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"I suspect papa means a relative economy," said Marion, "something very different from our late life in England."
"Yes, my last three years have been very costly ones," said Colonel Bramleigh, sighing. "I lost heavily by the sale of Earlshope, and my unfortunate election too was an expensive business. It will take some retrenchment to make up for all this. I tell the boys they'll have to sell their hunters, or be satisfied, like the parson, to hunt one day a week." The self-complacent, mock humility of this speech was all too apparent.
"I take it," said Culduff authoritatively, "that every gentleman" —and he laid a marked emphasis on the "gentleman"—"must at some period or other of his life have spent more money than he ought, more than was subsequently found to be convenient."
"I have repeatedly done so," broke in Cutbill, "and invariably been sorry for it afterwards, inasmuch as each time one does it the difficulty increases."
"Harder to get credit, you mean ?" cried Jack, laughing.
"Just so; and one's friends get tired of helping one. Just as they told me, there was a fellow at Blackwall used to live by drowning himself. He was regularly fished up once a week and stomach-pumped and 'cordialled' and hot-blanketed, and brought round by the Humane Society's people, till at last they came to discover the dodge, and refused to restore him any more; and now he's reduced to earn his bread as a water bailiff—cruel hard on a fellow of such an ingenious turn of mind."
While the younger men laughed at Cutbill's story, Lord Culduff gave him a reproving glance from the other end of the table, palpably intended to recall him to a more sedate and restricted conviviality.
"Are we not to accompany you?" said Lord Culduff to Marion, as she and her sister arose to retire. "Is this barbarism of sitting after dinner maintained here?"
'Only till we finish this decanter of claret, my lord," said Colonel Bramleigh, who caught what was not intended for his ears.
"Ask the governor to give you a cigar," whispered Jack to Cutbill; "he has some rare Cubans."
"Now, this is what I call regular jolly," said Cutbill as he drew a small spider table to his side, and furnished himself with a glass and a decanter of Madeira, " and," added he in a whisper to Jack, "let us not be in a hurry to leave it. We only want one thing to be perfect, Colonel Bramleigh."
"If I can only supply it, pray command mer Mr. Cutbill."
"I want this, then," said Cutbill, pursing up his mouth at one side, while he opened the other as if to emit the smoke of a cigar.
"Do you mean smoking?" asked Colonel Bramleigh, in a half irritable tone.
"You have it."
"Are you a smoker, my lord?" asked the host, turning to Lord Culduff.
"A very moderate one. A cigarette after breakfast, and another at bed-time, are about my excesses in that direction."
"Then I'm afraid I must defraud you of the full measure of your enjoyment, Mr. Cutbill; we never smoke in the dining-room. Indeed, I myself have a strong aversion to tobacco, and though I havo consented to build a smoking-room, it is as far off from me as I have been able to contrive it."
"And what about his choice Cubans, eh?" whispered Cutbill to Jack.
"All hypocrisy. You'll find a box of them in your dressing-room," said Jack, in an undertone, "when you go upstairs."
Temple now led his distinguished friend into those charming pasturages where the flocks of diplomacy love to dwell, and where none other save themselves could find herbage. Nor was it amongst great political events, of peace or war, alliances or treaties, they wandered—for perhaps in these the outer worid, taught as they are by newspapers, might have taken some interest and some share. No; their talk was all of personalities, of Russian princes and grandees of Spain, archduchesses and "marchesas," whose crafts and subtleties, and pomps and vanities, make up a world like no other world and play a drama of life—happily, it may be for humanity, —like no other drama that other men and women ever figured in. Now it is a strange fact, and I appeal to my readers if their experience will not corroborate mine, that when two men thoroughly versed in these themes will talk together upon them, exchanging their stories and mingling their comments, the rest of the company will be struck with a perfect silence, unable to join in the subject discussed, and half appalled to introduce any ordinary matter into such high and distinguished society. And thus Lord Culduff and Temple went on for full an hour or more, pelting each other with little court scandals and small state intrigues, till Colonel Bramleigh fell asleep, and Cutbill, having finished his Madeira, would probably have followed his host's example, when a servant announced tea, adding in a whisper, that Mr. L'Estrange and his sister were in the drawing-room.
