The Début of Patricia: One of Penelope Hamilton's English Experiences
10, Dovermarle Street, London.
WE are all three rather tired this morning, — Salemina, Francesca, and I, — for we went to one of the smartest balls of the London season last night, and were robbed of half our customary allowance of sleep, in consequence.
It may be difficult for you to understand our weariness, when I confess that the ball was not quite of the usual sort; that we did not dance at all ; and, what is worse, that we were not asked, either to tread a measure, or sit out a polka, or take “ one last turn.”
To begin at the beginning, there is a large vacant house directly opposite Smith’s Private Hotel, and there has been hanging from its balcony, until very lately, a sign bearing the following notice : —
THESE COMMANDING PREMISES
WITH A SURERFICIAL AREA OF
10000 FT. AND 50 FT.
FRONTAGE TO DOVERMARLE ST.
WILL BE SOLD BY AUCTION
ON TUESDAY JUNE 28TH BY
MESSRS. SKIDDY, YADDLETHORPE AND SKIDDY
LAND AGENTS AND SURVEYORS
27, HASTINGS PLACE, PALL MALL
A few days ago, just as we were finishing a late breakfast, an elderly gentleman drove up in a private hansom, and alighted at this vacant house on the opposite side. Behind him, in a cab, came two men, who unlocked the front door, went in, came out on the balcony, cut the wires supporting the sign, took it down, opened all the inside shutters, and disappeared through some rear entrance. The elderly gentleman went upstairs for a moment, came down again, and drove away.
“ The house has been sold, I suppose,” said Salemina ; “ and for my part, I envy the new owner his bargain. He is close to Piccadilly, has that bit of side lawn with the superb oak tree, and the duke’s beautiful gardens so near that they will seem virtually his own when he looks from his upper windows.”
At tea time the same elderly gentleman drove up in a victoria, with a very pretty young lady.
“ The plot thickens,” said Francesca, who was nearest the window. “ Do you suppose she is his bride elect, and is he showing her their future home, or is she already his wife ? If so, I fear me she married him for his title and estates, for he is more than a shade too old for her.”
“ Don’t be censorious, child,” I remonstrated, taking my cup idly across the room, to be nearer the scene of action. “ Oh, dear ! there is a slight discrepancy, I confess, but I can explain it. This is how it happened : The girl had never really loved, and did not know what the feeling was. She did know that the aged suitor was a good and worthy man, and her mother and nine small brothers and sisters (very much out at the toes) urged the marriage. The father, too, had speculated heavily in consorts or consuls, or whatever-you-call-’ems, and besought his child not to expose his defalcations and losses. She, dutiful girl, did as she was bid, especially as her youngest sister came to her in tears and said, ‘ Unless you consent, we shall have to sell the cow ! ’ So she went to the altar with a heart full of palpitating respect, but no love to speak of ; that always comes in time to heroines who sacrifice themselves and spare the cows.”
“ It sounds strangely familiar,” remarked Mr. Beresford, who was with us, as usual. “ Did n’t a fellow turn up in the next chapter, a young nephew of the old husband, who fell in love with the bride, unconsciously and against his will ? Was n’t she obliged to take him into the conservatory, at the end of a week, and say, ‘ G-go! I beseech you! for b-both our sakes ! ’ ? Did n’t the noble fellow wring her hand silently, and leave her looking like a broken lily on the ” —
“ How can you be so cynical, Mr. Beresford ? It is n’t like you! ” exclaimed Salemina. “ For my part, I don’t think the girl is either his bride or his fiancée. Probably the mother of the family is dead, and the father is bringing his eldest daughter to look at the house: that’s my idea of it.”
This theory being just as plausible as ours, we did not discuss it, hoping that something would happen to decide the matter in one way or another.
