« AnteriorContinuar »
the hope were fairly well grounded. Miss Dallison was what her parentage and the force of difficult, humiliating circumstances had almost inevitably made her; she knew, of course, that she was beautiful; she knew that her face was her fortune, and she was not in the least inclined to bestow her fortune upon a man who had no pecuniary equivalent to offer. Yet it remained to be discovered whether Cuthbert Gretton was a pauper or not, while it was a fact which she had frankly admitted to herself that he had pleased her more than any admirer who had as yet crossed her path. So she crossed to Dover, that night, upon heaving billows beneath the full moon, with meditations sufficiently absorbing to divert her attention from the unpleasant spectacle of seasick fellow-passengers. At the worst, Lannowe would be pretty sure to give her opportunities during the grouseshooting season; she knew quite as much about the people whom she was likely to meet as did her mother, whose warning with regard to the criminality of being poor and obscure she recalled with some amusement. The women, no doubt, would snub her, but not the men ; she did not mean to be ignored and would certainly not be ignored, nor did she incur much risk of disappointment. Time and money were not going to be wasted; although a romantic dream might possibly have to be relinquished From all of which it will be perceived that it behoved Mr. Cuthbert Gretton to mind what he was about, unless he was prepared to compromise his future with the burden of a tipsy and impecunious fatherin-law.
For a young lady of prepossessing appearance to travel all the way from Boulogne to Yorkshire without so much as the protection of a maid is perhaps rather a bold proceeding even in these days; still, if you can't afford a maid, what are you to do? This was the
pertinent query addressed by Miss Dallison to her friend Monica on the following afternoon, in reply to the latter's ejaculations of mingled dismay and admiration.
"At the same time," she added, "you needn't mention my forlorn condition to the other people in the house. I suppose there are other people in the house?"
"Oh, yes, a great many," answered Monica, who had met her visitor in the hall and had conducted her straight upstairs to her bedroom. "Two of my sisters are here, with their husbands, and a number of their friends have been asked to meet them. Not by me, of course, for I know hardly anybody; but Frances and Georgie sent us a list some time ago."
"I see. That was very thoughtful of them," remarked Ethel, smiling.
"Yes; it saved father and me a good deal of trouble. We have also one or two friends from the neighbourhood coming to dinner this evening."
Although the blush which accompanied the above announcement did not escape Ethel's notice, she refrained from commenting upon it. That her little friend would ere long be bestowed in marriage upon somebody from the neighbourhood was highly probable and a matter of merely relative importance; so all she said was :
"That young man whom I met in Paris-wasn't his name Gretton ?—doesn't happen to be one of them by any chance, does he?"
Monica consulted some ivory tablets which hung at her waist and found that Mr. Gretton's name was not included amongst the invited guests.
"But he is staying with his uncle at Knaresby," she added, “and I think very likely we shall see him tomorrow, if you care to come out and look on at the shooting. Mr. Nigel Scarth, who is a sort of cousin of his, is dining with us tonight."
She was rather in hopes of being interrogated with reference to Mr. Nigel Scarth; but she was too shy to take the initiative, and Ethel asked no questions. The latter, indeed, seemed somewhat preoccupied, acknowledged to being tired after her journey and presently begged to be allowed a bath and a rest until the dinner hour.
In justice to Major Dallison it must be said that he was not stingy with his money when he had any to spare; but then he very seldom had any to spare, and the amount which his daughter had been able to get out of him for the defrayal of necessary expenses could scarcely have sufficed to pay for the handsome and wellcut dinner gown in which, with the help of Monica's maid, she arrayed herself shortly before eight o'clock. Simple though it was in design and accessories, Lady Bracebridge subsequently appraised its value-or rather its price at seventy guineas. It had not cost that, nor anything like that; still white satin is an expensive material and Miss Dallison's facilities for obtaining goods on credit were limited. She had plunged rather heavily into debt before leaving France because she had deemed it worth while to do so. It was never her way to be rash; yet she was well aware that few victories are to be won without some timely audacity.
If one of the minor victories which she had had in her mind's eye was the creating of a small sensation amongst Lord Lannowe's numerous guests, she gained it, so to speak, without firing a shot the moment that she sailed, serenely self-possessed into their presence. Everybody wondered who she was; almost everybody asked, and not a few were told by Lord Lannowe, who hastened to welcome Monica's beautiful friend and introduce her to his elder daughters. These ladies shook hands with her, smiled upon her and were visibly
impressed by her personality: it was an initial success which, although anticipated, afforded her considerable satisfaction. Somewhat less satisfactory was it to find that the partner allotted to her was an old gentleman, wearing dark-coloured spectacles, whose opening remark
"I have a double apology to offer you, Miss Dallison. Firstly, I am well stricken in years, as you see; secondly, instead of leading you into the diningroom, I must ask you to lead me, for I am stone-blind. But you must blame the stupid, inexorable laws of precedence, not me. It isn't my fault that all these youngsters are sprigs of nobility."
Now, a lady whose face is her fortune is placed at an obvious disadvantage in dealing with the blind, while old men, even when they retain the use of all their senses, are much more often bores than not; but Ethel accepted her destiny with an amiability of which Mr. Trenchard's abnormally keen ears at once made him aware, and in the sequel he proved himself both an entertaining and an instructive neighbour. He told her who all her fellow-guests were and had nothing ill-natured to say about any of them; by a sort of miraculous instinct he seemed to know exactly where they were seated; he even knew (for he said so) that the recipient of his information was attracting universal attention.
"I should be disposed to give Parisian dressmakers some credit for that," he observed, smiling, "if I were not conscious of another and a better reason. Well, we must all expect to pay in some shape or form for our blessings and advantages, when we have any. I hope you don't mind being stared at, Miss Dallison."
Miss Dallison did not in the least mind a species of tribute to which she was inured, nor did she mind being enlightened as to the tastes, habits and so forth of the
Duchess of Leith and others, which Mr. Trenchard depicted for her with deft, illuminating touches, free alike from malice and from flattery. He was certainly a very clever old man, and his remarks could hardly fail to be of service to her in her future relations with all these strangers. He did not, however, until questioned, make any allusion to the one who happened to interest her more than the rest, both by reason of the fact that he was placed on Monica's right hand and because of the unmistakable interest with which she herself was regarded by him. This young man, with the big, wild brown eyes, which were hastily averted as often as she returned his gaze, but which were fixed upon her once more immediately afterwards, must, she presumed, be a personage of high rank to be sitting where he was; but Mr. Trenchard, to whom she hazarded the above suggestion, laughed and replied:
"Oh, no; that is my friend and neighbour Nigel Scarth of Rixmouth Castle, of whom you have heard, no doubt. Precedence is dispensed with in his case, of
Why of course?" Miss Dallison inquired.
"I took it for granted that you had been told of his engagement to Miss Ferrand. There has been no formal announcement, it is true, as Lord Lannowe-very sensibly, in my humble opinion-wishes the young people to wait a year and make sure that they know their own minds; but it is le secret de Polichinelle. The Duchess and Lady Bracebridge favour the match, I hear, though I hardly understand why they should; for it cannot be called a good one from their point of view."
"He is not rich, then?"
"Well, he is and he isn't. While he lives he will have a large and probably an increasing income; but the estates must pass away from his children when he