Note: The other authors to whom this work is attributed are John Boyle O'Reilly, J. S. Dale, and John T. Wheelwright.
THE KING'S MEN
A Tale of To-Morrow
ROBERT GRANT, ET AL.
Copyright, 1884, by Robert Grant.
CHAPTER PAGE I. RIPON HOUSE, 1
II. RICHARD LINCOLN, 8
III. MY LADY'S CHAMBER, 19
IV. JARLEY JAWKINS, 32
V. "JAWKIN'S JOLLITIES," 46
VI. THE ROYALISTS, 67
VII. A FOUR-IN-HAND AND ONE IN THE BUSH, 85
VIII. SPRETAE INJURIA FORMAE, 97
IX. "THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE," 110
X. KING GEORGE THE FIFTH, 124
XI. THE RAISING OF THE FLAG, 147
XII. IN THE LION'S MOUTH, 161
XIII. AN UNFINISHED TASK, 174
XIV. THE LAST ROYALIST, 180
XV. LOVE LAUGHS AT LOCKSMITHS, 193
XVI. MRS. CAREY'S HUSBAND, 215
XVII. AT THE COURT OF ST. JAMES, 225
XVIII. TWO CARDS PLAYED, 243
XIX. A WOMAN'S END, 252
XX. "FROM CHAIN TO CHAIN," 258
XXI. NULLA VESTIGA RETRORSUM, 265
THE KING'S MEN.
There are few Americans who went to England before the late wars but will remember Ripon House. The curious student of history—a study, perhaps, too little in vogue with us—could find no better example of the palace of an old feudal lord. Dating almost from the time of the first George—and some even say it was built by the same Wren who designed that St. Paul's Cathedral whose ruins we may still see to the east of London—it frowned upon the miles of private park surrounding it, a marble memorial of feudal monopoly and man's selfish greed. The very land about it, to an extent of almost half a county, was owned by the owners of the castle, and by them rented out upon an annual payment to such farmers as they chose to favor with a chance to earn their bread.
In an ancient room of a still older house which stands some two miles from the castle, and had formerly been merely the gatekeeper's lodge (though large enough for several families), a young man was sitting, one late afternoon in early November. The room was warmed by a fire, in the old fashion; and the young man was gloomily plunging the poker into the coals, breaking them into oily flakes which sent out fierce flickerings as they burned away. He was dressed in a rough shooting suit of blue velveteen, and his heavy American shoes were crusted with mud. His handsome, boyish face wore an expression of deep anxiety; and his hands seemed to minister to the troubles of his meditation by tumbling his hair about the contracted forehead, while his lips closed about a short brier-wood pipe of a kind only used by men. The pipe had gone out, unnoticed by the smoker; and he did not seem to mind the fierce heat thrown out by the broken coals. Above the mantel was the portrait of a gentleman in the quaint costume of the latter Victorian age; the absurd starched collar and shirt, the insignificant cravat, the trousers reaching to the ankles, and the coat and waistcoat of black cloth and fantastic cut, familiar to the readers of the London Punch. This antedated worthy looked out from the canvas upon the room as if he owned it; and the mullioned windows and carved oak wainscoting justified his claim, even to the very books in the bookcases, which showed an antiquarian taste. Here were the strange old-fashioned satires of Thackeray and the more modern romances of the humorist Dickens; the crude speculations of the philosopher Spencer, and the one-sided, aristocratic economies of Malthus and Mill; with the feeble rhymes of Lord Tennyson d'Eyncourt, which men, in a time-serving age, called poetry.
Geoffrey Ripon had come to his last legs. And he was one of the few aristocrats of his generation who had ever (metaphorically speaking) had any legs worth considering. When O'Donovan Rourke had been President of the British Republic, that good-natured Irishman, who had been at school with Ripon's father, had given him a position in the legation at Paris; but when the Radicals overthrew Rourke's government, Ripon lost his place. And Ripon could not but think it hard that he, Geoffrey Ripon, by all right and law Earl of Brompton, Viscount Mapledurham in the peerage of Ireland, etc., etc., should that afternoon have been fined ten shillings and costs for poaching on what had been his own domain.
His great-uncle looked down upon him with that exasperating equanimity that only a canvas immortality can give—his great-uncle who fell on the field of Tel-el-Kebir, dead as if the Arab bullet had sped from a worthier foe, in the days when England had a foreign policy and could spare her soldiers from the coast defence. And his grandfather, who smirked from another coroneted frame behind him, had been a great leader in the Liberal party under Gladstone, Lord Liverpool, the grand old man who stole Beaconsfield's thunder to guard the Suez Canal, that road to India which he, like another Moses, had made for their proud legions through the Red Sea.
And now Ripon was living in his porter's lodge, all that was still his of the great Ripon estates, with his empty title left him, minus the robes and coronet no longer worn; and his King, George the Fifth, an exile, wandering with his semblance of a court in foreign lands.
The world moves quickly as it grows older, with an accelerated velocity, like that of a falling stone; and it is hard for us of the present day to picture the England of King Albert Edward. The restlessness and poverty of the masses; the agitations in Ireland, feebly, blindly protesting with dynamite and other rude weapons against foreign oppression; the shameful monopoly of land, the social haughtiness of the titled classes, the luxury and profligacy of the court—perhaps even at the opening of our story, poor England was hardly worse off. But then came the change. Gradually the bone and sinew of the country sought refuge in emigration. The titled classes, after mortgage upon mortgage of their valueless land, were forced to break their entails to sell their estates. And at last, when the great American Republic, in 1889, cut down the Chinese wall of protection, which so long had surrounded their country, even trade succumbed, and England was under-sold in the markets of the world. Then retrenchment was the cry; universal suffrage elected a parliament which literally cut off the royal princes with a shilling; and the Premier Bradlaugh swamped the House of Lords by the creation of a battalion of life peers, who abolished the hereditary House and established an elective Senate. It was easy then to call a constitutional convention, declare the sovereign but the servant and figure-head of the people, confiscate the royal estates and vote King Albert a salary of L10,000 a year.
Then Russia took advantage of the great struggle between Germany and France to seize India, and after the terrible defeat at Cyprus and the siege of Calcutta the old King of England abdicated in favor of his grandson George. But the people clamored for an elective President, and it was nigh twenty years before the opening of our story that King George had been forced to seek his only safe refuge in America.
Thus it was that Geoffrey Ripon had come to depend on poaching and the garden stuff his old servant managed to raise in the two-acre lot surrounding the lodge. Almost the only modern things in his room were the guns and fishing tackle in the corners and the electric battery for charging the cartridges; and now he was judicially informed that he must poach no more, the mortgage had been finally foreclosed, and he looked out of his window upon lands no longer his even in name. It is a sad thing to be ruined, and if ever man was ruined beyond all hope, Geoffrey Ripon, Earl of Brompton, was the man; it is hard to feel you are the last of your race, that you are almost an outlaw in your own land—and Ripon's king, George the Fifth, was suffered to play out his idle play of royal state, in Boston, Massachusetts. Ripon had never been in America. He pushed back his chair from the fire, as it gave out a heat too great for any man to stand. He walked to the window, and stood looking out upon the long perspective of elms, where the avenue stretched away in the direction of Ripon House. As his eye wandered over the broad view of park and forest, a carriage, drawn by four horses, insolent in the splendor of its trappings, rolled toward him from the castle. In that moment it seemed to Ripon that he felt all the bitterness of hatred and envy that might have rankled in the hearts of all the poor wayfarers who had in eight hundred years peered through the park gate and looked at those broad acres that his race so long had held. The carriage rolled swiftly by him, with a glitter of silver harness and liveries; on one seat were an elderly man and a young girl. As he saw her face Ripon started in surprise. Then, after a moment, he walked to the table and filled his pipe.
"Bah!" he said to himself, "it cannot be possible." Again he threw himself on a chair by the fireplace, and tried to read the Saturday Review. There was a long leader against Richard Lincoln; but as Lincoln was the one member in the House for whom Geoffrey had any respect, he threw it aside in disgust. He heard a timid knock at the door.
"Come in!" growled Geoffrey, as he turned to light his pipe.
An old family servant, the last survivor of an extinct race, entered with a battered silver tray.
"Please, my lord, a letter from the persons at the castle; one of them is waiting for an answer."
Reynolds made no distinction between the "persons at the castle" and their servants; and he always called it the castle, now that Ripon House was the gatekeeper's lodge.
"I suppose," grunted Geoffrey, as he took the letter, "they want to warn me against poaching. So considerate, after I have been fined ten shillings by their gamekeeper."
To his surprise the letter had a familiar look; it was addressed to him by his title in the ancient fashion, and was in a handwriting which he thought he should have known in Paris. Tearing open the envelope, he read:
"MY DEAR LORD BROMPTON: I hear that you are back to your own estate, and you will doubtless be surprised to learn that I am so near you. Papa telephoned over last week for an estate, and here we are, with a complete retinue of servants and a gallery of ancestors—yours, by the way, as I found to my surprise. I felt so sorry when they called you back from Paris; I had no idea I should see you again so soon. Papa wanted to look after his affairs in England; so we have come over again for the winter, and I was delighted to get out of the wild gayety of America for this dear sleepy old country.
"If you have nothing better to do, will you dine with us to-morrow night? Do not stay away because we are in your old family house. We have no such feelings in America, you know. Richard Lincoln will be here, and Sir John Dacre. Do you know Sir John? I admire him immensely, you must know.
"P. S. The new minister and legation are not received in society. We missed you so much."
"Maggie Windsor over here," thought Ripon, "with that curious old father of hers, taking Ripon House as if it were furnished lodgings." And he thought of the old house and of his great-uncle who fell at Tel-el-Kebir, and of King George over the sea in America. But he said to himself that Maggie Windsor was a nice girl, as he put out his pipe and went out into the park for a walk.
The palace of a thousand wings, that nearly two thousand years had gone to build, had been tumbled into ruins in a day, and out of the monstrous confusion no fair structure had yet arisen.