Over The Fire.
In a large room, comfortably furnished, but in which there was a certain blending of the articles of the drawing-room with those of the dining-room, showing unmistakably the bachelor character of the owner, sat two young men at opposite sides of an ample fireplace. One sat, or rather reclined, on a small leather sofa, his bandaged leg resting on a pillow, and his pale and somewhat shrunken face evidencing the results of pain and confinement to the house. His close-cropt head and square-cut beard, and a certain mingled drollery and fierceness in the eyes, proclaimed him French, and so M. Anatole Pracontal was; though it would have been difficult to declare as much from his English, which he spoke with singular purity and the very faintest peculiarity of accent.
Opposite him sat a tall well-built man of about thirty-four or five, with regular and almost handsome features, marred, indeed, in expression by tho extreme closeness of the eyes, and a somewhat long upper lip, which latter defect an incipient moustache was already concealing. The colour of his hair was however that shade of auburn which verges on red, and is so commonly accompanied by a much freckled skin. This same hair, and hands and feet almost enormous in size, were the afflictions which imparted bitterness to a lot which many regarded as very enviable in life; for Mr. Philip Longworth was his own master, free to go where he pleased, and the owner of a very sufficient fortune. He had been brought up at Oscot, and imbibed, with a very fair share of knowledge, a large stock of that general mistrust and suspicion which is the fortune of those entrusted to priestly teaching, and which, though he had travelled largely and mixed freely with the world, still continued to cling to his manner, which might be characterized by the one word—furtive.
Longworth had only arrived that day for dinner, and the two friends were now exchanging their experiences since they had parted some eight months before at tho second cataract of the Nile.
"And so, Pracontal, you never got one of my letters?"
"Not one,—on my honour. Indeed, if it were not that I learned by a chance meeting with a party of English tourists at Cannes that they had met you at Cairo, I'd have begun to suspect you had taken a plunge into the Nile, or into Mohammedom, for which latter you were showing some disposition, you remember, when we parted."
"True enough; and if one was sure never to turn westward again, there aro many things in favour of the turban. It is the most sublime conception of egotism possible to imagine."
"Egotism is a mistake, mon cher," said the other; "a man's own heart, make it as comfortable as he may, is too small an apartment to live in. I do not say this in any grand benevolent spirit. There's no humbug of philanthropy in the opinion."
"Of that I'm fully assured," said Longworth, with a gravity which made the other laugh.
"No," continued he, still laughing. "I want a larger field, a wider hunting-ground for my diversion than my own nature."
"A disciple, in fact, of your great model, Louis Napoleon. You incline to annexations. By the way, how fares it with your new projects? Have you seen the lawyer I gave you the letter to?"
"Yes. I stayed eight days in town to confer with him. I heard from him this very day."
"Well, what says he?"
"His letter is a very savage one. Ho is angry with me for having come here at all; and particularly angry because I have broken my leg, and can't come away."
"What does he think of your case, however?"
"He thinks it manageable. He says, as, of course, I knew he would say, that it demands most cautious treatment and great acuteness. There are blanks, historical blanks, to be filled up; links to connect, and such like, which will demand some time and some money. I have told him I have an inexhaustible supply of the one, but for the other I am occasionally slightly pinched."
"It promises well, however?"
"Most hopefully. And when once I have proved myself—not always so easy, as it seems—the son of my father, I am to go over and see him again in consultation."
"Kelson is a man of station and character, and if he undertakes your cause it is in itself a strong guarantee of its goodness."
"Why, these men take all that is offered them. They no more refuse a bad suit than a doctor rejects a hopeless patient."
"And so will a doctor, if he happen to be an honest man," said Longworth, half peevishly. "Just as he would also refuse to treat one who would persist in following his own caprices in defiance of all advice."
