After considerable negotiation between the father and the son, the time was fixed for Lord Kilcullen’s arrival at Grey Abbey. The earl tried much to accelerate it, and the viscount was equally anxious to stave off the evil day; but at last it was arranged that, on the 3rd of April, he was to make his appearance, and that he should commence his wooing as soon as possible after that day.
When this was absolutely fixed, Lord Cashel paid a visit to his countess, in her boudoir, to inform her of the circumstance, and prepare her for the expected guest. He did not, however, say a word of the purport of his son’s visit. He had, at one time, thought of telling the old lady all about it, and bespeaking her influence with Fanny for the furtherance of his plan; but, on reconsideration, he reflected that his wife was not the person to he trusted with any intrigue. So he merely told her that Lord Kilcullen would be at Grey Abbey in five days; that he would probably remain at home a long time; that, as he was giving up his London vices and extravagances, and going to reside at Grey Abbey, he wished that the house should be made as pleasant for him as possible; that a set of friends, relatives, and acquaintances should be asked to come and stay there; and, in short, that Lord Kilcullen, having been a truly prodigal son, should have a fatted calf prepared for his arrival.
All this flurried and rejoiced, terrified and excited my lady exceedingly. In the first place it was so truly delightful that her son should turn good and proper, and careful and decorous, just at the right time of life; so exactly the thing that ought to happen. Of course young noblemen were extravagant, and wicked, and lascivious, habitual breakers of the commandments, and self-idolators; it was their nature. In Lady Cashel’s thoughts on the education of young men, these evils were ranked with the measles and hooping cough; it was well that they should be gone through and be done with early in life. She had a kind of hazy idea that an opera-dancer and a gambling club were indispensable in fitting a young aristocrat for his future career; and I doubt whether she would not have agreed to the expediency of inoculating a son of hers with these ailments in a mild, degree vaccinating him as it were with dissipation, in order that he might not catch the disease late in life in a violent and fatal form. She had not therefore made herself unhappy about her son for a few years after his first entrance on a life in London, but latterly she had begun to be a little uneasy. Tidings of the great amount of his debts reached even her ears; and, moreover, it was nearly time that he should reform and settle down. During the last twelve months she had remarked fully twelve times, to Griffiths, that she wondered when Kilcullen would marry? and she had even twice asked her husband, whether he didn’t think that such a circumstance would be advantageous. She was therefore much rejoiced to hear that her son was coming to live at home. But then, why was it so sudden? It was quite proper that the house should be made a little gay for his reception; that he shouldn’t be expected to spend his evenings with no other society than that of his father and mother, his sister and his cousin; but how was she to get the house ready for the people, and the people ready for the house, at so very short a notice? What trouble, also, it would be to her! Neither she nor Griffiths would know another moment’s rest; besides and the thought nearly drove her into hysterics where was she to get a new cook?
However, she promised her husband to do her best. She received from him a list of people to be invited, and, merely stipulating that she shouldn’t be required to ask any one except the parson of the parish under a week, undertook to make the place as bearable as possible to so fastidious and distinguished a person as her own son.
Her first confidante was, of course, Griffiths; and, with her assistance, the wool and the worsted, and the knitting-needles, the unfinished vallances and interminable yards of fringe, were put up and rolled out of the way; and it was then agreed that a council should be held, to which her ladyship proposed to invite Lady Selina and Fanny. Griffiths, however, advanced an opinion that the latter was at present too lack-a-daisical to be of any use in such a matter, and strengthened her argument by asserting that Miss Wyndham had of late been quite mumchance.
Lady Cashel was at first rather inclined to insist on her niece being called to the council, but Griffiths’s
eloquence was too strong, and her judgment too undoubted; so Fanny was left undisturbed, and Lady Selina alone summoned to join the aged female senators of Grey Abbey.
‘Selina,’ said her ladyship, as soon as her daughter was seated on the sofa opposite to her mother’s easy chair, while Griffiths, having shut the door, had, according to custom, sat herself down on her own soft-bottomed chair, on the further side of the little table that always stood at the countess’s right hand. ‘Selina, what do you think your father tells me?’