Rich as a crimson sunset, with traditions splendid as sunlit clouds, English Royalty had sunk into the night, and the whole sky was lightless, except where the glory had descended.
The government which had lifted itself like a tower in the eyes and minds of Englishmen for a hundred generations had disappeared, and the ideal government of the people had not yet filled its place.
The British Republic was seventeen years old. For seventeen years King George the Fifth had been an exile in the United States, and the fifty millions of British people had been on trial as self-governors.
Providence had smiled on the young Republic. Its first guardians had been true to their trust; and like the fathers who laid the deep foundations of American freedom, their souls expanded with the magnitude of duty and responsibility.
The world looked on, sympathized, but for weeks and months almost feared to speak. But half a year passed, and the dreadful crest of Anarchy had not once been raised.
The French Republic, over seventy years old, strong, unenvious and equitable, was the first to applaud.
The Commonwealths of Germany, thirty-three years old, one after another spoke their congratulation.
The aristocratic Republic of Russia was officially silent. The noble Nihilists, who had murdered four Czars to obtain power, were now constitutionally terrorizing the masses; but the Russian people had learned from their rulers, and the popular press thundered encouragement to the English Commons.
America smiled like an elder sister, and held out her hand in loving friendship.
From the day of the revolution, the three names which forever belong to the history of British Republicanism were in the front—O'Donovan Rourke, the first President, and his two famous Ministers, Jonathan Simms and Richard Lincoln.
But the story of that first great Administration is read now in the school-books. The sudden death of the President was the first serious loss of the Republic. Had he lived another decade how different would have been the later history of England!
Matthew Gower, the Vice-President, entered on the unexpired term of the Presidency. He was a weak, well-meaning man, and he was jealous of the extraordinary popularity and personal influence of Richard Lincoln, the Secretary of State. When his cabinet was announced, Richard Lincoln, released from his long service in harness, with a deep feeling of relief, went back to his home in Nottingham.
At this time he was forty-six years of age. He had been a widower for over twenty years. At twenty-five he had married the beautiful girl he loved, and within the year his wife died, leaving the lonely man a little daughter whose eyes renewed his grief and love.
This was the tall girl who flung her arms round the neck of the dismissed minister when he entered his home at Nottingham.
"No one else, papa!" she cried, as she buried her face against his heart, sobbing with joy. "Do not speak to any one else till I am done with you."
The rest, the love, the peace of home were very sweet. Richard Lincoln renewed, or tried to renew, his interest in the work of his younger days. His daughter loved to go with him through the town, proud of the famous man who was hers, heedful of any curious or respectful glance of the people on the street.
He gave himself up to the new life. He began to wonder at and enjoy the beauty, accomplishments and unceasing amiability of his daughter.
Mary Lincoln was a rare type of womanhood. She had inherited her mother's grace and lithe beauty of form, and from her father she took a strong and self-sustained nature. But there was added a quality that was hers alone—a strange, silent power of enthusiasm—a fervor that did not cry out for ideals, but filled all her blood with a deep music of devotion. A man with such a nature had been a poet or the founder of a creed. But the ideal of a man is an idea, while the ideal of a woman is a man. Time alone can bring the touchstone to such a heart.
It was not strange that under such home influences public affairs should sink into a secondary place in Richard Lincoln's mind. He hardly looked at the newspapers, and he never expressed political opinions or predictions. When he did speak of the government, it was with confidence and respect. If he doubted or distrusted, no one knew.
For two years he had lived this quiet life; but, though he turned his eyes from many signs, the astute and silent man saw danger growing like a malarial weed beneath the waters of the social and political life of his country.
One morning Patterson, his business partner, who was an excitable politician, threw down his Times, and turned to Lincoln with an impatient manner.
"We are going to smash, sir, with our eyes open. We are going to the devil on two roads."
"Who is going to smash?" asked Lincoln.
"The country. See here; there are two rocks ahead, the aristocrats and the demagogues, and which is worse no one can say. They are getting ready for something or other, and the good sense and patriotism of England stand by and do nothing."
"Has anything particular happened?"
"Yes; at West Derby yesterday, the Duke of Bayswater was elected to Parliament, getting a large majority over Tyler, a sound Republican."
"Pooh! You don't take that as a specimen of all our elections? The Derby voters are mainly farmers, and the farmers retain their old respect for the lords of the manor."
"And that means something," rejoined Patterson; "it is not as if those aristocrats had accepted the Republic, which they don't even pretend to do. There are now over forty of them in the lower house."
"Well," answered the ex-Minister, "they have been elected by the people."
"Yes; by the uninstructed people," said Patterson, warmly. "The people are talked to by these fellows with empty titles on one hand and by the demagogues on the other, and they think the only choice lies between the two."
"Surely, papa," said Mary, who was interested in the conversation, "the people will not be so easily deceived?"
"Deceived!" interrupted Mr. Patterson. "Why, Mary, here was an election in which the people were led to vote against one of the best Republicans in England, and for a lord who is nearly seventy, who has never done any good for himself or the country—an old pauper, who goes to Parliament for the salary and the chance to plot against the people."
Mary looked at her father as if she wished him to speak.
"These men," he said, "do not regain power as lords, but as commoners. That is good, instead of bad—their withdrawal would be more dangerous. We must remember that those who have lost by the revolution are still as much a part of the English people as those who have gained."
"I don't know about that," said Patterson, stubbornly. "I believe those aristocrats are actually plotting treason; and a traitor separates himself from his people."
Richard Lincoln's silence only stirred up the old Radical. He shot home next time.
"I believe we shall have a lord returned for Nottingham next election."
A slow flush rose in Lincoln's face, and he unconsciously raised his head.
"For the last two years," continued Patterson, seeing the effect of his words, "only two Englishmen have been heard of to any extent—the demagogue leader, Bagshaw, and Sir John Dacre, the insolent young leader of the aristocrats."
This time it was the daughter that flushed at Mr. Patterson's words.
"Mr. Dacre is not insolent," said Mary, warmly. "I have met him several times. He is a most remarkable man."
"He couldn't well be insolent to you, Mary," the wily Patterson answered, with a smile for his favorite, who usually agreed with his radicalism, "but his tone to the public is a different thing."
"You extremists are at least responsible for one of these—for the demagogue—" said Richard Lincoln.
"Yes; I admit it. The election of Bagshaw for Liverpool was a terrible mistake. But, if we had had our way, the other evil should have lost its head—O, I beg your pardon, Mary; I did not mean your friend, Mr. Dacre, but the principle he represents."
Mary Lincoln had exclaimed as if shocked, which brought out the concluding words from Mr. Patterson.
"If one were gone, would not the danger be greater?" asked Richard Lincoln. "They keep each other in check. They are useful enemies."
"Take care they don't some day turn round and be useful friends," retorted Patterson. "I believe they did so in Derby yesterday. If they were to do it in Nottingham they would sweep the city."
Mr. Patterson had scored his mark. The ex-Minister was silent and thoughtful.
"The Republic is like an iceberg," he said presently, "a dozen years above water, but a century below. We shall be able to handle our difficulties—Don't you think so, Mary?" he added lightly, as they went out.
"Papa," said Mary, as they walked across the main street, "I met Sir John Dacre at Arundel House when I was visiting Lucy Arundel last year, and I can assure you he is not an evil-minded man."
"Indeed!" answered the father, rather amused at the relation; "you like him, then?"
"Very much, indeed. He is a perfect old-fashioned cavalier, and the most distinguished-looking man I ever saw, except you."
Her father laughed at the unconscious flattery.
"And the very oldest men are constantly consulting him," continued Mary, who was on a subject which evidently interested her.
There was something in Mary's voice that made her father glance down at her face. But he did not pursue the subject.
The months rolled on in this unrestful peace, and day by day it grew clear that the internal troubles of the Republic were forming a dangerous congestion.
Richard Lincoln again became an attentive reader of the newspapers. No man in England studied more carefully the signs of the times. Daily, too, he listened to the denunciation of the aristocrats by his radical old friend.
"They ought to be banished!" exclaimed Mr. Patterson, one morning. "I said it would come to this."
He pointed to an announcement of a meeting of "gentlemen who still retained respect for their Sacred Cause," to be held at Arundel House the following week, the wording of which was rather vague, as if intended to convey more than the verbal meaning. The notice was signed: "John Dacre, Bart."
"Why, that is Mary's friend," thought Richard Lincoln. And when he met Mary, an hour later, he said, half-jestingly:
"Is your friend, Mr. Dacre, a conspirator?"
"He is only an acquaintance, papa; and I hardly know what a conspirator is. But Mr. Dacre is certainly nothing wrong. You should see his face, papa."
"Oh, yes; those dreamers—"
"Papa!" said Mary, almost angrily, "Mr. Dacre is not a dreamer. He is a leader of men—a natural leader—like you!"
The eloquence of voice and gesture surprised Richard Lincoln; but he was too puzzled by Mary's manner to reply. Looking at her as if from a distance, he only remembered, sadly, how little of her life he had seen—how much there was from which he had been left out in the heart of his motherless girl.
Mary read something in his eyes that made her run to him and fold her arms around his neck.
"You were thinking of mamma then," she whispered, with brimming eyes.
"Your face was like hers, Mary," he said, and kissed her tenderly.
In the growing excitement of the times, father and daughter were growing daily into closer union. The Parliamentary elections were coming on, and Richard Lincoln took a deep interest in the preparations. He had been asked to stand for several places, but he had firmly declined; nevertheless he had become almost a public character during the campaign. From all sides men looked to him for counsel. His correspondence became burdensome, and Mary, having urged him long to let her help, at last had her way.
In this way it was that she became familiar with the troubled issues of the time, and learned to think with her father in all his moods. Their house in Nottingham, with comings and goings, committees and councils, was soon like the office of a great Minister.
"This can't last," said Mr. Patterson to Mary Lincoln, one day; "he is needed in London again, and he will go. I believe they mean to nominate him for President."