“ She is not married, I am sure,” went on Salemina, leaning over the back of my chair. “ You notice that she has n’t given a glance at the kitchen or the range, although they are the most important features of the house. I think she may have just put her head inside the dining-room door, but she certainly didn’t give a moment to the butler’s pantry or the china closet. You will find that she won’t mount to the fifth floor to see how the servants are housed, — not she, careless, pretty creature ; she will go straight to the drawing-room.”
And so she did ; and at the same instant a still younger and prettier creature drove up in a hansom, and was out of it almost before the admiring cabby could stop his horse or reach down for his fare. She flew up the stairway, and danced into the drawing - room like a young whirlwind ; flung open doors, pulled up blinds with a jerk, letting in the sunlight everywhere, and tiptoed to and fro over the dusty floors, holding up her muslin flounces daintily.
“ This must be the daughter of his first marriage,” I remarked.
“ Who will not get on with the young stepmother,” finished Mr. Beresford.
“ It is his youngest daughter,” corrected Salemina, — “ the youngest daughter of his only wife, and the image of her deceased mother, who was, in her time, the belle of Dublin.”
She might well have been that, we all agreed ; for this young beauty was quite the Irish type, such black hair, gray-blue eyes, and wonderful lashes, and such a merry, arch, winsome face that one loved her on the instant.
She was delighted with the place, and we did not wonder, for the sunshine, streaming in at the back and side windows, showed us rooms of noble proportions opening into one another. She admired the balcony, although we thought it too public to be of any use save for flowering plants ; she was pleased with a huge French mirror over the marble mantel; she liked the chandeliers, which were in the worst possible taste ; all this we could tell by her expressive gestures ; and she finally seized the old gentleman by the lapels of his coat and danced him breathlessly from the fireplace to the windows and back again, while the elder girl clapped her hands and laughed.
“ Is n’t she lovely ? ” sighed Francesca, a little covetously, although she is something of a beauty herself.
“ I am sorry that her name is Bridget,” said Mr. Beresford.
“ For shame ! ” I cried indignantly. “It is Norah, or Veronica, or Geraldine, or Patricia; yes, it is Patricia, — I know it as well as if I had been at the christening. — Dawson, take the tea things, please; and do you know the name of the gentleman who has bought the house on the opposite side ? ”
“ It is Lord Brighton, miss.” (You would never believe it, but we find the name is spelled Brighthelmston.) “ He has n’t bought the 'ouse; he has taken it for a week, and is giving a ball there on the Tuesday evening. He has four daughters, miss, and two h’orphan nieces that generally spends the season with ’im. It’s the youngest daughter he is bringing out, that lively one you saw cutting about just now. They ’ave no ballroom, I expect, in their town ’ouse, which accounts for their renting one for this occasion. They stopped a month in this ’otel last year, so I have the honor of m’lud’s acquaintance.”
“ Lady Brighthelmston is not living, I should judge,” remarked Salemina, in the tone of one who thinks it hardly worth while to ask.
“ Oh yes, miss, she’s alive and ’earty ; but the daughters manages everythink, and what they down’t manage the h’orphan nieces does. The ’ouse is run for the young ladies, but m’ludanlady seems to enjoy it.”
Dovermarle Street was so interesting during the next few days that we could scarcely bear to leave it, lest something exciting should happen in our absence.
“ A ball is so confining ! ” said Francesca, who had come back from the corner of Piccadilly to watch the unloading of a huge van, and found that it had no intention of stopping at Number Nine on the opposite side.
First came a small army of charwomen, who scrubbed the house from top to bottom. Then came men with canvas for floors, bronzes and jardinières and somebody’s family portraits from an auction room, chairs and sofas and draperies from an upholsterer’s.
The night before the event itself I announced my intention of staying in our own drawing-room the whole of the next day. “ I am more interested in Patricia’s début,” I said, “ than in anything else that can possibly happen in London. What if it should be wet, and won’t it be annoying if it is a cold night and they draw the heavy curtains together ? ”
But it was a beautiful day, almost too warm for a ball, and the heavy curtains were not drawn. The family did not court observation ; it was serenely unconscious of such a thing. As to our side of the street, I think we may have been the only people at all interested in the affair now so imminent. The others had something more sensible to do, I fancy, than patching up romances about their neighbors.
