, sir.”
He turned to move away to the house, but his father stopped him; he knew that he had been discourteous — a far worse crime in Lord Royallieu’s eyes than to be heartless.
“So you won the Vase yesterday?” he asked pausing in his walk with his back bowed, but his stern, silver-haired head erect.
“I didn’t — the King did.”
“That’s absurd, sir,” said the Viscount, in his resonant and yet melodious voice. “The finest horse in the world may have his back broke by bad riding, and a screw has won before now when it’s been finely handled. The finish was tight, wasn’t it?”
“Well — rather. I have ridden closer spins, though. The fallows were light.”
Lord Royallieu smiled grimly.
“I know what the Shire ‘plow’ is like,” he said, with a flash of his falcon eyes over the landscape, where, in the days of his youth, he had led the first flight so often; George Rex, and Waterford, and the Berkeleys, and the rest following the rally of his hunting-horn. “You won much in bets?”
“Very fair, thanks.”
“And won’t be a shilling richer for it this day next week!” retorted the Viscount, with a rasping, grating irony; he could not help darting savage thrusts at this man who looked at him with eyes so cruelly like Alan Bertie’s. “You play 5 pound points, and lay 500 pounds on the odd trick, I’ve heard, at your whist in the Clubs — pretty prices for a younger son!”
“Never bet on the odd trick; spoils the game; makes you sacrifice play to the trick. We always bet on the game,” said Cecil, with gentle weariness; the sweetness of his temper was proof against his father’s attacks upon his patience.
“No matter what you bet, sir; you live as if you were a Rothschild while you are a beggar!”
“Wish I were a beggar: fellows always have no end in stock, they say; and your tailor can’t worry you very much when all you have to think about is an artistic arrangement of tatters!” murmured Bertie, whose impenetrable serenity was never to be ruffled by his father’s bitterness.
“You will soon have your wish, then,” retorted the Viscount, with the unprovoked and reasonless passion which he vented on everyone, but on none so much as the son he hated. “You are on a royal road to it. I live out of the world, but I hear from it sir. I hear that there is not a man in the Guards — not even Lord Rockingham — who lives at the rate of imprudence you do; that there is not a man who drives such costly horses, keeps such costly mistresses, games to such desperation, fools gold away with such idiocy as you do. You conduct yourself as if you were a millionaire, sir; and what are you? A pauper on my bounty, and on your brother Montagu’s after me — a pauper with a tinsel fashion, a gilded beggary, a Queen’s commission to cover a sold-out poverty, a dandy’s reputation to stave off a defaulter’s future! A pauper, sir — and a Guardsman!”
The coarse and cruel irony flushed out with wicked, scorching malignity; lashing and upbraiding the man who was the victim of his own unwisdom and extravagance.
A slight tinge of color came on his son’s face as he heard; but he gave no sign that he was moved, no sign of impatience or anger. He lifted his cap again, not in irony, but with a grave respect in his action that was totally contrary to his whole temperament.
“This sort of talk is very exhausting, very bad style,” he said, with his accustomed gentle murmur. “I will bid you good-morning, my lord.”
And he went without another word. Crossing the length of the old-fashioned Elizabethan terrace, little Berk passed him: he motioned the lad toward the Viscount. “Royal wants to see you, young one.”
The boy nodded and went onward; and, as Bertie turned to enter the low door that led out to the stables, he saw his father meet the lad — meet him with a smile that changed the whole character of his face, and pleasant, kindly words of affectionate welcome; drawing his arm about Berkeley’s shoulder, and looking with pride upon his bright and gracious youth.
More than an old man’s preference would be thus won by the young one; a considerable portion of their mother’s fortune, so left that it could not be dissipated, yet could be willed to which son the Viscount chose, would go to his brother by this passionate partiality; but there was not a tinge of jealousy in Cecil; whatever else his faults he had no mean ones, and the boy was dear to him, by a quite unconscious, yet unvarying, obedience to his dead mothers’ wish.
“Royal hates me as game-birds hate a red dog. Why the deuce, I wonder?” he thought, with a certain slight touch of pain, despite his idle philosophies and devil-may-care indifference. “Well — I am good for nothing, I suppose. Certainly I am not good for much, unless it’s riding and making love.”
With which summary of his merits, “Beauty,” who felt himself to be a master in those two arts, but thought himself a bad fellow out of them, sauntered away to join the Seraph and the rest of his guests; his father’s words pursuing him a little, despite his carelessness, for they had borne an unwelcome measure of truth.