Two days later, Patterson, with all the rest of England, was allowed to see the secret that had moved the political sea for years.
The National Convention was held to nominate the President. The Radical wing (they were proud to call themselves anarchists) had developed unlooked-for strength, chiefly from the cities and great towns, and had put forward as their candidate the blatant demagogue, Lemuel Bagshaw, whose name has left so deep a stain on his country's record.
On the first day of the National Convention the news of Bagshaw's strength caused only a pained surprise throughout England. Men awaited with some irritation the proper work of the Convention. But on the second day, when the two strongest opposing candidates did not together count as many votes as the demagogue, there was downright consternation.
Then the Aristocrats showed their hand: they abandoned their sham candidate and voted solidly for the demagogue—and Lemuel Bagshaw, the atheist and anarchist, received the nomination for the Presidency of the British Republic!
The ship was fairly among the shoals and the horizon was ridged with ominous clouds. The petrels of disorder were everywhere on the wing. The Republic was driving straight into the breakers.
A few days later a great meeting was held in Nottingham, at which a workingman proposed the name of Richard Lincoln as their representative in Parliament.
A great shout of acclamation greeted the name and spoke for all Nottingham. Then the meeting broke up, the crowd hurrying and pressing toward Richard Lincoln's house.
Mary Lincoln heard the growing tumult, and looked up at her father alarmed. She had been playing softly on an organ in the dimly-lighted room, while her father sat thinking and half listening to the low music, as he gazed into the fire.
He had heard the crowd gathering in the square below, but he had not heeded, till he started at last as a voice outside addressed the multitude, calling for three cheers for the Member of Parliament for Nottingham. The response, ringing from thousands of hearts, made Mary Lincoln leap to her feet.
Her father sat still, looking toward the open window beneath which was the tumult.
"Father," said Mary, calling him so for the first time in her life; "they have nominated you. You will not refuse?"
"No," he said, almost mournfully. "I shall accept—and leave you again."
"Never again," she cried, "my own dear father. I shall go with you to London. Oh, I am so proud of you!"
And Richard Lincoln accepted the nomination, and was elected. His name rallied throughout the whole country the men who had its good at heart.
But the demagogue was raised to the highest place in the Republic, and his party would have grown drunken with exultation had they not been deterred by the solid front and the stern character of the opposition, the leader of which from the first meeting of the new Parliament was Richard Lincoln.
MY LADY'S CHAMBER.
The seashore in late November is never cheerful. The gray, downcast skies sadden the sympathetic ocean; the winds cut to the marrow, and the yellow grass and bare trees make the land as sad-colored as the sea. But even at this season a walk along the cliff upon which Ripon House stands is invigorating, if the walker's blood is young. The outlook toward the water is bluff and bold and the descent sheer.
A neat, gravelled path conforming to the line of the coast divides the precipice from the smooth, closely-cropped lawn which sweeps down from the terrace of the ancient mansion. Ripon House is an imposing, spacious pile. It bears marks of the tampering of the last century when the resuscitated architecture of Queen Anne threatened to become ubiquitous.
A vast plantation of stately trees originally shut out the buildings on three sides from the common gaze, but the exigencies of the lawn-tennis court and the subsequent destitution of the late earl, who renounced his wood fire the last of all the luxuries then appurtenant to a noble lineage, have sadly thinned the splendid grove. Nor is the domain void of historic interest. Here was the scene of the crowning festivity of the pleasure-loving Victorian era when the nobility of the United Kingdom gathered to listen to a masque by Sir William Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan in aid of a fund to erect a statue to the memory of one John Brown, a henchman of the sovereign.
But what boots in this age of earnest activity more than a trivial reference to the selfish splendor of a superstitious past? To-day is to-day, and the nails on the coffin-lid of the last Hanoverian would scarcely be of silver, so many hungry mouths are to be fed.
Geoffrey Ripon on the morning following his reflections was sauntering along the gravel path which bordered the cliff. He was reading the half-penny morning paper, in which he had just come upon a paragraph describing the discovery by the police of a batch of infernal machines supposed to have been sent over from America by friends of the Royalists. Among the emissaries captured he read the name of Cedric Ruskin, an old schoolfellow and great-grandson to an art critic of that surname who flourished in former days by force of his own specific gravity. Pained at the intelligence, he sighed heavily, and was on the point of sitting down upon a rustic bench close at hand when a melodious, gladsome voice hallooing his name broke in upon his meditation. He looked up and perceived Miss Maggie Windsor skipping down the lawn with charming unconventionality.
"Lord Brompton, Lord Brompton."
He raised his hat and stood waiting for the girl, whose motions were marvellously graceful, especially if her large and vigorous physique be considered. No sylph could have glided with less awkwardness, and yet a spindle more closely resembles the bole of a giant oak than Maggie Windsor the frail damsels who bent beneath the keen blasts of New England a hundred years ago. Her countenance disclosed all the sprightly intelligence which her great-grandmother may have possessed, but her glowing cheeks and bright blue eyes told of a constitution against which nervous prostration fulminated in vain. Nor were the bang or bangle of a former generation visible in her composition. But here a deceptive phrase deserves an explanation. "Composition" is an epithet which, least of all, is applicable. Miss Windsor's perfections of whatever kind were wholly natural.
A St. Bernard dog of superb proportions gambolled at her side.
"I thought it was you," she said. "I am very glad to see you again."
"And I, Miss Windsor, to see you." They shook hands with cordiality. "And how do you like your new lodgings?" he inquired.
"Ah, Lord Brompton, I was afraid you would feel nettled that we capitalists should possess your grand old homestead. My purpose in swooping down upon you in this unceremonious style was to ask you to make yourself quite at home in the place. Consider it your own if you will."
"What would your father say to such an arrangement, I wonder?" he asked, glancing at her.
"Oh," she laughed, "papa monopolizes everybody and everything else, but I monopolize him. But you look serious, Lord Brompton, and less complacent, if I may use the expression, than when we met last. Dear old Paris. That was two years ago."
"Ought I to look complacent after reading in the newspaper that my old schoolmate, Cedric Ruskin, has been arrested on a charge of high treason?"
"Alas! poor Cedric!—no, that was Yorick. Down, Bayard, down," she cried to her dog.
"A great many things may happen in two years, Miss Windsor. When chance first brought us together, I was a landed proprietor, and the heir of a noble lineage. To-day I am a beggar at the feet of fatherless wealth."
"Excuse me, Lord Brompton, I have a father."
"Did I say I was at your feet, Miss Windsor?"
"You are the same clever creature as ever," she answered. "But I am beginning to believe you are in earnest. Is it possible that you are the Lord Brompton who told me once that fate's quiver held no shaft to terrify a philosopher? 'Dust to dust, and what matters it whether king or chaos rule?' Those were your words. I warned you then, but you laughed me to scorn—"
"And now you are deriding me."
"You are unjust. I met you with a proffer of hospitality, but you would none of it."
"Am I not to dine with you this evening?"
"True. Then as a further instance that you are still a stoic, come now and exhibit to me the treasures and secrets of Ripon House. I have got no farther than the picture gallery as yet. There is an ancestor of George the Third's time whose features are the prototype of yours—the same dreamy eye—the same careless smile—the same look of being petted. You remember I always said you had been spoiled by petting."
She led the way across the lawn, with Bayard bounding close at hand.
"I am sure there must be secret galleries and haunted chambers and all sorts of dreadful places. I telephoned to Mr. Jawkins to inquire, but he answered, 'Not as I know of, miss.' I suppose he is so fearfully practical he wouldn't care if a real ghost met him in a remote wing."
"What a pity we didn't live in the last century when people still gave ghosts the benefit of the doubt," said Lord Brompton, sadly. "Now we are certain that there never were any."
"But we may still run across a skeleton in a closet," said the girl.
"Oh, yes. But who, by the way, is Mr. Jawkins?"
"Have you never heard of Mr. Jarley Jawkins, the famous country-house agent and individual caterer?"
Lord Brompton shook his head.
"He is indeed a remarkable man," she continued. "When we decided to come to England my father telephoned to Jawkins, who immediately sent out a list of country-seats. We chose this and made arrangements with him to supply us with guests at so much a head. A regular country-house party—a duke and duchess, one or two financially embarrassed noblemen, a disestablished bishop, a professional beauty, a poet-peer, and several other attractions. Oh, Jawkins is wonderful. They are all coming to-day. Won't it be fun? But it may seem rude to ask you to meet such people? I am sorry. You will be almost the only guest not hired for the occasion. It was very inconsiderate of me."
"That's all right," said the young lord. "Perhaps I may find an opening here. I'm looking out for a job. Possibly you may not be aware, Miss Windsor, that the porter's lodge, which I occupy at present, is my sole piece of property. I will send my card to Jawkins. By the way, does he conduct them in person?"
"Oh, yes. He comes on the first day to introduce them. Jawkins is a most amusing man. He is enormously rich and a great bon-vivant. He has a retinue of thoroughly trained servants whom he dispatches to his customers, and everything he supplies is in the most perfect taste. He has but one weakness: he loves a lord and is the sworn enemy of the new regime. Don't you look forward with interest to the feast to-night? I shall give you a professional beauty to take into dinner; and of course I shall go in with the man of the highest rank. But here we are," she said, as they reached the upper terrace in front of the house.
"What a superb dog you have, Miss Windsor. What is his name?" said Lord Brompton, gazing with admiration at the noble creature, who stood on the threshold, panting after his run.
"His name is Bayard."
"Ah, Miss Windsor, I perceive that you still recognize the glamour of a lordly title in the matter of naming your pets. The Chevalier Bayard smacks of royal prerogative."
"Pardon me; Bayard is named after an American statesman who was contemporary with my great-grandfather. But isn't he a beauty? He cost $1000. There is not another of his variety in the United States."