At noon the florists decorated the entrance with palms, covered the balcony with a gay awning, and hung the railing with brilliant masses of scarlet and yellow flowers. At two the caterers sent silver, tables, linen, and dishes, and a Broadwood grand piano was installed; but at half past seven, when we sat down to dinner, we were a trifle anxious, because so many things seemed yet to do before the party could be a complete success.
Mr. Beresford and his mother were dining with us, and we had sent invitations to our London friends, the Hon. Arthur Ponsonby and Bertie Godolphin, to come later in the evening. These read as follows : —
The pleasure of your company is requested
at the coming-out party of
The Hon. Patricia Brighthelmston
On the opposite side of the street
Dancing about 10.30.
9, Dovermarle Street.
At eight o’clock, as we were finishing our fish course, which chanced to be fried sole, the ball began literally to roll, and it required the greatest ingenuity on Francesca’s part and mine to be always down in our seats when Dawson entered with the dishes, and always at the window when he was absent.
An enormous van had appeared, with half a dozen men walking behind it. In a trice, two of them had stretched a wire trellis across one wall of the drawing-room, and two more were trailing roses from floor to ceiling. Others tied the dark wood of the stair railing with tall Madonna lilies ; then they hung garlands of flowers from corner to corner and, alas, could not refrain from framing the mirror in smilax, nor from hanging the chandeliers with that same ugly, funereal, and artificial-looking vine, — this idea being the principal stock in trade of every florist in the universe.
We could not catch even a glimpse of the supper rooms, but we saw a man in the fourth-story front room filling dozens of little glass vases, each with its single malmaison, rose, or camellia, and dispatching them by an assistant to another part of the house ; so we could imagine from this the scheme of decoration at the tables. — No, not new, perhaps, but simple and effective.
By the time we had finished our entrée, which happened to be lamb cutlets and green peas, and had begun our roast, which was chicken and ham, I remember, they had put wreaths at all the windows, hung Japanese lanterns on the balcony and in the oak tree, and transformed the house into a blossoming bower.
At this exciting juncture Dawson entered unexpectedly with our sweet, and for the first and only time caught us literally “ red-handed.” Let British subjects be interested in their neighbors, if they will (and when they refrain I am convinced that it is as much indifference as good breeding), but let us never bring our country into disrepute with an English butler! As there was not a single person at the table when Dawson came in, we were obliged to say that we had finished dinner, thank you, and would take coffee; no sweet to-night, thank you.
Willie Beresford was the only one who minded, but he rather likes cherry tart. It simply chanced to be cherry tart, for our cook at Smith’s Private Hotel is a person of unbridled fancy and endless repertory. She sometimes, for example, substitutes rhubarb for cherry tart quite out of her own head ; and when balked of both these dainties, and thrown absolutely on her own boundless resources, will create a dish of stewed green gooseberries and a companion piece of liquid custard. These unrelated concoctions, when eaten at the same moment, as is her intention, always remind me of the lying down together of the lion and the lamb, and the scheme is well-nigh as dangerous, under any other circumstances than those of the digestive millennium. I tremble to think what would ensue if all the rhubarb and gooseberry bushes in England should be uprooted in a single night. I believe that thousands of cooks, those not possessed of families or Christian principles, would drown themselves in the Thames forthwith, but that is neither here nor there, and the Hon. Arthur denies it. He says, “ Why commit suicide ? Ain’t there currants ? ”
I had forgotten to say that we ourselves were all en grande toilette, down to satin slippers, feeling somehow that it was the only proper thing to do; and when Dawson had cleared the table and ushered in the other visitors, we ladies took our coffee and the men their cigarettes to the three front windows, which were open as usual to our balcony.