“Royal can hit hard,” his thoughts continued. “‘A pauper and a Guardsman!’ By Jove! It’s true enough; but he made me so. They brought me up as if I had a million coming to me, and turned me out among the cracks to take my running with the best of them — and they give me just about what pays my groom’s book! Then they wonder that a fellow goes to the Jews. Where the deuce else can he go?”
And Bertie, whom his gains the day before had not much benefited, since his play-debts, his young brother’s needs, and the Zu–Zu’s insatiate little hands were all stretched ready to devour them without leaving a sovereign for more serious liabilities, went, for it was quite early morning, to act the M. F. H. in his fathers’ stead at the meet on the great lawns before the house, for the Royallieu “lady-pack” were very famous in the Shires, and hunted over the same country alternate days with the Quorn. They moved off ere long to draw the Holt Wood, in as open a morning and as strong a scenting wind as ever favored Melton Pink.
A whimper and “gone away!” soon echoed from Beebyside, and the pack, not letting the fox hang a second, dashed after him, making straight for Scraptoft. One of the fastest things up-wind that hounds ever ran took them straight through the Spinnies, past Hamilton Farm, away beyond Burkby village, and down into the valley of the Wreake without a check, where he broke away, was headed, tried earths, and was pulled down scarce forty minutes from the find. The pack then drew Hungerton foxhole blank, drew Carver’s spinnies without a whimper; and lastly, drawing the old familiar Billesden Coplow, had a short, quick burst with a brace of cubs, and returning, settled themselves to a fine dog fox that was raced an hour-and-half, hunted slowly for fifty minutes, raced again another hour-and-quarter, sending all the field to their “second horses”; and after a clipping chase through the cream of the grass country, nearly saved his brush in the twilight when the scent was lost in a rushing hailstorm, but had the “little ladies” laid on again like wildfire, and was killed with the “who-whoop!” ringing far and away over Glenn Gorse, after a glorious run — thirty miles in and out — with pace that tired the best of them.
A better day’s sport even the Quorn had never had in all its brilliant annals, and faster things the Melton men themselves had never wanted: both those who love the “quickest thing you ever knew — thirty minutes without a check — such a pace!” and care little whether the finale be “killed” or “broke away,” and those of the old fashion, who prefer “long day, you know, steady as old time; the beauties stuck like wax through fourteen parishes, as I live; six hours, if it were a minute; horses dead-beat; positively walked, you know; no end of a day!” but must have the fatal “who-whoop” as conclusion — both of these, the “new style and the old,” could not but be content with the doings of the “demoiselles” from start to finish.
Was it likely that Cecil remembered the caustic lash of his father’s ironies while he was lifting Mother of Pearl over the posts and rails, and sweeping on, with the halloo ringing down the wintry wind as the grasslands flew beneath him? Was it likely that he recollected the difficulties that hung above him while he was dashing down the Gorse happy as a king, with the wild hail driving in his face, and a break of stormy sunshine just welcoming the gallant few who were landed at the death, as twilight fell? Was it likely that he could unlearn all the lessons of his life, and realize in how near a neighborhood he stood to ruin when he was drinking Regency sherry out of his gold flask as he crossed the saddle of his second horse, or, smoking, rode slowly homeward; chatting with the Seraph through the leafless, muddy lanes in the gloaming?
Scarcely; it is very easy to remember our difficulties when we are eating and drinking them, so to speak, in bad soups and worse wines in continental impecuniosity; sleeping on them as rough Australian shake-downs, or wearing them perpetually in Californian rags and tatters — it were impossible very well to escape from them then; but it is very hard to remember them when every touch and shape of life is pleasant to us — when everything about us is symbolical and redolent of wealth and ease — when the art of enjoyment is the only one we are called on to study, and the science of pleasure all we are asked to explore.
It is well-nigh impossible to believe yourself a beggar while you never want sovereigns for whist; and it would be beyond the powers of human nature to conceive your ruin irrevocable while you still eat turbot and terrapin, with a powdered giant behind your chair daily. Up in his garret a poor wretch knows very well what he is, and realizes in stern fact the extremities of the last sou, the last shirt, and the last hope; but in these devil-may-care pleasures — in this pleasant, reckless, velvet-soft rush down-hill — in this club-palace, with every luxury that the heart of man can devise and desire, yours to command at your will — it is hard work, then, to grasp the truth that the crossing sweeper yonder, in the dust of Pall Mall, is really not more utterly in the toils of poverty than you are!
“Beauty” was never, in the whole course of his days, virtually or physically, or even metaphorically, reminded that he was not a millionaire; much less still was he ever reminded so painfully.