"I should like to go to America," said Lord Brompton, pensively, as he entered the familiar library now renovated by the taste of Jawkins. "My views have changed materially on many questions since we last met. I can see that things here are likely to be in a chaotic state for a long time to come, whereas your institutions have become permanent."
"But you ought to wish to remain and help your fellow-countrymen to better things, Lord Brompton. Look at that line of ancestors," she exclaimed. "You ought to do something worthy of them."
The ex-peer shook his head. "I have ambition, I think, thanks largely to my friendship with you two summers ago; but the outlook is very gloomy. England is in the hands of professional politicians. There is no chance for gentlemen in political life."
"But the King may come to his own again," she murmured, in pity for his mood. "Your title is unimpeached at his exiled court."
"I have doubts as to the desirability of a return to the old order of things, even if there were hopes of success. It is useless to fight against the spirit of the age. The King is old and fat."
"I saw the King riding in a herdic in Boston a few days before we sailed," said Maggie. "He was stopping at the old Province House. Poor sovereign, he looked destitute."
"He is very poor. What was saved from the wreck is in the hands of Bugbee, the London banker. The court has since been moved to the South End. But a monarchy is surely vastly preferable to our present administration. President Bagshaw is a disgrace to any civilized community, to say nothing of an ideal republic."
"There is the ancestor who looks like you," said she, pointing to the portrait of a cavalier wearing hat and plume and long mustaches. "But is there no hope from the opposition?" she inquired.
"I cannot yet bring myself to sympathize with the Liberals, although their leader, Richard Lincoln, is a great and upright man. While the King lives I can no more be disloyal to the House of Hanover than my namesake up there could have been to his master's cause. Still, I feel we are living in an age when opinions are no more secure from revolution than dynasties."
"Speaking just now of the Chevalier Bayard reminds me that Jawkins mentioned as one of the guests he had procured for the occasion—"
"Like so much plate or china," interrupted the quondam peer, bitterly.
"Sir John Dacre," continued Miss Windsor, without regard to his petulance.
"John Dacre?" he cried, with interest.
"Yes. Do you know him?"
"Know him! He was one of my dearest college friends. He is a man of the utmost dignity of soul and consummate breeding."
"Jawkins spoke of him with positive awe as a gentleman of the old school. 'He is a chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, miss,' said he, 'and one of my choicest specimens. He is more precious than Sevres china; but at present he declines pay.'"
"St. George and the dragon!" cried Lord Brompton, "what would Dacre say could he hear the comparison? Jawkins's life would not be worth an hour's purchase. We regarded John Dacre at Oxford as the ideal of a chivalric nature."
"You interest me greatly," said she. "But what has he been doing since you graduated?"
"We have not met, but I have heard of him as loyal and devoted to the royal cause when the outlook was darkest. I shall find him the same noble, ardent soul as ever, I have not a doubt. Like enough his zeal will be the needful spur to my flagging spirit."
They had been wandering through the spacious mansion as they talked, but so absorbed were they in the conversation that the changes in the arrangement of the ancient heirlooms of the once illustrious house of Ripon made but little impression upon Lord Brompton. Weary at last with their wanderings the twain seated themselves upon a broad leather couch, from which they could command a view of a magnificent stained-glass mullioned window, which dated back to the days of George the First. The half light of the apartment was perhaps a begetter of remembrances, for they began to talk of the past, if indeed so short a period back as two summers deserves to be so entitled. Through Lord Brompton's thoughts floated an inquiry as to whether he was not in love with his companion, for, if not, why this joyous sense of re-acquisition on his part? He had never forgotten the pleasant, happy hours passed in La Belle France, and here they were come again, and he was visiting side by side with her whose smile had been their harbinger.
"But I am forgetting, Lord Brompton, the object of our coming here," she exclaimed at last. "I want to know the secrets of Ripon House. Where is the haunted chamber?"
Geoffrey smiled, and rising from his seat walked to the other side of the room and touched a spring in the wainscot. A panel flew to one side and revealed a narrow aperture.
"Follow me if you have a brave heart," he cried, looking back.
The apartment in which they were sitting was the library and this exit was a curious winding staircase, which gradually grew less dark as they proceeded. At last they found themselves in a sort of antechamber, scarcely large enough to turn about in, formed by a bay or projection. There was an oak seat with the Ripon arms carved on the back. Above it a tiny window, showing the great thickness of the wall, let in a few rays of light.
"Sit down—sh!" said Lord Brompton, and he put his finger to his lips and nodded toward a low door which was visible a few feet beyond. "It is there."
"Oh, this is delightful. Is it a real, genuine, ancestral ghost?"
"In that chamber the Lady Marian Ripon, an ancestress of mine, is said to have died of a broken heart. Her husband, the great-grandson of the Lord Brompton whose portrait you think I resemble, was killed at Teb, and three days after her body was borne to the tomb. This was her private chamber, and here her spirit is said still to linger. It is not a very original ghost, but its authenticity is unquestioned."
"Have you ever crossed the threshold?" asked the girl, with mock solemnity.
"Not since childhood, and then only in fear and trembling."
"This is beginning to be positively weird and uncanny," she murmured, "but I propose to defy the spectre and enter."
"Have a care—have a care. But you have no key, Miss Windsor."
She was shaking the handle, which seemed loose and flimsy. "Help me. It is not fastened," she cried.
They bent their united strength upon the door, which creaked, groaned, and finally burst open with a crash, causing the dust to fly so that Maggie gave a little shriek of dismay. Complete silence and darkness followed the onslaught, and then with a whisper of "Who's afraid?" she drew forth a lamp of diminutive proportions and Etruscan design, and turning the crank produced a brilliant electric flame, which permeated the damp and gloom of the ghostly chamber.
Here was, indeed, a monument to decay and mould of the past. A room rife with the cobwebs of ages met their vision where the moth-eaten remains of once gorgeous hangings competed for utter fustiness with the odor of the rotting beams and the dismal aspect of the furniture, some of which had actually fallen to pieces, as though further stability had been incompatible with the long absence of human life. The place seemed almost too desolate for a ghost other than a very morbid spirit in search of penance. In the centre of the room lay in hopeless confusion a pile of all sorts and varieties of garments, many of them of most antiquated description. Plumed hats and velvet knee-breeches of the cavalier period, Jersey jackets and tea-gowns, with Watteau plaits, such as were in fashion when Victoria was queen, were mingled with articles of a more recent date. On the top lay an open volume, the pages of which were brown with dust. Maggie picked it up and read:
"Howe'er it be, it seems to me 'Tis only noble to be good; Kind hearts are more than coronets And simple faith than Norman blood."
"By whom is that, Lord Brompton? Ah! I see, Lord d'Eyncourt. His name is on the title-page."
"An eccentric Victorian poet," said the young man, "of much account in his own day, if I mistake not."
"I never heard of him," said Maggie, "but I am little of an antiquarian. It is pretty, though."
"I remember," said he, "that we as children used to act theatricals here in those old clothes, duds we ransacked from the closets."
"But where is the ghost? I want to see the ghost!" cried the girl, tossing aside the last bit of tarnished finery. "What is this?" she continued, seizing the end of a beam which had become loosened and projected from the wall.
"You will have the house about our ears if you persist," he cried, as a shower of crumbled stone and mortar followed her investigation.
"Well, it is my house, Lord Brompton; I have the right if I choose to."
"Why remind me of my misfortunes, Miss Windsor?"
"Come and help me, then."
"I wish I might be your helpmate forever," he said. She turned and looked at him, slightly disconcerted, and then said: "I was wrong. The women of to-day need no help from any one."
She gave the beam a strong wrench, as though to vindicate her assertion. It yielded and disclosed a kind of box or recess set into the wall. She plunged therein her hand, and drew forth a handsome sword of rich and subtle workmanship and antique design. "There," she cried, "am I not right?"
Maggie took it to the light. Around the hilt was wrapped a scroll, which she was about to read, when, with a sudden fancy, she paused and said, "What am I doing? These are family secrets, and meant, perhaps, only for your eyes, Lord Brompton."
"Read it, I beg," said he. She obeyed him. In a faint, feminine hand, which resembled a field of corn bowed by the wind, were written these words:
"My grandfather's sword. MARIAN RIPON."
"The ghost—it is the ghost's own work," they cried together.
"And this sword," said he, "belonged to my namesake, the cavalier."
"But look—look." Maggie had been staring at the opposite side of the paper.
Geoffrey took it from her hand.
"Kind hearts are more than coronets And simple faith than Norman blood."
For a moment they looked at one another in speechless surprise.
"Kneel, Lord Brompton," she said at length. He did so, and taking a scarf from among the pile of vestments she girded the sword about him with fantastic grace. "Rise, Geoffrey Ripon, knight, and Earl of Brompton."
"You are forever my sovereign." He kissed her hand. She blushed sweetly, and turning said, "Enough of the past and its customs. We each have a present to face, and mine for the nonce is Jawkins. He must need my directions."
Thus it happened that when Lord Brompton next entered the porter's lodge in which he dwelt, he was girded with the sword of his ancestors.
The library of Ripon House was an apartment panelled in oak, blackened by time and smoke. The high and richly carved mantelpiece bore the arms of the Ripon family, three wolves on a field, or, surmounted by a wild man from Borneo rampant, bearing a battle-axe, gules. Shelves which once were filled with fine books were then empty, the void being covered by old tapestries. The furniture was old and gaunt, save for a few modern soft-cushioned chairs which seemed to have been recently deposited there, and were, by the brilliant color of their coverings, not at all in harmony with the faded tapestries of their high-backed and carven predecessors. On one of the gaunt old chairs Abraham Windsor was seated, holding in his right hand the London Times, which slowly issued from a "ticker" upon the table at his side. After looking sharply at the financial news, which just then was being recorded in the "Thunderer," he glanced quickly toward the door, as if he expected some one to enter. Abraham Windsor was a man of sixty, and each year seemed to have left its impress upon the man who had battled through it, so that he seemed his own living history, and by close observation you might read of a youth of scant schooling in books, not spent among folks of gentle breeding, nor protected from the world, but left to shift for itself against the numerous kicks and scanty half pence of the hard world; then one might discern the period of restless scheming and speculation, and finally the look of successful yet of unsatisfied ambition. Still his face was not a hard and stern one, but shrewd and kindly. He seemed a man who would drive careful bargains, but who was too large-minded and honest to be mean or overreaching. His large head was thatched with thick, bristling iron-gray hair, his face was swarthy and clean-shaven, his black eyes were deep-set and keen, his nose prominent, yet well-shaped, and his mouth firm and resolute, having a humorous curve; he was plainly dressed in a black broadcloth suit which hung loosely over his bony frame. He threw down the ribbons upon the floor with an impatient gesture, and watched the news of the world, as it coiled at his feet in the white spirals, for a moment; then he arose from his chair and touched an electric knob. Instantly a stately footman in a dark livery and a powdered wig entered the room.