We seated ourselves there quite casually, as is our custom, somewhat hidden by the lace draperies and potted hydrangeas, and whatever we saw was to be seen by any passer-by, save that we held the key to the whole story, and had made it our own by right of conquest.
Just at this moment — it was quarter past nine, although it was still bright daylight — came a little procession of servants who disappeared within the doors, and as they donned caps and aprons would now and then reappear at the windows. Presently the supper arrived. We did not know the number of invited guests (there are some things not even revealed to the Wise Women), but although we were a trifle nervous about the amount of eatables, we were quite certain that there would be no dearth of liquid refreshment.
Contemporaneously with the supper came a four-wheeler with a man and a woman in it.
Sal. “ I wonder if that is Lord and Lady Brighthelmston ? ”
Mrs. B. “ Nonsense, my dear; look at the woman’s dress.”
W. B. “ It is probably the butler, and I have a premonition that that is good old Nurse with him. She has been with the family ever since the birth of the first daughter twenty-four years ago. Look at her cap ribbons ; note the fit of the stiff black silk over her comfortable shoulders; you can almost hear her creak in it! ”
B. G. “ My eye ! but she’s one to keep the goody-pot open for the youngsters ! She ’ll be the belle of the ball so far as I ’m concerned.”
Fran. “ It’s impossible to tell whether it’s the butler or paterfamilias. Yes, it’s the butler, for he has taken off his coat and is looking at the flowers with the florist’s assistant.”
B. G. “ And the florist’s assistant is getting slated like one o’clock! The butler does n’t like the ruin design over the piano; no more do I. Whatever is the matter with them now ? ”
They were standing with their faces towards us, gesticulating wildly about something on the front wall of the drawing-room ; a place quite hidden from our view. They could not decide the matter, although the butler intimated that it would quite ruin the ball, while the assistant mopped his brow and threw all the blame on somebody else. Nurse came in, and hated whatever it was the moment her eye fell upon it. She could n’t think how anybody could abide it, and was of the opinion that his ludship would have it down as soon as he arrived.
Our attention was now distracted by the fact that his ludship did arrive. It was ten o’clock, but barely dark enough yet to make the lanterns effective, although they had just been lighted.
There were two private carriages and two four-wheelers, from which paterfamilias and one other gentleman alighted, followed by a small feminine delegation.
“ One young chap to brace up the gov’nor,” said Bertie Godolphin. “ Then the eldest daughter is engaged to be married ; that’s right ; only three daughters and two h’orphan nieces to work off now ! ”
As the girls scampered in, hidden by their long cloaks, we could not even discover the two we already knew. While they were divesting themselves of their wraps in an upper chamber, Nurse hovering over them with maternal solicitude, we were anxiously awaiting their criticisms of our preparations.
For three days we had been overseeing the details. Would they approve the result ? Would they think the grand piano in the proper corner? Were the garlands hung too low ? Was the balcony scheme effective ? Was our menu for the supper satisfactory? Were there too many lanterns ? Lord and Lady Brighthelmston had superintended so little, and we so much, that we felt personally responsible.
Now came musicians with their instruments. The butler sent four melancholy Spanish students to the balcony where they began to tune mandolins and guitars, while a Hungarian band took up its position, we conjectured, on some extension or balcony in the rear, the existence of which we had not guessed until we heard the music later. Then the butler turned on the electric light, and the family came into the drawing-rooms.
They did admire them as much as we could wish, and we, on our part, thoroughly approved of the family. We had feared it might prove dull, plain, dowdy, though well-born, with only dear Patricia to enliven it, but it was welldressed, merry, and had not a thought of glancing at the windows or pulling down the blinds, bless its simple heart!
The mother entered first, wearing a gray satin gown and a diamond crown that quite established her position in the great world. Then girls, and more girls : a rose-pink girl, a pale green, a lavender, a blue, and our Patricia, in a cloud of white with a sparkle of silver, and a diamond arrow in her lustrous hair.