Lady Selina couldn’t think, and declined guessing; for, as she remarked, guessing was a loss of time, and she never guessed right.
‘Adolphus is coming home on Tuesday.’
‘Adolphus! why it’s not a month since he was here.’
‘And he’s not coming only for a visit; he’s coming to stay here; from what your father says, I suppose he’ll stay here the greater part of the summer.’
‘What, stay at Grey Abbey all May and June?’ said Lady Selina, evidently discrediting so unlikely a story, and thinking it all but impossible that her brother should immure himself at Grey Abbey during the London season.
‘It’s true, my lady,’ said Griffiths, oracularly; as if her word were necessary to place the countess’s statement beyond doubt.
‘Yes,’ continued Lady Cashel; ‘and he has given up all his establishment in London his horses, and clubs, and the opera, and all that. He’ll go into Parliament, I dare say, now, for the county; at any rate he’s coming to live at home here for the summer.’
‘And has he sold all his horses?’ asked Lady Selina. ‘If he’s not done it, he’s doing it,’ said the countess. ‘I declare I’m delighted with him; it shows such proper feeling. I always knew he would; I was sure that when the time came for doing it, Adolphus would not forget what was due to himself and to his family.’
‘If what you say is true, mamma, he’s going to be married.’
‘That’s just what I was thinking, my lady,’ said Griffiths. ‘When her ladyship first told me all about it how his lordship was coming down to live regular and decorous among his own people, and that he was turning his back upon his pleasures and iniquities, thinks I to myself there’ll be wedding favours coming soon to Grey Abbey.’
‘If it is so, Selina, your father didn’t say anything to me about it,’ said the countess, somewhat additionally flustered by the importance of the last suggestion; ‘and if he’d even guessed such a thing, I’m sure he’d have mentioned it.’
‘It mightn’t be quite fixed, you know, mamma: but if Adolphus is doing as you say, you may be sure he’s either engaged, or thinking of becoming so.’
‘Well, my dear, I’m sure I wish it may be so; only I own I’d like to know, because it makes a difference, as to the people he’d like to meet, you know. I’m sure nothing would delight me so much as to receive Adolphus’s wife. Of course she’d always be welcome to lie in here indeed it’d be the fittest place. But we should be dreadfully put about, eh, Griffiths?’
‘Why, we should, my lady; but, to my mind, this would be the only most proper place for my lord’s heir to be born in. If the mother and child couldn’t have the best of minding here, where could they?’
‘Of course, Griffiths; and we wouldn’t mind the trouble, on such an occasion. I think the south room would be the best, because of the dressing-room being such a good size, and neither of the fireplaces smoking, you know.’
‘Well, I don’t doubt but it would, my lady; only the blue room is nearer to your ladyship here, and in course your ladyship would choose to be in and out.’
And visions of caudle cups, cradles, and monthly nurses, floated over Lady Cashel’s brain, and gave her a kind of dreamy feel that the world was going to begin again with her.
‘But, mamma, is Adolphus really to be here on Tuesday?’ said Lady Selina, recalling the two old women from their attendance on the unborn, to the necessities of the present generation.
‘Indeed he is, my dear, and that’s what I sent for you for. Your papa wishes to have a good deal of company here to meet your brother; and indeed it’s only reasonable, for of course this place would be very dull for him, if there was nobody here but ourselves and he’s always used to see so many people; but the worst is, it’s all to be done at once, and you know there’ll be so much to be got through before we’ll be ready for a house full of company things to be got from Dublin, and the people to be asked. And then, Selina,’ and her ladyship almost wept as the latter came to her great final difficulty ‘What are we to do about a cook? Richards’ll never do; Griffiths says she won’t even do for ourselves, as it is.’
‘Indeed she won’t, my lady; it was only impudence in her coming to such a place at all. She’d never be able to send a dinner up for eighteen or twenty.’