"Which touches me. Is not it so ?" said the other laughing. "Well, I think I ought to have stayed quietly here, and not shown myself in public. All the more, since it has cost me this," and he pointed to his leg as he spoke. "But I can't help confessing it, Philip, the sight of those fellows in their gay scarlet, caracolling over the sward, and popping over the walls and hedges, provoked me. It was exactly like a challenge ; so I felt it, at least. It was as though they said, 'What! you come here to pit your claims against ours, and you are still not gentleman enough to meet us in a fair field and face the same perils that we do.' And this, be it remembered, to one who had served in a cavalry regiment, and made campaigns with the Chasseurs d'Afrique. I couldn't stand it, and after the second day I mounted, and—" a motion of his hand finished the sentence.
"All that sort of reasoning is so totally different from an Englishman's that I am unable even to discuss it. I do not pretend to understand the refined sensibility that resents provocations which were never offered."
"I know you don't, and I know your countrymen do not either. You are such a practical people that your very policemen never interfere with a criminal till he has fully committed himself."
"In plain words, we do not content ourselves with inferences. But tell me, did any of these people call to see you, or ask after you?"
"Yes, they sent the day after my disaster, and they also told the doctor to say how happy they should be if they could be of service to me. And a young naval commander,—his card is yonder,—came I think three times, and would have come up if I had wished to receive him; but Kelson's letter, so angry about my great indiscretion as he called it, made me decline the visit, and confine my acknowledgment to thanks."
"I wonder what my old gatekeeper thought when he saw them, or their liveries, in this avenue ?" said Longworth, a peculiar bitterness in his tone.
Vol. xvi.—No. 91. 2
"Why, what should he think,—was there any feud between the families?"
"How could there be? These people have not been many months in Ireland. What I meant was with reference to the feud that is six centuries old, the old open ulcer, that makes all rule in this country a struggle, and all resistance to it a patriotism. Don't you know," asked he, almost sternly, "that I am a Papist?"
"Yes, you told mo so."
"And don't you know that my religion is not a mere barrier to my advancement in many careers of life, but is a social disqualification—that it is, like the trace of black blood in a creole, a ban excluding him from intercourse with his better-born neighbours—that I belong to a class just as much shut out from all the relations of society, as were the Jews in the fifteenth century?"
"I remember that you told me so once, but I own I never fully comprehended it, nor understood how the question of a man's faith was to decide his standing in this world, and that, being the equal of those about you in birth and condition, your religion should stamp you with inferiority."
"But I did not tell you I was not their equal," said Longworth, with a slow and painful distinctness. "We are novi homines here; a couple of generations back we were peasants,—as poor as anything you could see out of that window. By hard work and some good luck—of course there was luck in it—we emerged, and got enough together to live upon, and I was sent to a costly school, and then to college, that I might start in life the equal of my fellows. But what avails it all? To hold a station in life, to mix with the world, to associate with men educated and brought up like myself, I must quit my own country and live abroad. I know, I see, you can make nothing of this. It is out and out incomprehensible. You made a clean sweep of these things with your great Revolution of '98. Ours is yet to come."
"Per Dio! I'd not stand it," cried the other passionately.
"You couldn't help it. You must stand it; at least, till such time as a good many others, equally aggrieved as yourself, resolve to risk something to change it; and this is remote enough, for there is nothing that men, — I mean educated and cultivated men, — are more averse to, than any open confession of feeling a social disqualification. I may tell it to you here, as we sit over the fire, but I'll not go out and proclaim it, I promise you. These are confessions one keeps for the fireside."
"And will not these people visit you?"
"Nothing less likely."
"Nor you call upon them?"
"And will you continue to live within an hour's drive of each other without acquaintance or recognition?"
"Probably,—at least we may salute when we meet."
"Then I say the guillotine has done more for civilization than tho schoolmaster," cried the other. "And all this because you are a Papist?