What an English nosegay they made to be sure, as they stood in the back of the room while paterfamilias approached, and calling each in turn, gave her a lovely bouquet from a huge basket held by the butler.
Everybody’s flowers matched everybody’s frock to perfection; those of the h’orphan nieces were just as beautiful as those of the daughters, and it is no wonder that the English nosegay descended upon paterfamilias, bore him into the passage, and if they did not kiss him soundly, why did he come back all rosy and crumpled, smoothing his disheveled hair, and smiling at Lady Brighthelmston ? We speedily named the girls Rose, Mignonette, Violet, and Celandine, each after the color of her frock.
“ But there are only five, and there ought to be six,” whispered Salemina, as if she expected to be heard across the street.
“ One — two — three — four — five, you are right,” said Mr. Beresford ; “ the plainest of the lot must be staying in Wales with a maiden aunt who has a lot of money to leave. The old lady is n’t so ill that they can’t give the ball, but just ill enough so that she may make her will wrong if left alone; poor girl, to be plain, and then to miss such a ball as this, — hello ! the first guest! He is on time to be sure ; I hate to be first, don’t you ? ”
The first guest was a strikingly handsome fellow, irreproachably dressed and unmistakably nervous.
“ He is afraid he is too early ! ”
“ He is afraid that if he waits he ’ll be too late ! ”
“ He does n’t want the driver to stop directly in front of the door.”
“ He has something beside him on the seat of the hansom.”
“ The tissue paper has blown off; it is flowers.”
“ It is a piece ! Jove, this is a rum ball! ”
“ What is the thing ? No wonder he does n’t drive up to the door and go in with it! ”
“ It is a harp, as sure as I am alive ! ”
Then electrically from Francesca, “ It is Patricia’s Irish lover ! I forget his name.”
“ Rory ! ”
“ Shamus ! ”
“ Patrick! ”
“ Terence! ”
“ Hush ! ” she exclaimed at this chorus of Hibernian Christian names, “ it is Patricia’s undeclared, impecunious lover. He is afraid that she won’t know his gift is a harp, and afraid that the other girls will. He feared to send it, lest one of the sisters or h’orphan nieces should get it ; it is frightful to love one of six, and the cards are always slipping off, and the wrong girl is always getting your love token or your offer of marriage.”
“ And if it is an offer, and the wrong woman gets it, she always accepts, somehow,” said Mr. Beresford; “it’s only the right one who declines ! ” and here he certainly looked at me pointedly.
“ He hoped to arrive before any one else,” Francesca went on, “ and put the harp in a nice place, and lead Patricia up to it, and make her wonder who sent it. Now, poor dear (yes, his name is sure to be Terence), he is too late, and I am sure he will leave it in the hansom, he will be so embarrassed.”
And so he did, but alas, the driver came back with it in an instant, the butler ran down the long path of crimson carpet that covered the sidewalk, the first footman assisted, the second footman pursued Terence and caught him on the staircase, and he descended reluctantly, only to receive the harp in his arms and send a tip to the cabman, whom of course he was cursing in his heart.
“ I can’t think why he should give her a harp,” mused Bertie Godolphin. “ Such a rum thing, a harp, is n’t it ? It’s too heavy for her to ' tote,’ as you say in the States.”
“ Yes, we always say ‘ tote,’ particularly in the North,” I replied; “ but perhaps it is Patricia’s favorite instrument. Perhaps Terence first saw her at the harp, and loved her from the moment he heard her sing The Minstrel Boy and The Meeting of the Waters.”
“ Perhaps he merely brought it as a sort of symbol,” suggested Mr. Beresford ; “ a kind of flowery metaphor, signifying that all Ireland, in his person, is at her disposal, only waiting to be played upon.”