‘What are we to do, Griffiths? What can have become of all the cooks? I’m sure there used to be cooks enough when I was first married.’ ‘Well, my lady, I think they must be all gone to England, those that are any good; but I don’t know what’s come to the servants altogether; as your ladyship says, they’re quite altered for the worse since we were young.’
‘But, mamma,’ said Lady Selina, ‘you’re not going to ask people here just immediately, are you?’
‘Directly, my dear; your papa wishes it done at once. We’re to have a dinner-party this day week that’ll be Thursday; and we’ll get as many of the people as we can to stay afterwards; and we’ll get the O’Joscelyns to come on Wednesday, just to make the table look not quite so bare, and I want you to write the notes at once. There’ll be a great many things to be got from Dublin too.’
‘It’s very soon after poor Harry Wyndham’s death, to be receiving company,’ said Lady Selina, solemnly. ‘Really, mamma, I don’t think it will be treating Fanny well to be asking all these people so soon. The O’Joscelyns, or the Fitzgeralds, are all very well just our own near neighbours; but don’t you think, mamma, it’s rather too soon to be asking a house-full of strange people?’
‘Well, my love, I was thinking so, and I mentioned it to your father; but he said that poor Harry had been dead a month now and that’s true, you know and that people don’t think so much now about those kind of things as they used to; and that’s true too, I believe.’
‘Indeed you may say that, my lady,’ interposed Griffiths. ‘I remember when bombazines used to be worn three full months for an uncle or cousin, and now they’re hardly ever worn at all for the like, except in cases where the brother or sister of him or her as is dead may be stopping in the house, and then only for a month: and they were always worn the full six months for a brother or sister, and sometimes the twelve months round. Your aunt, Lady Charlotte, my lady, wore hers the full twelve months, when your uncle, Lord Frederick, was shot by Sir Patrick O’Donnel; and now they very seldom, never, I may say, wear them the six months I Indeed, I think mourning is going out altogether; and I’m very sorry for it, for it’s a very decent, proper sort of thing; at least, such was always my humble opinion, my lady.’
‘Well; but what I was saying is,’ continued the countess, ‘that what would be thought strange a few years ago, isn’t thought at all so now; and though I’m sure, Selina, I wouldn’t like to do anything that looked unkind to Fanny, I really don’t see how we can help it, as your father makes such a point of it.’
‘I can’t say I think it’s right, mamma, for I don’t. But if you and papa do, of course I’ve nothing further to my.’
‘Well, my love, I don’t know that I do exactly think it’s right; and I’m sure it’s not my wish to be having people especially when I don’t know where on earth to turn for a cook. But what can we do, my dear? Adolphus wouldn’t stay the third night here, I’m sure, if there was nobody to amuse him; and you wouldn’t have him turned out of the house, would you?’
‘I have him turned out, mamma? God forbid! I’d sooner he should be here than anywhere, for here he must be out of harm’s way; but still I think that if he comes to a house of mourning, he might, for a short time, submit to put up with its decent tranquillity.’ ‘Selina,’ said the mother, pettishly, ‘I really thought you’d help me when I’ve so much to trouble and vex me and not make any fresh difficulties. How can I help it? If your father says the people are to come, I can’t say I won’t let them in. I hope you won’t make Fanny think I’m doing it from disrespect to her. I’m sure I wouldn’t have a soul here for a twelvemonth, on my own account.’
‘I’m sure Miss Wyndham won’t think any such thing, my lady,’ said Griffiths; ‘will she, Lady Selina? Indeed, I don’t think she’ll matter it one pin.’
‘Indeed, Selina, I don’t think she will,’ said the countess; and then she half whispered to her daughter. ‘Poor Fanny! it’s not about her brother she’s grieving; it’s that horrid man, Ballindine. She sent him away, and now she wants to have him back. I really think a little company will be the best thing to bring her to herself again.’ There was a little degree of humbug in this whisper, for her ladyship meant her daughter to understand that she wouldn’t speak aloud about Fanny’s love-affair before Griffiths; and yet she had spent many a half hour talking to her factotum on that very subject. Indeed, what subject was there of any interest to Lady Cashel on which she did not talk to Griffiths!