Life petted him, pampered him, caressed him, gifted him, though of half his gifts he never made use; lodged him like a prince, dined him like a king, and never recalled to him by a single privation or a single sensation that he was not as rich a man as his brother-inarms, the Seraph, future Duke of Lyonnesse. How could he then bring himself to understand, as nothing less than truth, the grim and cruel insult his father had flung at him in that brutally bitter phrase —“A Pauper and a Guardsman”? If he had ever been near a comprehension of it, which he never was, he must have ceased to realize it when — pressed to dine with Lord Guenevere, near whose house the last fox had been killed, while a groom dashed over to Royallieu for his change of clothes — he caught a glimpse, as they passed through the hall, of the ladies taking their preprandial cups of tea in the library, an enchanting group of lace and silks, of delicate hue and scented hair, of blond cheeks and brunette tresses, of dark velvets and gossamer tissue; and when he had changed the scarlet for dinner-dress, went down among them to be the darling of that charmed circle, to be smiled on and coquetted with by those soft, languid aristocrats, to be challenged by the lustrous eyes of his chatelaine and chere amie, to be spoiled as women will spoil the privileged pet of their drawing rooms whom they had made “free of the guild,” and endowed with a flirting commission, and acquitted of anything “serious.”
He was the recognized darling and permitted property of the young married beauties; the unwedded knew he was hopeless for them, and tacitly left him to the more attractive conquerors, who hardly prized the Seraph so much as they did Bertie, to sit in their barouches and opera boxes, ride and drive and yacht with them, conduct a Boccaccio intrigue through the height of the season, and make them really believe themselves actually in love while they were at the moors or down the Nile, and would have given their diamonds to get a new distraction.
Lady Guenevere was the last of these, his titled and wedded captors; and perhaps the most resistless of all of them. Neither of them believed very much in their attachment, but both of them wore the masquerade dress to perfection. He had fallen in love with her as much as he ever fell in love, which was just sufficient to amuse him, and never enough to disturb him. He let himself be fascinated, not exerting himself either to resist or advance the affair till he was, perhaps, a little more entangled with her than it was, according to his canons, expedient to be; and they had the most enchanting — friendship.
Nobody was ever so indiscreet as to call it anything else; and my Lord was too deeply absorbed in the Alderney beauties that stood knee-deep in the yellow straw of his farmyard, and the triumphant conquests that he gained over his brother peers’ Shorthorns and Suffolks, to trouble his head about Cecil’s attendance on his beautiful Countess.
They corresponded in Spanish; they had a thousand charming ciphers; they made the columns of the “Times” and the “Post” play the unconscious role of medium to appointments; they eclipsed all the pages of Calderon’s or Congreve’s comedies in the ingenuities with which they met, wrote, got invitations together to the same houses, and arranged signals for mute communication: but there was not the slightest occasion for it all. It passed the time, however, and went far to persuade them that they really were in love, and had a mountain of difficulties and dangers to contend with; it added the “spice to the sauce,” and gave them the “relish of being forbidden.” Besides, an open scandal would have been very shocking to her brilliant ladyship, and there was nothing on earth, perhaps, of which he would have had a more lively dread than a “scene”; but his present “friendship” was delightful, and presented no such dangers, while his fair “friend” was one of the greatest beauties and the greatest coquettes of her time. Her smile was honor; her fan was a scepter; her face was perfect; and her heart never troubled herself or her lovers; if she had a fault, she was a trifle exacting, but that was not to be wondered at in one so omnipotent, and her chains, after all, were made of roses.
As she sat in the deep ruddy glow of the library fire, with the light flickering on her white brow and her violet velvets; as she floated to the head of her table, with opals shining among her priceless point laces, and some tropical flower with leaves of glistening gold crowning her bronze hair; as she glided down in a waltz along the polished floor, or bent her proud head over ecarte in a musing grace that made her opponent utterly forget to mark the king or even play his cards at all; as she talked in the low music of her voice of European imbrogli, and consols and coupons, for she was a politician and a speculator, or lapsed into a beautifully tinted study of la femme incomprise, when time and scene suited, when the stars were very clear above the terraces without, and the conservatory very solitary, and a touch of Musset or Owen Meredith chimed in well with the light and shade of the oleanders and the brown luster of her own eloquent glance — in all these how superb she was!