“ If that is what he means, he must be a jolly muff,” remarked the Hon. Arthur. “ I should think he’d have to send a guidebook with the bloomin’ thing.”
We never knew how Terence arranged about the incubus ; we only saw that he did not enter the drawing-room with it in his arms. He was well received, although there was no special enthusiasm over his arrival; but the first guest is always at a disadvantage.
He greeted the young ladies as if he were in the habit of meeting them often, but when he came to Patricia, well, he greeted her as if he could never meet her often enough ; there was a distinct difference, and even Mrs. Beresford, who had been incredulous, succumbed to our view of the case.
Patricia took him over to the piano to see the arrangement of some lilies. He said they were delicious, but looked at her.
She asked him if he did not think the garlands lovely.
He said, “ Perfectly charming,” but never lifted his eyes higher than her face.
“ Do you like my dress? ” her glance seemed to ask.
“ Wonderful! ” his seemed to reply, as he stealthily put out his hand and touched a soft fold of its white fluffiness.
I could hear him think, as she leaned into the curve of the Broadwood and bent over the flowers : —
Before rude hands have touched it ?
Have you marked but the fall of the snow
Before the soil hath smutched it ?
Have you felt the wool of beaver ?
Or swan’s down ever ?
Or have smelt o’ the bud o’ the brier ?
Or the nard i’ the fire ?
Or have tasted the bag of the bee ?
Oh, so white ! oh, so soft! oh, so sweet is she ! ”
A footman entered, bearing the harp, which he placed on a table in the corner. He disclaimed all knowledge of it, having probably been well paid to do so, and the unoccupied girls gathered about it like bees about a honeysuckle, while Patricia and Terence stayed by the piano.
“ To think it may never be a match! ” sighed Francesca, “ and they are such an ideal pair ! But it is easy to see that the mother will oppose it, and although Patricia is her father’s darling, he cannot allow her to marry a handsome young pauper like Terence.”
“ Cheer up ! ” said Bertie Godolphin reassuringly. “ Perhaps some unrelenting beggar of an uncle will die of old age next week and leave him the title and estates.”
“ I hope she will accept him to-night, if she loves him, estates or no estates,” said Salemina, who, like many ladies who have elected not to marry, is distinctly sentimental and has not an ounce of worldly wisdom.
“ Well, I think a fellow deserves some reward,” remarked Mr. Beresford, “ when he has the courage to drive up in a hansom bearing a green harp with yellow strings in his arms. It shows that his passion has quite eclipsed his sense of humor. By the way, I am not sure but I should choose Rose, after all; there’s something very attractive about Rose.”
“ It is the fact that she is promised to another,” laughed Francesca somewhat pertly.
“ She would make an admirable wife,” Mrs. Beresford interjected — absent-mindedly ; “ and so of course Terence will not choose her, and similarly neither would you, if you had the chance.”
At this Mrs. Beresford’s son glances up at me with twinkling eyes, and I can hardly forbear smiling, so unconscious is she that his choice is already made; however, he replies : “ Who ever loved a woman for her solid virtues, mother ? Who ever fell a victim to punctuality, patience, or frugality? It is other and different qualities which color the personality and ensnare the heart ; though the stodgy and reliable traits hold it, I dare say, when once captured. Don’t you know Berkeley says, D—n it, madam, who falls in love with attributes ? ’ ”
Meantime Violet and Celandine have come out on the balcony, and seeing the tinkling musicians there, have straightway banished them to another part of the house.
“ A good thing, too ! ” murmured Bertie Godolphin, “ making a beastly row in that ‘ nailing ’ little corner, collecting a crowd sooner or later, don’t you know, and putting a dead stop to the jolly little flirtations.”
The Hon. Arthur glanced critically at Celandine. “ I should make up to her,” he said thoughtfully. “ She’s the best groomed one of the whole stud, though why you call her Celandine I can’t think.”