‘Well, mamma,’ said Lady Selina, dutifully, ‘I’ll not say another word about it; only let me know what you want me to do, and I’ll do it. Who is it you mean to ask?’
‘Why, first of all, there’s the Fitzgeralds: your father thinks that Lord and Lady George would come for a week or so, and you know the girls have been long talking of coming to Grey Abbey these two years I believe, and more.’
‘The girls will come, I dare say, mamma; though I don’t exactly think they’re the sort of people who will amuse Adolphus; but I don’t think Lord George or Lady George will sleep away from home. We can ask them, however; Mountains is only five miles from here, and I’m sure they’ll go back after dinner.’
‘Well, my dear, if they will, they must, and I can’t help it; only I must say it’ll be very ill-natured of them. I’m sure it’s a long time since they were asked to stay here.’
‘As you say, mamma, at any rate we can ask them. And who comes next?’
‘Why your father has put down the Swinburn people next; though I’m sure I don’t know how they are to come so far.’
‘Why, mamma, the colonel is a martyr to the gout!’
‘Yes, my lady,’ said Griffiths, ‘and Mrs. Ellison is worse again, with rheumatics. There would be nothing to do, the whole time, but nurse the two of them.’
‘Never mind, Griffiths; you’ll not have to nurse them, so you needn’t be so ill-natured.’
‘Me, ill-natured, my lady? I’m sure I begs pardon, but I didn’t mean nothing ill-natured; besides, Mrs. Ellison was always a very nice lady to me, and I’m sure I’d be happy to nurse her, if she wanted it; only that, as in duty bound, I’ve your ladyship to look to first, and so couldn’t spare time very well for nursing any one.’ ‘Of course you couldn’t, Griffiths; but, Selina, at any rate you must ask the Ellisons: your papa thinks a great deal about the colonel he has so much influence in the county, and Adolphus will very likely stand, now. Your papa and the colonel were members together for the county more than forty years since.’
‘Well, mamma, I’ll write Mrs. Ellison. Shall I say for a week or ten days?’
‘Say for ten days or a fortnight, and then perhaps they’ll stay a week. Then there’s the Bishop of Maryborough, and Mrs. Moore. I’m sure Adolphus will be glad to meet the bishop, for it was he that christened him.’
‘Very well, mamma, I’ll write to Mrs. Moore. I suppose the bishop is in Dublin at present?’
‘Yes, my dear, I believe so. There can’t be anything to prevent their coming.’
‘Only that he’s the managing man on the Education Board, and he’s giving up his time very much to that at present. I dare say he’ll come, but he won’t stay long.’
‘Well, Selina, if he won’t, I can’t help it; and I’m sure, now I think about the cook, I don’t see how we’re to expect anybody to stay. What am I to do, Griffiths, about that horrid woman?’
‘I’ll tell you what I was thinking, my lady; only I don’t know whether your ladyship would like it, either, and if you didn’t you could easily get rid of him when all these people are gone.’
‘Get rid of who?’
‘I was going to say, my lady if your ladyship would consent to have a man cook for a time, just to try.’
‘Then I never will, Griffiths: there’d be no peace in the house with him!’
‘Well, your ladyship knows best, in course; only if you thought well of trying it, of course you needn’t keep the man; and I know there’s Murray in Dublin, that was cook so many years to old Lord Galway. I know he’s to be heard of at the hotel in Grafton Street.’
‘I can’t bear the thoughts of a man cook, Griffiths:
‘I’d sooner have three women cooks, and I’m sure one’s enough to plague anybody.’
‘But none’s worse, my lady,’ said Griffiths.
‘You needn’t tell me that. I wonder, Selina, if I were to write to my sister, whether she could send me over anything that would answer?’