"Mr. Jawkins has arrived?" Mr. Windsor asked.
"No, sir. Thank you, sir."
"Has Miss Windsor returned from her walk?"
"She has come into the house, sir."
"Has Mr. Jawkins sent word when we are to expect him?"
"Yes, sir; we are awaiting him every moment, sir. I think I hear wheels now, sir."
"Very well; ask him to come to me here when he is at leisure."
The tall footman bowed and noiselessly left the room, and Mr. Windsor picked up the Times and looked at it for a moment. Presently a short, pudgy man in travelling dress, with thin, smoothly-brushed hair, mutton-chop whiskers and a very red face, was ushered into the room, and Mr. Windsor stretched out his hand in welcome.
"Mr. Jawkins, I believe?"
"Yes, Mr. Windsor; I am Jarley Jawkins, very much at your service."
"Glad to see you, Jawkins," said the American; "take a cigar, won't you? I will ring for some whiskey and water if you care for a snifter."
"I beg to be excused," replied Jawkins, deprecatingly. "You American gentlemen must have the constitutions of horses; you seem to be able to smoke and take 'snifters,' as you drolly call them, at all hours, but I really cannot do it, you know. Do you find things to suit you here, Mr. Windsor? I could have given you many finer houses; to tell you the truth, I was rather surprised when you chose Ripon House out of my list. There is so little furniture in it that my men have not been able to put in all the necessary articles yet, but it will be wholly in order in a few hours."
"Yes; your men seem very busy," replied Mr. Windsor. "The upper floors are all ready, but I have been driven into this room on the ground floor this morning."
"Oh! dear me, what a pity, sir," said Mr. Jawkins, looking around the room. "It is very bare and uncomfortable; but you will not know the room when my fellows are through with it. You will have one of the finest collections of books here in all England in a few hours. I have purchased the Marquis of Queensberry's collection, and ordered them sent here. Nothing gives so good an effect of color in a room as a library of handsome books, you know. They have turned the Times on, I see," he remarked, pointing to the ticker. "I saw in it this morning that Richard Lincoln and his daughter were to be your guests here. Your friend, sir, I suppose? He certainly is not down in my list; great man, sir, but not one of us."
"Mr. Lincoln is one of the men whom I most highly respect in the world," answered Mr. Windsor, curtly. "When do you expect the people in your list to arrive?"
"Oh, they will come at all hours," answered Jawkins. "I must send a lot of traps to the station to meet them. Have you been out to the stables, sir? I have sent you one of the finest studs in all England. Do you hunt, Mr. Windsor?"
"Never," answered Mr. Windsor.
"Since the farmers have taken to shooting the foxes," continued Mr. Jawkins, "the noble old sport has gone all to pieces, even here; but you drive four-in-hand, I hope. I have ordered a beautiful new break for your use. But you will see, sir, all I have done for you. Now, if you are at leisure for the list of the guests whom I have been able to engage. When you have gone over it with me, Mr. Windsor, I think that you will admit that it is a charming country-house party to have got together on such short notice. First, you see, we have the Duke and Duchess of Bayswater. I have engaged them for the first three days of your stay here to give eclat to your hospitality, at the price of a diva and her accompanying tenor, I must admit. It is their very first appearance professionally, and I think that I have done very well by you."
Mr. Windsor gave a little groan, which Mr. Jawkins did not seem to notice, however, as he continued:
"I fear that His Grace will not be in the best of spirits at first. He is a grand type of a great nobleman, however, and worth double the money which we pay him. Her Grace is of one of the few families in Great Britain which are found in the Almanach de Gotha. She is like a magnificent old ruin, almost feudal in fact, and as proud as Lucifer. Her stare is said to be withering, and the poise of her head makes a man's tongue cleave to the roof of his mouth."
"And I shall have to take her in to dinner for the next three days?" groaned Windsor.
"Of course, my dear sir; but, believe me, you will enjoy it more than Her Grace will," replied Jawkins. "Next comes the Archbishop of Canterbury in point of order on my list, though he is of higher rank than their Graces. Since the disestablishment of the Church, and the forfeiture of the Church properties, he has, of course, been much straitened financially. He must have a comfortable room and a warm fire, and will conduct family prayers. There is some doubt about his coming, though, I see, as he is far from well, but it will be easy to get a prelate at short notice; I have dozens on my list, ready at call. Next we have Lord Carrington, who is not very good company, but of wonderfully fine family. His ancestors came over with William the Conqueror, but as he has only L200 a year, he was not loath to put himself under my charge. He is exceedingly particular as to his food and drink, and is one of the best card-players in London. He used to make a fine income from his cards; indeed, he does now in I. O. U.'s. By the way, he inquired whether you played 'piquet' or 'bezique,' from which I infer that he is looking for an antagonist with ready money."
Mr. Windsor laughed and slapped his knee with his thin, bony hand.
"Ah! the wind sets in that corner, does it?" he asked.
"I am afraid so," answered Jawkins.
"I do not mind taking chances, I admit," said Windsor; "but in the stock-market I am in the position of the banker at the gaming-table. The odds are in my favor. While at piquet this noble lord can get the better of me. Who else have you, Jawkins?"
"I forgot my greatest prize, sir," said Jawkins, handing Mr. Windsor a photograph. "What do you think of her?"
Mr. Windsor looked at the picture with a peculiar smile.
"She is a fine woman, Jawkins. We have as fine, however, in the States. Who is she?"
"Mrs. Oswald Carey, to be sure. Have you never seen her face before, Mr. Windsor? She is considered to be the most beautiful woman in London. Her husband, of course, is left there; he cares only for brandy and soda and baccarat, and would be very much in the way. I believe that he used to have a place under government, but was ousted last year, probably for cause, wonderful as that seems now. But she is a charming woman, and I find that she is the most sought after of any one on my list—that is to say, with the hosts; though the hostesses sometimes object to her, simply from envy of her good looks, for her good name cannot be questioned while her husband is satisfied with her."
Mr. Windsor hummed a little; he was too new to the world of society not to have old-fashioned views on the subject of a woman's fame.
"Go on with the list, please, Jawkins; time flies, and your presence must be required to arrange the drawing-rooms."
"Very well, Mr. Windsor. Then Sir John Dacre, one of the biggest men in England; I never have understood, sir, how I got him on my list. He is so proud that I should have fancied that he would have—saving your presence, sir—have broken stones in the street rather than bread as a hired guest. For he is a noble fellow."
"Some woman at the bottom of it?" asked Mr. Windsor, carelessly.
"Something mysterious, certainly, for he absolutely refused to take any fee," replied Mr. Jawkins. "Next comes Colonel Charles Featherstone, a wild, scatter-brained soldier, who lost all his fortune in speculation in your American cotton and grain futures. He is a great friend of John Dacre, and they joined me at the same time. I am really giving you the gems of my whole collection."
A flush of triumph spread over the man's round face as he continued his list. "Next, I have three of the 'artiste' class, and here I am not so successful, though to be sure I pick them up for almost nothing. There is Erastus Prouty, who does the satirical 'society' articles and collects fashionable gossip for the Saturday Review, a sniggering, sneering chap, with a single eye-glass and immense self-conceit. He called me a cad in his paper once, but I am above personal feeling, and do not cut the man off from his income. Then, you have Herr Diddlej, the great Norwegian pianist, who will shatter your piano in half an hour; and, finally, Sydney, the wit, who, by the way, has disappointed me greatly, as he has not made a repartee in a twelvemonth, nor has he set the table in a roar. I reasoned with him the other day on the subject, and gave him fair warning that this visit should be his last chance. Still, I pity the man; he is a great bon vivant, and if he should lose his reputation as a wit I fear that he would have to go to a workhouse or on the London Punch. I have finished the list. How does it please you?"
"I never say that I have made money until the shares are sold and paid for," answered Mr. Windsor. "Your list sounds well, but I think I like the old-fashioned way of asking friends to stay with me better. Still, your plan is novel."
Mr. Jawkins seemed hurt, as an author would who had looked up from reading the finest passage in his epic only to perceive that his auditor was asleep and not spellbound. Jawkins believed in the "idee" Jawkins as Napoleon did in his destiny.
"By your leave, Mr. Windsor, I shall go to my own room to arrange my toilet, and then I must see about the disposition of the furniture, bibelots and pictures, and attend to the preparations for the reception of the guests. You need not meet them until just before dinner, when I shall be on hand to present them to you. I cannot be here after to-night. I must start to-morrow morning for Hampshire, where Prince Petroloff demands my services. You see, I am a hard-worked man, Mr. Windsor."
"So you are for an Englishman, Mr. Jawkins. Then I suppose that it is necessary that you should attend to all the details of your profession personally. By the way, my daughter tells me that she has asked young Geoffrey Ripon, who used to be on the British Legation at Paris, where we were two summers ago. You must arrange for him at the dinner-table."
"Ah, the Earl of Brompton! He is not a client of mine, but I have my eye on him. His earthly possessions consist of about five acres of land, a tumble-down hut near by, and a double-barrelled shotgun, and he lost his secretaryship when the new administration made its clean sweep of the offices. They said he was going to marry a rich girl once, I believe."
