« AnteriorContinuar »
THE DUCHESS'S FAILURE
HE inclusion of the Duke of Leith's name in several
Cabinets may puzzle future students of English history ; although, seeing that history is full of names which have lost all meaning, this has perhaps been a still greater puzzle to his Grace's contemporaries. Permanent officials, groaning under the fussy interference of this ill-informed, crotchetty and priest-ridden little man, were wont to declare that he was made a plague to their respective departments in acknowledgment of his large contributions to the party funds; other people ascribed his tenure of office to the circumstance that he possessed a beautiful wife; nobody supposed, or could suppose, that he had achieved distinction in public life by means of ability. The truth probably was that, as he knew how to make himself extremely disagreeable, it would be just like him, in the event of his being left out of any administration, to plump himself down upon the cross-benches, in an appropriately cross frame of mind, and give no end of bother. Moreover, when all was said, he was a duke, and his title and his wife were decorative, if he himself, with his stubbly beard, his shaven upper lip and his untidy attire, was not.
The Duchess, of course, was charming, and her official receptions in St. James's Square, which were always largely attended, she made ample amends for
the surliness of her spouse, who seldom had a civil word for anybody, save for dignitaries of the Church to which he belonged. How intensely those receptions bored her her smiling countenance never betrayed, and it must be recorded to her credit that, although she was neither clever nor particularly amiable, she contrived to convey to the majority of her guests the impression that she was both. To one unexpected guest who climbed her staircase on a certain evening in the last days of June she accorded a welcome which was doubtless as sincere as it was warm.
“You, of all people !” she exclaimed. “Where have you dropped from? And how nice of you to drop from anywhere!”
“I suppose," Colonel Gervase remarked, “it is something of a drop to be relegated to private life ; yet obscurity has its compensations, and I was sick of Paris. I only arrived last night, so I have lost no time in paying my respects, you see."
He never did. He had for so many years been the humble servant and devoted friend of the woman by whom he had once been somewhat ignobly jilted that his allegiance had become a second nature to him, and he accepted the occasional discomforts entailed therein as one accepts shaving every morning, answering letters, paying bills and other inevitable incidents of existence. Letting his eyes wander down the long room, which was as full as it could hold, he recognised a host of familiar faces; amongst them those of the Duchess's beautiful sisters, Lady Bracebridge, whose husband, one of the magnates of the turf, owned half a county, and Mrs. Maltby, the wife of the great brewer, with a diamond crown upon her head before the size and splendour of which all surrounding jewels paled their ineffectual fires. He could fancy the spirit of the late Lady Lannowe hovering contentedly over that assemblage, with its visible testimony to a life's work worthily accomplished.
“You saw poor little Monica in Paris, I hear,” the Duchess said.
The Duchess had been talking for some minutes, but he had only been listening to her with half an ear. At the sound of Monica's name, however, he looked round and smiled.
"Oh, yes," he answered. “I had a glimpse of her and of your father. How is she getting on under your care? I thought her very taking.”
The Duchess threw up her hands and broke into a loud, rather shrill laugh.
“Very taking! What an extraordinary thing to say about her, poor child ! No; whatever she may be, I am afraid she isn't that. Indeed, to tell you the truth, I despair of her. Not one of them will have anything to say to her-and you know how few there are of them!”
“How few eligible Catholics, you mean."
“Yes; and she won't try a bit. Her being so disappointing in the way of looks might not matter so much if she had the least idea of-of-making herself attractive in other ways; but those convents !-- It was the greatest mistake in the world to educate her like a French girl.”
“No doubt the nuns mean well ; but one can understand their being ignorant of the sort of instruction which is so essential for social success in this country," observed Gervase drily.
“That's just it," agreed the Duchess, who never indulged in irony herself and seldom suspected others of that disagreeable habit. “She is a dear, good little soul; only she is a fish out of water here, and she doesn't even enjoy herself. I have a great mind to make her happy by sending her home. There is this young man who has just been pitchforked out of a monastery into Rixmouth Castle and who might do. I don't see why he shouldn't."
“I don't see why he should," said Gervase.
“Well, somebody must be found, you know. Perhaps you would like to marry her yourself.”
“My age forbids," answered Gervase. Then, perceiving that the Duchess, who was only his junior by a year or two, did not like that, he hastened to add, “Besides, you know why I shall live and die a bachelor."
Such speeches always pleased her, and it was worth while to please her; for she was apt to become unmanageable when thwarted, as her husband was well aware. She tapped the faithful Colonel lightly on the shoulder with her fan, laughed and exclaimed :
“What a goose you are, Ned!”
“Very likely I am," he returned, "and very likely poor little Monica is another. After all, there are people who like geese.
“Only at Michaelmas, and not then if they have any pretension to good taste. I know exactly what you are thinking in your romantic way; but really girls can't afford to be romantic. I do hope you won't go and put such notions into her head.”
Colonel Gervase did not flatter himself that he was capable of imbuing any young lady with romantic notions, and he remembered that Monica was a Ferrand, in spite of her having been brought up in a French convent. Nevertheless, he thought he would give her a metaphorical pat on the back; for he surmised that she might stand in need of some sympathy and support. Presently, therefore, he sought her out, and her face lighted up as soon as she caught sight of him.
"I didn't know you were in London. It is so nice to meet a friend again!” was her ingenuous greeting.
“Are all the others so hostile, then?” he asked.
"No," she answered hesitatingly; "they are not that; but they talk about things that I don't understand and people of whom I have never heard, and the consequence is that—that I don't get on.”
“So your sister has been telling me."
“Has she?" asked Monica anxiously. “ Did she tell you that she was out of patience with me? I know she is, though she is too kind to say so."
“I am not sure that she is too kind to be so. These people, who, as you say, only care to talk about a small stock of trivial subjects, are too stupid to have patience with outsiders like you and me. One must be as dullwitted as they are to live with them. Fortunately, it isn't a duty to live with them.”
Monica, who was under the impression that it was, or might become, her duty to do so, looked pensive and contrite.
“They don't amuse me," she confessed. “I thought perhaps they would, but they don't, and it is only too evident that I don't amuse them. I can't help hoping that I shall end in a convent.”
"I can't help hoping," returned Gervase, with a laugh, “ that you will do no such thing. But I'll tell you what I believe might be managed, now that your presentation is over and that you have attended a sufficient number of functions ; I believe you might be allowed to return home to your father."
“Oh, do you think so ? " cried the girl, clasping her hands and drawing in her breath.
He replied that he had not a doubt of it, and in truth he had none. Knowing his Frances as he did, he was aware of how little she was likely to relish retaining a failure upon her hands and how gracefully she would consent to resign irksome responsibilities. He said :