‘What, from London, my lady?’ answered Griffiths ‘You’d find a London woman cook sent over in that way twice worse than any man: she’d be all airs and graces. If your ladyship thought well of thinking about Murray, Richards would do very well under him: she’s a decent poor creature, poor woman only she certainly is not a cook that’d suit for such a house as this; and it was only impudence her thinking to attempt it.’ ‘But, mamma,’ said Lady Selina, ‘do let me know to whom I am to write, and then you and Griffiths can settle about the cook afterwards; the time is so very short that I ought not to lose a post.’
The poor countess threw herself back in her easy chair, the picture of despair. Oh, how much preferable were rolls of worsted and yards of netting, to the toils and turmoil of preparing for, and entertaining company! She was already nearly overcome by the former: she didn’t dare to look forward to the miseries of the latter. She already began to feel the ill effects of her son’s reformation, and to wish that it had been postponed just for a month or two, till she was a little more settled.
‘Well, mamma,’ said Lady Selina, as undisturbed and calm as ever, and as resolved to do her duty without flinching, ‘shall we go on?’
The countess groaned and sighed ‘There’s the list there, Selina, which your father put down in pencil. You know the people as well as I do: just ask them all ’
‘But, mamma, I’m not to ask them all to stay here I suppose some are only to come to dinner? the O’Joscelyns, and the Parchments?’
‘Ask the O’Joscelyns for Wednesday and Thursday: the girls might as well stay and sleep here. But what’s the good of writing to them? can’t you drive over to the Parsonage and settle it all there? you do nothing but make difficulties, Selina, and my head’s racking.’
Lady Selina sate silent for a short time, conning the list, and endeavouring to see her way through the labyrinth of difficulties which was before her, without further trouble to her mother; while the countess leaned back, with her eyes closed, and her hands placed on the arms of her chair, as though she were endeavouring to get some repose, after the labour she had gone through. Her daughter, however, again disturbed her.
‘Mamma,’ she said, trying by the solemnity of her tone to impress her mother with the absolute necessity she was under of again appealing to her upon the subject, ‘what are we to do about young men?’
‘About young men, my dear?’ ‘Yes, mamma: there’ll be a house-full of young ladies there’s the Fitzgeralds and Lady Louisa Pratt and Miss Ellison and the three O’Joscelyns and not a single young man, except Mr O’Joscelyn’s curate!’
‘Well, my dear, I’m sure Mr. Hill’s a very nice young man’.
“So he is, mamma; a very good young man; but he won’t do to amuse such a quantity of girls. If there were only one or two he’d do very well; besides, I’m sure Adolphus won’t like it.’
‘Why; won’t he talk to the young ladies? I’m sure he was always fond of ladies’ society.’
‘I tell you, mamma, it won’t do. There’ll be the bishop and two other clergymen, and old Colonel Ellison, who has always got the gout, and Lord George, if he comes and I’m sure he won’t. If you want to make a pleasant party for Adolphus, you must get some young men; besides, you can’t ask all those girls, and have nobody to dance with them or talk to them.’ ‘I’m sure, my dear, I don’t know what you’re to do. I don’t know any young men except Mr. Hill; and there’s that young Mr. Grundy, who lives in Dublin. I promised his aunt to be civil to him: can’t you ask him down?’
‘He was here before, mamma, and I don’t think he liked it. I’m sure we didn’t. He didn’t speak a word the whole day he was here. He’s not at all the person to suit Adolphus.’
‘Then, my dear, you must go to your papa, and ask bin: it’s quite clear I can’t make young men. I remember, years ago, there always used to be too many of them, and I don’t know where they’re all gone to. At any rate, when they do come, there’ll be nothing for them to eat,’ and Lady Cashel again fell back upon her deficiencies in the kitchen establishment.