"It seems that he did not," said Mr. Windsor, rising from his seat.
Mr. Jawkins bowed and bustled from the room, and Mr. Windsor soon heard his sharp voice ordering the army of workmen in the adjacent rooms with the precision and authority of a field-marshal.
The situation amused and at the same time disconcerted the humorous American, as he settled back in a chair before the great wood fire which crackled in the chimney. Though the chair was soft and yielding he did not look comfortable, for men with long, bony, angular figures never seem to look at their ease.
Abraham Windsor's name twenty years before the date of this story would not have added to the marketable value of the most modest promissory note in the money markets of Chicago, to which city he had come fresh from his father's farm in upper Illinois; but at this time it was a tower of strength in financial quarters, and men counted his wealth by tens of millions.
He was the Jupiter of the financial world, and men said that when his iron-gray locks fell over each other, as he nodded, Wall Street trembled and Lombard Street crashed; so that it seemed only from forbearance that he did not sweep all the chips upon the great gaming-table of the world into his deep pockets. His sudden trip to Europe had caused much discussion. Some knowing ones whispered that he had bought a controlling interest in the Bank of England from the assignees in bankruptcy of the Brothkinders, with the object of making a panic in trade by a sudden raise of the rate of discount to six per cent; others, that he had come over to unload upon the British public his shares in the Hudson Bay and Cape Horn Railroad Company.
He was amused by the wild rumors, for he had, in truth, come to England with no deep-laid scheme or motive, but simply because his daughter had ordered his doing so; for while Abraham Windsor ruled the shares market and the world of speculation, a certain young woman ruled him, and the hard-headed man of affairs, who could outwit an Israelite banker, was as wax under her dainty fingers. At the close of the last season at Newport, Miss Margaret had ordered her father, as she poured out his coffee at breakfast, to engage a country house in England for the winter. Mr. Windsor looked up from the New York Herald, which likened him to his Satanic Majesty in one column and described his new steam yacht in another, and he said, "Aye, aye, miss," to her order.
And straightway after breakfast he went to the Casino Club and telephoned to Jarley Jawkins for his list of estates to rent in England, for he knew full well that whether Wall Street or the heavens crashed Miss Maggie's orders were to be obeyed. She selected Ripon House from Jawkins's list, and her father hired it, although he had a leaning toward Windsor Castle, which the Republic wished to lease for a term of years, or to sell upon easy terms.
Every one in Paris two years before had said that the penniless young Englishman, Lord Ripon, wished to make a rich marriage, and that the capricious Miss Windsor, after having broken, cracked or temporarily discouraged a sufficient number of hearts, was at last ready to accept a lord and perhaps a master. But in the middle of the season the British Legation was recalled, and Geoffrey, after a few words of farewell, disappeared, and from the day of his leaving Paris Miss Windsor had heard nothing of him. She did not know herself whether she cared for him; he was good-natured and amusing, and she liked to have him talk to her and be her slave, but when he was gone, the world was not a blank to her.
Still, it piqued her that Lord Brompton had effaced himself so completely from her life. "He might, at least, have written to let me know that he lived," she kept thinking. Of course she knew the name of his old estate, and she knew that he owned the porter's lodge and the few acres around it, for he had told her once that he still owned a little box in England, and that when the worst came to the worst he intended to crawl into it and shut the lid. When Jawkins sent his list of estates for rent, and she saw the name of Ripon House on it, her heart gave a little jump. Mr. Windsor had, of course, known of the affair between Lord Geoffrey and his daughter, and had neither approved nor disapproved of it. He knew that, if she made up her mind to marry, he would be consulted only as a matter of form. When she had informed him on their arrival that Lord Brompton was living in the neighborhood, and that she meant to invite him to dinner very soon, the shrewd old man smiled grimly, and acquiesced in her plan.
As her father sat musing before the fire, the door opened suddenly, and Maggie bounded into the room.
"Has Jawkins arrived, papa?" she asked.
"Yes; we have just been going over his list of guests together. By the way, Maggie, is your young man to be our guest?"
"Oh, papa!" Maggie exclaimed, perching herself upon one of his knees and stroking his chin with one of her dimpled hands, "how can you be so ill-bred as to speak of any one as my young man? Surely I have no proprietary rights over any man, save one very nice old fellow, who is so loyal to his sovereign that he never thinks of complaining of the injustice of taxation without representation."
"You reverse the ordinary process with me; subjects have been wont to blow up their sovereigns," answered her father, with a chuckle, "and you blow up me. You have not told me about Lord Brompton. It is a long time since you have seen him before to-day."
"Two whole years. He seems so dispirited."
"At not having escaped you?"
"Oh, you wicked old capitalist; not at all. At having been so long separated from me. It was very pleasant to see him again. He is such a friend of mine. I should say that he interested me more than any of the others."
"Ah, that unfortunate panorama of others," laughed her father.
"Yes, poor fellows," said Maggie, a little regretfully, "but then I think that most of them had an eye to the main chance, papa. Lord Brompton has not, I know."
Mr. Windsor smiled.
"I hope not, my dear. What is he doing here?"
"What the world has forgotten to do; what he can do more graciously than any man I know—nothing," she answered.
"I should think that a young man with the world before him might find something better to do than to mope in a porter's lodge, looking mournfully at the lands which were his father's. What does he intend to do in the world?"
"Oh, he said nothing of his plan of life," said Miss Windsor; "but he seemed blue and restless. I think that there is something on his mind."
"These aristocrats, fallen from their high estate, are really in a pitiable condition," said Windsor. "I feel like a cad to have made the arrangement which I have with Jawkins. I wish that I were scot free from the whole business. Poor people, how they must hate me in advance, and what a vulgarian they must think me to be."
"Jawkins says that it is a recognized system, papa, you remember," answered Maggie. "After all, if you wish a great tenor or a violin-player at your parties, you pay them for it. If you wish a duke to awe or a beauty to charm your guests, why should you not hire them? This is a commercial age. The poor people must live, and if they can only awe or charm, there is no harm in their receiving pay for their sole merits."
"You should have been bred to the bar, Maggie," laughed her father. "You are an eloquent advocate."
There was a rattling of wheels up the driveway, and the great hall doors were heard to open.
"Some of our guests have arrived," remarked Mr. Windsor. "I hope that Jawkins has made all his arrangements for their reception."
Just then the door opened and Mr. Jawkins entered carefully dressed. His manner was quiet and his voice subdued, as if he were whispering in a cathedral, as he said:
"Their Graces the Duke and Duchess have done you the honor of coming under your roof, Mr. Windsor. They are very much fatigued by their journey, and have retired to their apartments."
"We shall meet them at Philippi before the action, shall we not?" asked Miss Windsor.
"Yes, and meanwhile I shall do everything that I can for the comfort of your guests and the arrangement of the house. Believe me, I deeply feel the gravity of the situation," he continued, as he bowed himself out of the room.
"And so do I," said Mr. Windsor to his daughter. "I would rather face an army of irate stockholders than our guests this evening."
When Geoffrey entered that evening the great drawing-rooms of his old home he found that they had been transformed from shabby and musty apartments into beautiful modern salons, which had the air of having been long lived in by people of refinement. There was even a certain feminine touch about the disposition of the bric-a-brac. The handsome pieces of old furniture, which seemed like friends of his boyhood, were still there, retained by the true artistic sense of Jawkins, who knew that no modern cabinetmaker could produce their like; still everything seemed brightened, as if the old rooms had been touched with sunshine. The walls were hung with good modern paintings and old tapestries; the tables and mantelpieces were covered thick with curios. To fill a great house with the rare objects of art and luxury that are found in the abodes of those families which have held wealth for generations is an impossibility to the newly rich. Their brand-new mansions, left to upholsterers, resemble great caravansaries, bare, gilded and raw with primary colors. But Jawkins was an artist; he not only made the houses which he arranged beautiful, but he gave them the air of having been lived in for years, so that the strangers within the gates, who had been taught to judge of men's characters by their dwellings and surroundings, could not but be pleasantly impressed. Miss Windsor was standing alone, in a corner of the room, by a little round-backed sofa, and smiled a greeting at Geoffrey. After exchanging a few words with his host he walked over to her, and she stretched out her pretty gloved hand in welcome.
"Well met again, Lord Brompton; but you are not wearing your sword."
"'The Knights are dust,' I fear," he quoted with a smile. "I was loath to wear it with modern evening dress. I crave your forgiveness, fair lady."
"As long as you do not have it turned into a ploughshare, or a railway share, which would be more modern," laughed Maggie, "I will forgive you."
"Have all your guests arrived?"
"Of course; you are the last one, as usual. It has been rather an ordeal you may believe. Papa was in a dreadful state about it. The Duke and the Duchess of Bayswater he was especially in awe of. Dear old souls! You see them over there, looking like Mr. and Mrs. Marius in the ruins of Carthage."
Geoffrey, turning, saw a fine-looking old couple. The Duke still wore the blue ribbon of the Garter across his breast. He was a mild-looking gentleman, who seemed to be plunged in deep melancholy. His head was bald and highly polished, his gray side-whiskers were brushed carefully forward, and his nose was aquiline. Her Grace the Duchess surveyed the company with a haughty stare, which seemed to be a matter of habit rather than of present feeling.
"They were very kind to me when I was a boy," said Geoffrey, with a sigh. "But it is so long since they have seen me that they must have forgotten me. You have a large party."
"Oh, yes; they have been coming in all the afternoon. I think that it will be very pleasant when we get well shaken together. You see your old friend, Sir John Dacre, over there, do you not? away over at the end of the other rooms. The fine-looking girl to whom he is talking is Richard Lincoln's daughter."
Geoffrey looked in the direction, and saw the back of Sir John Dacre's head as he bent over to speak to Miss Lincoln.