“ It’s a flower, and her dress is blue, can’t you see, man ? You’ve got no sense of color,” said the candid Bertie. “ I believe you ’d just as soon be a green parrot with a red head as not.”
And now the guests began to arrive; so many of them and so near together that we hardly had time to label them as they said good-evening, and told dear Lady Brighthelmston how pretty the decorations were, and how prevalent the influenza had been, and how very sultry the weather, and how clever it was of her to give her party in a vacant house, and what a delightful marriage Rose was making, and how well dear Patricia looked.
The sound of the music drifted into the usually quiet street, and by half past eleven the ball was in full splendor. Lady Brighthelmston stood alone now, greeting all the late arrivals ; and we could catch a glimpse now and then of Violet dancing with a beautiful being in a white uniform, and of Rose followed about by her accepted lover, both of them content with their lot, but with feet quite on the solid earth.
Celandine was a bit of a flirt, no doubt. She had many partners, walked in the garden with them impartially, divided her dances, sat on the stairs. Wherever her blue draperies moved nonsense, merriment, and chatter followed in her wake.
Patricia danced often with Terence. We could see the dark head, darker and a bit taller than the others, move through the throng, the diamond arrow gleaming in its lustrous coils. She danced like a flower blown by the wind. Nothing could have been more graceful, more stately. The bend of her slender body at the waist, the pose of her head, the line of her shoulder, the suggestion of dimple in her elbow,—all were so many separate allurements to the kindling eye of love.
Terence certainly added little to the general brilliancy and gayety of the occasion, for he stood in a corner and looked at Patricia whenever he was not dancing with her, “ all eye when one was present, all memory when one was gone.”
Shortly after midnight our own little company broke up, loath to leave the charming spectacle. The guests departed with the greatest reluctance, having given Dawson a half-sovereign for waiting up to lock the door. Mrs. Beresford said that it seemed unendurable to leave matters in such an unfinished condition, and her son promised to come very early next morning for the latest bulletins.
“ I leave all the romances in your hands,” he whispered to me ; “ do let them turn out happily, do! ”
Salemina also retired to her virtuous couch, remembering that she was to visit infant schools with a great educational dignitary on the morrow.
Francesca and I turned the gas entirely out, although we had been sitting all the evening in a kind of twilight, and slipping on our dressing gowns sat again at the window for a farewell peep into the past, present, and future of the “ Brighthelmston set.”
At midnight the dowager duchess arrived. She must at least have been a dowager duchess, and if there is anything greater, within the bounds of a reasonable imagination, she was that. Long streamers of black tulle floated from a diamond soup-tureen which surmounted her hair. Narrow puffings of white traversed her black velvet gown in all directions, making her look somewhat like a railway map, and a diamond fan-chain defined, or attempted to define, what was in its nature neither definable nor confinable, to wit, her waist, or what had been, in early youth, her waist.
The entire company was stirred by the arrival of the dowager duchess, and it undoubtedly added new éclat to what was already a fashionable event; for we counted three gentlemen who wore orders glittering on ribbons that crossed the white of their immaculate linen, and there was an Indian potentate with a jeweled turban who divided attention with the dowager duchess’s diamond soup-tureen.
At twelve thirty Lord Brighthelmston chided Celandine for flirting too much.
At twelve forty Lady Brighthelmston reminded Violet (who was a h’orphan niece) that the beautiful being in the white uniform was not the eldest son.
At twelve fifty there arrived an elderly gentleman, before whom the servants bowed low. Lord Brighthelmston went to fetch Patricia, who chanced to be sitting out a dance with Terence. The three came out on the balcony, which was deserted, in the near prospect of supper, and the personage — whom we suspected to be Patricia’s godfather — took from his waistcoat pocket a string of pearls, and clasping it round her white throat, stooped gently and kissed her forehead.
Then, at one o’clock came supper. Francesca and I had secretly provided for that contingency, and curling up on a sofa we drew toward us a little table which Dawson had spread with a galantine of chicken, some cress sandwiches, and a jug of milk.