Lady Selina saw that nothing more could be obtained from her mother, no further intelligence as regarded the embryo party. The whole burden was to lie on her shoulders, and very heavy she felt it. As far as concerned herself, she had no particular wish for one kind of guest more than another: it was not for herself that she wanted young men; she knew that at any rate there were none within reach whom she could condescend to notice save as her father’s guests; there could be no one there whose presence could be to her of any interest: the gouty colonel, and the worthy bishop, would be as agreeable to her as any other men that would now be likely to visit Grey Abbey. But Lady Selina felt a real desire that others in the house might be happy while there. She was no flirt herself, nor had she ever been; it was not in her nature to be so. But though she herself might be contented to twaddle with old men, she knew that other girls would not. Yet it was not that she herself had no inward wish for that admiration which is desired by nearly every woman, or that she thought a married state was an unenviable one. No; she could have loved and loved truly, and could have devoted herself most scrupulously to the duties of a wife; but she had vainly and foolishly built up for herself a pedestal, and there she had placed herself; nor would she come down to stand on common earth, though Apollo had enticed her, unless he came with the coronet of a peer upon his brow.
She left her mother’s boudoir, went down into the drawing-room, and there she wrote her notes of invitation, and her orders to the tradesmen; and then she went to her father, and consulted him on the difficult subject of young men. She suggested the Newbridge Barracks, where the dragoons were; and the Curragh, where perhaps some stray denizen of pleasure might be found, neither too bad for Grey Abbey, nor too good to be acceptable to Lord Kilcullen; and at last it was decided that a certain Captain Cokely, and Mat Tierney, should be asked. They were both acquaintances of Adolphus; and though Mat was not a young man, he was not very old, and was usually very gay.
So that matter was settled, and the invitations were sent off. The countess overcame her difficulty by consenting that Murray the man cook should be hired for a given time, with the distinct understanding that he was to take himself off with the rest of the guests, and so great was her ladyship’s sense of the importance of the negotiation, that she absolutely despatched Griffiths to Dublin to arrange it, though thereby she was left two whole days in solitary misery at Grey Abbey; and had to go to bed, and get up, she really hardly knew how, with such assistance as Lady Selina’s maid could give her.
When these things were all arranged, Selina told her cousin that Adolphus was coming home, and that a house full of company had been asked to meet him. She was afraid that Fanny would be annoyed and offended at being forced to go into company so soon after her brother’s death, but such was not the case. She felt, herself, that her poor brother was not the cause of the grief that was near her heart; and she would not pretend what she didn’t really feel.
‘You were quite right, Selina,’ she said, smiling, ‘about the things you said yesterday I should want from Dublin: now, I shall want them; and, as I wouldn’t accept of your good-natured offer, I must take the trouble of writing myself.’
‘If you like it, Fanny, I’ll write for you,’ said Selina.
‘Oh no, I’m not quite so idle as that’ and she also began her preparations for the expected festivities. Little did either of them think that she, Fanny Wyndham, was the sole cause of all the trouble which the household and neighbourhood were to undergo the fatigue of the countess; Griffiths’s journey; the arrival of the dread man cook; Richards’s indignation at being made subordinate to such authority; the bishop’s desertion of the Education Board; the colonel’s dangerous and precipitate consumption of colchicum; the quarrel between Lord and Lady George as to staying or not staying; the new dresses of the Miss O’Joscelyns, which their worthy father could so ill afford; and, above all, the confusion, misery, rage, and astonishment which attended Lord Kilcullen’s unexpected retreat from London, in the middle of the summer. And all in vain!
How proud and satisfied Lord Ballindine might have been, had he been able to see all this, and could he have known how futile was every effort Lord Cashel could make to drive from Fanny Wyndham’s heart the love she felt for him.
The invitations, however, were, generally speaking, accepted. The bishop and his wife would be most happy; the colonel would come if the gout would possibly allow; Lady George wrote a note to say they would be very happy to stay a few days, and Lord George wrote another soon after to say he was sorry, but that they must return the same evening. The O’Joscelyns would be delighted; Mat Tierney would be very proud; Captain Cokely would do himself the honour; and, last but not least, Mr. Murray would preside below stairs for a serious consideration.
What a pity so much trouble should have been taken! They might all have stayed at home; for Fanny Wyndham will never become Lady Kilcullen.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55