He made a little start to go over to greet his friend. Miss Windsor saw it, and said: "You will see Sir John after dinner, Lord Brompton; you would interrupt a pleasant conversation now by being that wretched third who makes a 'company' a crowd; and at the same time, you would destroy all the proportion of the party by leaving me alone. You must sit on the sofa here by my side, and I will point out all the people to you. You will not sit anywhere near me, you know, at dinner, as you will take in Mrs. Oswald Carey, as I told you this morning."
Geoffrey sat down on the sofa by her and looked about the room.
"I do not see the great professional beauty in this room, Miss Windsor," he said, after he had finished his inspection of the people present, who seemed plunged in the depths of that gloom which always hangs over a party before a dinner.
Richard Lincoln, who had been touched by her Grace's melancholy, stood talking to her. In the opposite corner of the room sat Mr. James Sydney, the celebrated wit, his pasty face wearing an air of settled melancholy, while he gazed vacantly at a curious old Turner, which glowed like an American sunset against the stamped-leather hangings of the room.
"Poor fellow, he looks like the clown before he is painted," whispered Miss Windsor.
Mr. Prouty, the Saturday Reviewer, sat on a "conversazione" with Lady Carringford, a commonplace, faded-out-looking woman of forty, with bleached hair. She did not seem much pleased by the conversation of the journalist, and looked furtively across the room as if to hint that she ought to be relieved, but Herr Diddlej and Sydney did not see her signals of distress.
Lord Carringford, her husband, a tall, keen-faced man with blue-black side-whiskers and a furtive eye, was talking with Mr. Windsor, and though he saw his wife's signals, of course, did not pay any attention to them. The Archbishop of Canterbury, in rusty clerical garb, smiled benignly at the whole company.
"Mrs. Oswald Carey is far too clever to stay in the glare of a great room like this," said Miss Windsor to Geoffrey. "She is one of those women who seek a corner and quiet and flourish there—not, however, alone. She is in the smaller room beyond, with Colonel Featherstone, who must have nearly pulled his great mustaches out by this time. You know how he twirls and twitches them when he thinks he is being quite irresistible, just as you are doing now, Lord Brompton."
Geoffrey dropped his hand from his mustache impatiently.
"Ah, you are always chaffing me, Miss Windsor," he pleaded.
"I knew very well what you were thinking, sir. That you could cut Colonel Featherstone out in no time. Now, were you not?"
"Not at all. I was thinking of you. Were not my languishing glances turned toward you?"
"Yes, but the languish was all for Mrs. Oswald, and not for me. But it is time to go to dinner now, Lord Brompton. You are permitted to disturb the tete-a-tete and Mrs. Carey's peace of mind."
"If you send me away, I suppose that I must obey. A hostess is a despot whom no one may defy."
Miss Windsor smiled pleasantly at the Duke of Bayswater, who just then offered her his arm with great solemnity. Geoffrey bowed to her and the Duke, and walked slowly into the adjoining room.
In a dimly-lighted corner he saw a tall, heavily-built man, with a long red mustache, talking to a remarkably beautiful woman.
"Mrs. Carey and old Charlie Featherstone?" he said to himself, as he stopped to look at them and to await a pause in their conversation before he interrupted them.
"Why, it is Eleanor Leigh!" he exclaimed a moment later, as she turned her head from the shadow of a great Japanese screen, behind which the pair had sought shelter from prying eyes.
"Eleanor Leigh, my old sweetheart, to whom I bade farewell in the dark library of my old tutor's home, seven years ago."
She did not look in his direction, and he had a few moments to observe her carefully.
The slender girl whom he remembered had grown into a superb woman. Her head was poised upon her shoulders like that of a Greek goddess, and around her white throat gleamed a collar of brilliants. A tightly-fitting black gown made by contrast her bosom and arms dazzling in whiteness. Her hair was rolled into a large round knot at the back of her head, and its coils shone red-brown in the soft glow of the candles. Her face seemed cold and calm to him as he looked at her, a faint, mocking smile played upon her full, red lips, and her delicate eyebrows were slightly raised. All of a sudden she turned toward him, and their eyes met in a flash of recognition. He remembered those eyes well, but here was something in them which was not there when his brain last thrilled with their magnetic glances—a something which he could not understand, but which repelled him. She raised her hand and seemed to beckon to him, and he obeyed her command.
"You remember me, then, Lord Brompton," she said coldly, as she gave him her hand.
"Remember you!" he exclaimed, and was at a loss for words. Featherstone, who had withdrawn a step or two, seemed to see his confusion, and after welcoming his old friend back to England went away.
Mrs. Carey looked up at Geoffrey with a mocking smile, as if deriding his embarrassment. "So we meet again after all these years, Geoffrey?" He looked down at the floor, confused and shame-faced, as he thought of the time when he had gone up to Oxford from her father's house with her image in his heart. She, too, was thinking of those days of fresh spring-time. "He is not much changed," she thought, "save that he looks tired and discouraged; then his eyes were bright, looking, as they were, into a world where everything seemed easy and full of pleasure to him."
"We are both thinking of the old days," she said to him, as she pulled a rose from her belt, and nervously crumpled its petals between her fingers. "Ah, how I wept when you ceased writing to me!"
"I do not imagine that you ever wept any bitter tears on my account," remonstrated Geoffrey. "I was a mere boy then; and a girl of eighteen can hold her own with a man of any age, while a boy of eighteen can no more look after himself in a love affair than a—"
"Boy of any other age," interrupted Mrs. Carey. "Ah, Geoffrey, I did weep then more than you can imagine. But I have always remembered you as a dear boy, who loved me a little and forgot me when he was away. Men are deceivers ever, and I fancy that I am not the last woman whom you have loved a little and forgotten since. But the others are going in to dinner. It is a motley party, is it not? Just fancy Richard Lincoln's being here, and the old Duke, and John Dacre, too. Why is he here? Do you know?"
"I haven't seen him since I first went to Paris," answered Geoffrey, as he offered her his arm.
The pair walked in to dinner in their proper place in the procession.
"What a beautiful old room this is!" exclaimed Mrs. Carey as they entered the dining-hall. "Jawkins does this sort of thing so well! How perfectly he reproduces the courtly state of the last century when he re-establishes a house!"
Geoffrey had not been in this room since the day when he had been called from Oxford by a telegram announcing his father's sudden death. Then the room had been dark and there was a hush over it, and the servants had moved stealthily over the oaken floor, and he had sat by the window listening to the slow words of the family lawyer, which told him that he was the heir of a ruined estate.
He winced as he seated himself by Mrs. Carey's side, a guest at the great table at which his forebears had broken bread as almost princely hosts. The party had entered, and sat down in silence, and, after unfolding their napkins, looked rather gloomily at each other for a while, but Mr. Jawkins soon broke into an easy conversational canter, and the rest of the party by the time that the champagne appeared with the fish found that their tongues were loosened. The old Duke, who always loved a pretty face and brilliant eyes, got on capitally with Miss Windsor, and seemed to forget his fallen dignity and the mournful face of his consort, as he said pretty things to the beautiful American.
"I had a great curiosity to see Mr. Windsor before I came here," whispered Mrs. Carey to Geoffrey. "He has a strong face, has he not? They say that he is so rich that he does not know how much he is worth, and that he has made all his money himself."
"I suppose that somebody has got all the money that we people in England have lost or spent," she continued, with a woman's idea of political economy. "Isn't it all dreadful? I suppose that you are a—What shall I say, a guest?"
"Why should you not say a guest, since we certainly are at Mr. Windsor's table?" he asked, as if innocently.
"Ah, you must know what I mean; one of Mr. Jawkins's list. Just think of the poor Duke and Duchess being on it—the proudest family in England. Did you ever hear of such a thing?"
"The aristocrats during the French Revolution were reduced to as desperate shifts," answered Geoffrey. "We, at least, are not banished from our country and can earn our living, if we choose, in the old-fashioned way, by the sweat of our brows. I have been digging in my vegetable garden this summer; you know that I have five acres left, and what with fishing—and don't mention it, pray—a little poaching, I have got along pretty well. I knew Mr. Windsor in Paris, when I was on the Legation there."
"And you were put out of the service by that old brute, Bagshaw. What an odious thing this Republican form of government is! You know poor Oswald was in the Stamp and Sealing-wax Office. Oswald is a Legitimist, of course, and would not pay the assessment which was levied upon him by the Radical party, and he was ousted last spring."
"Is your husband here?"
"Oh, dear, no! They do not wish me if I take Oswald along with me. He is in our lodgings in London. He quite misses the office in the daytime, as he cannot sleep nearly so well at home. Poor Oswald! Mr. Sydney," she said, turning to that gentleman, who had sat in silence at her side, "I thought that you always kept the table in a roar?"
"How can a man do that when he is expected to," answered Sydney, gloomily. "I am always saddest at dinner, for I know that I have been asked because there is a tradition in society that I am a wit. If I speak of the gloomiest subjects people snicker; if I am eloquent or pathetic, they roar. I am by nature rather a lyric poet than a wit—ah, you are laughing, Mrs. Carey, you are laughing. What did I tell you?"
"But, my dear Mr. Sydney, you are funny, really you are."
"I am funny because I mean to be serious," said Mr. Sydney. "In these days of the decadence of civilization if a man is in earnest, terribly in earnest, people think that he is vastly amusing. I shall try to be funny soon, to earn my wage, and people will think me dull enough then."
The poor man drank a large glass of wine and pointing at the entree upon his plate asked:
"Mrs. Carey, can a man who expects daily to be gathered to his fathers eat a vol-au-vent of pigeons a la financiere? How can it be expected? They should not tempt me with such dishes. I know that I ought not to eat them, but I cannot resist. I partake of them and I do not sleep. I have not closed my eyes for three nights."
He began to eat his vol-au-vent with the appetite of a boy of fourteen.