And if in truth her bosom only fell with the falling of Shares, and rose with the rising of Bonds; if her soft shadows were only taken up, like the purple tinting under her lashes, to embellish her beauty; if in her heart of hearts she thought Musset a fool, and wondered why “Lucille” was not written in prose, in her soul far preferring “Le Follet”; why — it did not matter, that I can see. All great ladies gamble in stocks nowadays under the rose, and women are for the most part as cold, clear, hard, and practical as their adorers believe them the contrary; and a femme incomprise is so charming, when she avows herself comprehended by you, that you would never risk spoiling the confidence by hinting a doubt of its truth. If she and Bertie only played at love; if neither believed much in the other; if each trifled with a pretty gossamer soufflet of passion much as they trifled with the soufflets at dinner; if both tried it to trifle away ennui much as they tried staking a Friedrich d’Or at Baden, this light, surface, fashionable, philosophic form of a passion they both laughed at, in its hot and serious follies, suited them admirably. Had it ever mingled a grain of bitterness in her ladyship’s Souchong before dinner, or given an aroma of bitterness to her lover’s Naples punch in the smoking room, it would have been out of all keeping with themselves and their world.
Nothing on earth is so pleasant as being a little in love; nothing on earth so destructive as being too much so; and as Cecil, in the idle enjoyment of the former gentle luxury, flirted with his liege lady that night; lying back in the softest of lounging-chairs, with his dark, dreamy, handsome eyes looking all the eloquence in the world, and his head drooped till his mustaches were almost touching her laces, his Queen of Beauty listened with charmed interest, and to look at him he might have been praying after the poet:
How is it under our control
To love or not to love?
In real truth he was gently murmuring:
“Such a pity that you missed today! Hounds found directly; three of the fastest things I ever knew, one after another; you should have seen the ‘little ladies’ head him just above the Gorse! Three hares crossed us and a fresh fox; some of the pack broke away after the new scent, but old Bluebell, your pet, held on like death, and most of them kept after her — you had your doubts about Silver Trumpet’s shoulders; they’re not the thing, perhaps, but she ran beautifully all day, and didn’t show a symptom of rioting.”
Cecil could, when needed, do the Musset and Meredith style of thing to perfection, but on the whole he preferred love a la mode; it is so much easier and less exhausting to tell your mistress of a ringing run, or a close finish, than to turn perpetual periods on the luster of her eyes, and the eternity of your devotion.
Nor did it at all interfere with the sincerity of his worship that the Zu–Zu was at the prettiest little box in the world, in the neighborhood of Market Harborough, which he had taken for her, and had been at the meet that day in her little toy trap, with its pair of snowy ponies and its bright blue liveries that drove so desperately through his finances, and had ridden his hunter Maraschino with immense dash and spirit for a young lady who had never done anything but pirouette till the last six months, and a total and headlong disregard of “purlers” very reckless in a white-skinned, bright-eyed, illiterate, avaricious little beauty, whose face was her fortune; and who most assuredly would have been adored no single moment longer, had she scarred her fair, tinted cheek with the blackthorn, or started as a heroine with a broken nose like Fielding’s cherished Amelia. The Zu–Zu might rage, might sulk, might even swear all sorts of naughty Mabille oaths, most villainously pronounced, at the ascendancy of her haughty, unapproachable patrician rival — she did do all these things — but Bertie would not have been the consummate tactician, the perfect flirt, the skilled and steeled campaigner in the boudoirs that he was, if he had not been equal to the delicate task of managing both the peeress and the ballet-dancer with inimitable ability; even when they placed him in the seemingly difficult dilemma of meeting them both, with twenty yards between them, on the neutral ground of the gathering to see the Pytchley or the Tailby throw off — a task he had achieved with victorious brilliance more than once already this season.
“You drive a team, Beauty — never drive a team,” the Seraph had said on occasion, over a confidential “sherry-peg” in the mornings, meaning by the metaphor of a team Lady Guenevere, the Zu–Zu, and various other contemporaries in Bertie’s affections. “Nothing on earth so dangerous; your leader will bolt, or your off-wheeler will turn sulky, or your young one will passage and make the very deuce of a row; they’ll never go quiet till the end, however clever your hand is on the ribbons. Now, I’ll drive six-inhand as soon as any man — drove a ten-hander last year in the Bois — when the team comes out of the stables; but I’m hanged if I’d risk my neck with managing even a pair of women. Have one clean out of the shafts before you trot out another!”
To which salutary advice Cecil only gave a laugh, going on his own ways with the “team” as before, to the despair of his fidus Achates; the Seraph being a quarry so incessantly pursued by dowager-beaters, chaperone-keepers, and the whole hunt of the Matrimonial Pack, with those clever hounds Belle and Fashion ever leading in full cry after him, that he dreaded the sight of a ballroom meet; and, shunning the rich preserves of the Salons, ran to earth persistently in the shady Wood of St. John’s, and got — at some little cost and some risk of trapping, it is true, but still efficiently — preserved from all other hunters or poachers by the lawless Robin Hoods aux yeux noirs of those welcome and familiar coverts.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58