At one thirty we were quite overcome with sleep, and retired to our beds, where of course we speedily grew wakeful.
“ It is giving a ball, not going to one, that is so exhausting ! ” yawned Francesca. “ How many times have I danced all night with half the fatigue that I am feeling now ! ”
The sound of music came across the street through the closed door of our sitting room. Waltz after waltz, a polka, a galop, then waltzes again, until our brains reeled with the rhythm. As if this were not enough, when our windows at the back were opened wide we were quite within reach of Lady Durden’s small dance, where another Hungarian band discoursed more waltzes and galops.
“ Dancing, dancing everywhere, and not a turn for us ! ” grumbled Francesca. “ I simply cannot sleep, can you ? ”
“ We must make a determined effort,” I advised; “ don’t speak again and perhaps drowsiness will overtake us.”
It finally did overtake Francesca, but I had too much to think about, — my own problems as well as Patricia’s. After what seemed to be hours of tossing I was helplessly drawn back into the sitting room, just to see if anything had happened, and if the affair was ever likely to come to an end.
It was half past two, and yes, the ball was decidedly “ thinning out.”
The attendants in the lower hall, when they were not calling .carriages, yawned behind their hands, and stood first on one foot, and then on the other.
Women in beautiful wraps, their heads flashing with jewels, descended the staircase, and drove, or even walked away into the summer night.
Lady Brighthelmston began to look tired, although all the world, as it said good-night, was telling her that it was one of the most delightful balls of the season.
The English nosegay had lost its white flower, for Patricia was not in the family group. I looked everywhere for the gleam of her silver scarf, everywhere for Terence, while, the waltz music having ceased, the Spanish students played Love’s Young Dream.
I hummed the words as the sweet old tune, strummed by the tinkling mandolins, vibrated clearly in the maze of other sounds : —
My heart’s chain wove ;
When my dream of life from morn till night
Was Love, still Love.
New hope may bloom and days may come,
Of milder, calmer beam,
But there’s nothing half so sweet in life
As Love’s Young Dream.”
At last, in a quiet spot under the oak tree, the lately risen moon found Patricia’s diamond arrow and discovered her to me. The Japanese lanterns had burned out; she was wrapped like a young nun, in a cloud of white that made her eyelashes seem darker.
I looked once, because the moonbeam led me into it before I realized ; then I stole away from the window and into my own room, closing the door softly behind me.
We had so far been looking only at conventionalities, preliminaries, things that all (who had eyes to see) might see ; but this was different, — quite, quite different.
They were as beautiful under the friendly shadow of their urban oak tree as were ever Romeo and Juliet on the balcony of the Capulets. I may not tell you what I saw in my one quickly-repented-of glance. That would be vulgarizing something that was already a little profaned by my innocent participation.
I do not know whether Terence was heir, even ever so far removed, to any title or estates, and I am sure Patricia did not care ; he may have been vulgarly rich or aristocratically poor. I only know that they loved each other in the old yet ever new way, without any ifs or ands or buts; that he worshiped, she honored; he asked humbly, she gave gladly.
How do I know ? Ah ! that’s a “ Penelope secret,” as Francesca says.
Perhaps you doubt my intuitions altogether. Perhaps you believe in your heart that it was an ordinary ball, where a lot of stupid people arrived, danced, supped, and departed. Perhaps you do not think his name was Terence or hers Patricia, and if you go so far as that in blindness and incredulity I should not expect you to translate properly what I saw last night under the oak tree, the night of the ball on the opposite side, when Patricia made her début.
Kate Douglas Wiggin.
- In examining an old notebook belonging to Penelope Hamilton, I found some additional sketches of London life, which were evidently intended for her English Experiences. The above article is one of them.↩
- Another, a record of “ tuppenny travels ” in London, will appear in the June Atlantic. — KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN.↩