"Poor old fellow," whispered Mrs. Carey to Geoffrey. "He knows that he must be amusing on this visit else Jawkins will strike him off his list. It is lucky that I only have to look beautiful. It is no exertion whatever. While poor old Sydney knows that something is expected of him, and as he naturally likes to talk about statistics and his physical ailments, and as he gained his reputation as a wit from a single repartee made at a dinner twenty years ago, he finds it hard to fulfil his part. He is simply funny because he isn't. It's a strange paradox."
"It must, indeed, be a hard task, making one's self a brick without straw," answered Geoffrey. "Think of not having the luxury of being disagreeable—to be always on the rack to perpetrate a joke, Mrs. Carey."
"You did not call me Mrs. Carey when we last met," she said, reproachfully.
"But you were not Mrs. Carey then, and, not being a prophet, I could not very well call you so."
"Do not be flippant. But if we were prophets what a dreadful thing life would be! It did not seem possible seven years ago that Eleanor Leigh would become a professional beauty, a hired guest, who lived upon the royalty from the sale of her photographs."
"You can congratulate yourself that yours is the only 'royalty' left in the country, Eleanor." He lowered his voice as he spoke her name.
"I will not talk about myself," she said, in a cold, hard tone. "That's a man's prerogative. But I wish you, when we are alone, to tell me all about your life. The lines of our lives, which once bade fair to run along together, have diverged; but fate is strong. We are thrown together again. I know not whether it matters to you that we have met again, but it does very much to me. I wish to know what you have been doing all these years. To-morrow, surely, we shall have a chance to see each other, and till then let us change the subject, for if the walls have not ears, Mr. Sydney certainly has, and very large and ugly ones, too, like a lop-eared rabbit's."
Geoffrey looked with a smile at poor Mr. Sydney's villified ears, and said to himself that the unfortunate wit never could live in much comfort upon the royalties from the sale of his picture. Mrs. Carey looked around the table searchingly. Her quick wit was tickled by the curious incongruities of the scene; by Richard Lincoln talking small nothings to the Duchess of Bayswater across the rich American; by the genial and smirking Jawkins, seated between Sir John Dacre and that pink of fashion, Colonel Featherstone; by Lady Carringford, who was between the indifferent Colonel and the Duke; by the three members of the artiste class, Prouty, Diddlej and Sydney, whom Mr. Jawkins had placed together with delicate discrimination. Mrs. Carey gave a little shrug at perceiving that she, too, was put in the same neighborhood. Lord Carringford and the Duchess seemed to be getting along uncommonly well together. Sir John Dacre ignored his dapper neighbor, Jawkins, and was absorbed in conversation with beautiful Mary Lincoln, who blushed whenever she caught her father's eye looking questioningly at her. Mrs. Carey's glance over the table was at first cursory; she had been so much interested in meeting Geoffrey that the tide of old feelings, surging back through her brain, had driven out all thought of the other people, for in the heart of this woman of the world, who had lived in ball-rooms and in the maddest whirl of that most mad and material of all things, modern society, where love is a plaything and an excitement only, there had lingered a fond remembrance of the ardent young lover, whose boyish affection for her, absence had so quickly cooled. Through all his wanderings she had managed to trace him. The world of society is small. She had heard of his affair with Miss Windsor in Paris two years before; so her eyes, after wandering over the table, fixed themselves upon her. With a woman's instinct, Mrs. Carey had known that Geoffrey would not have been so indifferent to her if he had been fancy free; when she first saw him, before dinner, her heart throbbed with passion, and she determined to wind around him again the chain of flowers which he had snapped so easily when the great god of modern love, "Juxtaposition," deserted her. But now she saw that he had long since ceased to care for her. He had called her "Eleanor" once, to be sure; but it was only after she had forced his hand.
She picked up the large bouquet of roses which lay by her plate, and raising them to her face as if to inhale their fragrance, she attentively observed Miss Windsor, for she felt that there must be something between her and Geoffrey; some tie stronger than the memory of a dead flirtation. Her masked battery served her purpose well, for Maggie, presently, after smiling faintly at some remark of Mr. Prouty's, looked quickly over toward Lord Brompton, who was at the time listening attentively to a political conversation between Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Windsor. Maggie only looked at him for a moment, but Mrs. Carey saw that she looked at him with that fondness with which a woman gazes at the man she loves when she thinks that she is unobserved. Mrs. Carey put down her bouquet and turned to Geoffrey.
"Miss Windsor is not a bad-looking girl, is she?" she asked.
"You put me in an awkward dilemma, Mrs. Carey," replied Geoffrey, a little nervously, "in the alternative of criticising my hostess unfavorably or praising the looks of one woman to another. Is that quite fair?"
"Her features are not regular, yet she seems attractive in a way," she continued, not waiting for his answer or answering his question. "You knew her before, did you not?"
"That is to say, you had a desperate affair with her?"
"It seems to me that you jump at conclusions."
"Not at all. She is interested in you; I have eyes in my head."
"I should think that you had," laughed Geoffrey, as their glances met.
"And I have noticed that she has been continually looking over toward us. The old Duke has not been lively, you see, and that Saturday Reviewer is a disagreeable thing. How she has longed to have you next to her!"
"You flatter me, Mrs. Carey," answered Geoffrey, who was annoyed, as all men are, when they are accused of being too fascinating. "Miss Windsor and I were great friends, nothing more."
"Why, my dear boy, of course you were nothing more. To be great friends is enough; so you own up to the serious affair? You think that she isn't watching you—look."
Geoffrey glanced up and caught Miss Windsor's eye. She colored, turned away, and said something to the Saturday Reviewer, who had before found his satirical remarks thrown away on his distraite hostess.
"See that fine color mounting to her cheeks," said Mrs. Carey.
"She sees that we are talking about her and feels a little self-consciousness. The Americans are not so self-possessed as we are."
"Why do you not marry her?" she continued, not heeding him. "She has money, is not at all bad-looking. There is nothing else for you to do, and you cannot long go on as you are now, I fancy."
Geoffrey grew red and confused. He tried to make a clever answer. She had such an air of graceful badinage, as she asked the question, that it did not seem to him that he had a right to be angry, and yet he did feel so. It annoyed him very much to be chaffed about Miss Windsor; to have this cold woman of the world suggest to him that he should marry the young American girl for her money.
Mrs. Carey laughed slightly, and seeing that she had pressed her advantage too far, turned to a congenial diversion with Sydney, who had by this time dined well and thoughtfully. She clinked his glass of Burgundy lightly with him in a quaint, old-fashioned way, and Sydney's eyes sparkled; he drained his glass.
Sir John Dacre had seen Geoffrey when the party sat down at the table; but it so chanced that he did not catch his eye until just now. The two men had not met for years, and even now the conventions of society and six feet of mahogany kept them separated more effectually than miles of country. They smiled and nodded, however, and Dacre raised his glass of wine, and the two pledged each other's health in some old comet claret of 1912.
"Who is the man who just smiled at you, Mr. Dacre?" asked Miss Lincoln.
"My dear old friend, Lord Brompton—Geoffrey Ripon you would call him, perhaps. I am downright glad to see him here to-night. Indeed, I came down to this part of the country to see him."
Miss Lincoln seemed chagrined.
"You must be very much attached to him, then, Mr. Dacre."
"Yes, of course I am; and I have not seen him for some years. He has not changed much."
"If he is Geoffrey Ripon, Earl of Brompton, it is to him that this estate used to belong, then?"
"Yes, Miss Lincoln, in his father's day it was a beautiful place; there were none of these modern gewgaws here. The old earl would have starved to death rather than have dined in a room lighted by the electric light. I used to stay here as a boy; indeed, I am a kinsman of the family. I was here last some years before the old gentleman's death. He lived on here for years without hearing from the outside world. He even gave up the Times, and would not have anything in the house which was written since the abdication. He refused to acknowledge the existence of a country which had exiled his king."
Miss Lincoln blushed a little as she said:
"Do we not owe our allegiance to our country, Mr. Dacre, as it is? It seems to me that it is our duty to do what we can for it."
"Ah, Miss Lincoln, I am afraid that we are treading on dangerous ground. Your father and I respect each other as foes, whose swords have crossed, always do; but it is not fitting that his daughter and I should discuss this matter. Do you notice how intently Mrs. Oswald Carey watches Miss Windsor? I wonder why?"
"I have noticed it, Mr. Dacre," answered Miss Lincoln. "Just now she guarded her face with her bunch of roses, that Miss Windsor might not perceive her scrutiny, and her look is not a friendly one."
"She is a beautiful tiger," said Sir John, "not a domestic cat, as many women are; and she means mischief when her eyes fix upon any one in that way."
Miss Lincoln looked at him in surprise, for he spoke earnestly, more earnestly than he knew himself; for something told him that the beautiful woman with the black gown and gleaming shoulders, sitting opposite to him, was dangerous to him and his friends.
The dinner was over; the ladies swept from the room, Mrs. Carey following close at Miss Windsor's side.
When the men had returned to sole possession of the dining-room the company separated into little groups. Jawkins fastened upon the Duke, whom Mr. Windsor relinquished with ill-concealed delight. Herr Diddlej sat turning a lump of sugar with brandy in his coffee spoon, and smoking cigarettes, which he rapidly rolled with his yellow-stained damp fingers. Mr. Lincoln sat with Sydney, who forgot his hypochondria over his cigar and became quite amusing, as the smile upon Lincoln's shrewd, kindly face testified, for Richard Lincoln was a flint upon which all intellectual steel struck fire.
Sir John Dacre and Geoffrey grasped each other's hand with a firm grip, and looked into each other's eyes in silence for a moment.
"I came down here to see you, Geoffrey, because I need you.
"You know, John, that I am at your service, now and always."
"It is not my service, Geoffrey," said Dacre. "But later for this. Here comes old Featherstone; we have come down here together. Here, let us get on the sofa; it is the same one we used to sit on when we came here in the hunting season in your father's day."
"I did not have a chance to say anything to you while the ladies were present," said Featherstone, sitting down between his friends. "I am very glad to see you. I had heard nothing about you since you left Paris. They tell me that you are living in the neighborhood."