[In the opening chapters of ‘The Principal Girl,’ the reader is introduced to Philip Shelmerdine, the amiable son of a recently created peer. He leads the life of an idle young man about town, destined to inherit a title and to marry the girl of his parents’ choice.
He breaks an engagement made for him by his managing mother, to attend a concert with Adela Rocklaw, the young woman of her selection, seventh daughter ‘of not quite a hundred earls,’ and goes, instead, to the theatre with a lately bereaved friend and his brood of motherless children.
During the performance the Principal Girl sings her way into the hearts of a great audience. The effect of her appearance upon the young heir to the barony is instantaneous and overpowering. Before leaving the theatre, Philip has a word with Arminius Wingrove, the playwright, and soon after returns to his club with the father of the motherless brood.]
IN WHICH WE DINE OUT IN GROSVENOR SQUARE
FATHER sat down to write a letter and Uncle Philip smoked a cigarette in a meerschaum holder and read the Sporting Times. But the unfortunate young man could not bring his mind to bear upon those chaste pink pages, in spite of the fact that The Dwarf and Mr. Pitcher were quite at the top of their form this week.
Was it because his conscience hurt him? Fretting about Busoni, do you suppose? Wondering whether the seventh unmarried daughter and his dear mother had got to Queen’s Hall unscathed, and had also managed to get home again all right?
May have been so. If there is a doubt about it, conscientious fellow is entitled to benefit thereby. But we are bound to admit there is a doubt upon the subject.
And our reasons be these, lieges all and masterful men. At twenty to seven, long before Father had finished his letters, who should deign to enter the silence room but the identical Arminius Wingrove, to whom the gentle reader has already had the honor of a formal introduction.
Ping went the heart of the heir to the barony. He rose from his chair of Russia leather, lately recovered at the behest of the Committee, and trod softly across the Turkey carpet, old but good.
‘Fathead,’ said the heir to the barony — for this coarse familiarity we can only offer the excuse that the Great Man had always been Fathead to his familiars since his Oxford days— ‘ Fathead,’said the heir to the barony, ‘I want to talk to you.’
Fathead almost looked as though he had no desire to converse with the toofamiliar groundling, being due to take the Dowager Duchess of Bayswater to dine at the Ritz Hotel.
But on all occasions Arminius Wingrove knew how to assume the air of the bon camarade.
‘Fire away. Only five minutes. Dining old Polly Bayswater at the Ritz.’
‘More fool you,’ said the profane young man.
Alas! that nothing is sacred to the helots of the Button Club.
’Come into the smoking-room where we can talk a bit.'
‘Five minutes only,’said Arminius Wingrove, fixing his eyeglass with his accustomed air of mental power.
The heir to the barony laid hold of the arm of the famous dramatist as though he did n’t intend to let it go, hustled him into a room adjoining, deposited him into the emptiest corner, ordered two sherries and Angostura bitters, and straightway proceeded to show what comes of spending Saturday afternoon in places licensed by the Lord Chamberlain for stage performances.
‘Do you know by any chance the girl who was Cinderella?'
‘Know her. Of course I know her. — And it was I who chose her first long clothes for her.' — At least the air of bland surprise of Arminius Wingrove was open to that interpretation, although of course modesty would have restrained him from saying anything of the kind. ‘ Everybody knows her — now.'
‘Didn’t know she was so famous,’ said the heir to the barony, limp as rags.
Arminius measured him in his naïveté, though not with the naked eye.
‘Absolute nailer,’said the heir to the barony.
All vieux jeu to Arminius. Took out his watch, — inset with jools of a rare variety,—a present from never mind who, ye froward journalists.
‘Ritz at eight. Polly will curse if kept waiting for her meals.’
‘ Absolute nailer,’said the vain young man. ‘Would like to meet her awfully, if you can manage it for me.'
Arminius Wingrove pondered some.
’Why— ye-es,’said that great man.
Arminius Wingrove pondered more.
‘Must go — poor old Polly. But be at the Carlton, Monday, at five —
With suppressed but deep and sincere emotion the heir to the barony wrung the bejeweled hand of Arminius Wingrove.
Exit Arminius Wingrove to dress to take old Polly to the Ritz Hotel.
As for the heir to the barony, he dressed in the Albany in his tightest evening trousers, although the question why he could not have performed that action under the roof of his excellent parents at No. 88 Grosvenor Square, the corner house, can only be answered on the plain hypothesis that the uncles and aunts and other collaterals of this idle rich young fellow had left him a great deal of money to play with.
White waistcoat, of course; buttons mother-o’-pearl; tie by Mr. Thomas Ling; pomade by Truefittfor the upper story. Even his man was proud of him. But we grieve to relate that his reception at No. 88 Grosvenor Square, the corner house, was not so cordial as might have been expected, considering that up to the time of writing, the life of this idle rich young fellow was void of serious blemishes.
He could feel the frost even before he took off the coat with the astrachan collar.
‘Ought to keep a stove, Jenkins, in this hall during the winter months.'
But that well-trained servitor looked solemnly down his Wellington nose, because he could perceive that the temperatoor that was already up against Master Philip had nothing whatever to do with the state of the British Climate.
‘Lady Adela and his Lordship ’ave been here a quarter of a hower, sir.'
What! twenty past eight. O curst pantomime of Drury! O curst vision in thy chestnut curls, that thou shouldst annihilate time and space for a comparatively recent creation — although a Tory one happilee!
‘I look like getting it in the neck properly,’ said the vain young fellow, for his personal private information; and Mr. Jenkins, that well-trained servitor, who heard him not, would yet hav e concurred had he happened to do so.
Certainly this surmise was fairly accurate. Adela’s gaze was very cool and level; her method of voice-production also enhanced her statuesque appearance. Even her Pa looked the reverse of cordial, but that, of course, was rheumatism.
Such a pity he had missed Busoni, said the good old mater. Dear Adela had enjoyed the second rhapsodie of Liszt so much.
The seventh daughter may have done so, but her demeanor seemed rather to make a secret of the information.
The frost had come at last. Shivered poor young fellow, as he took in Adela in sequins, a frock he had seen her in before, which did n’t suit her, and in a hapless moment of expansion had been fool enough to tell her so.
Cross as two sticks. Oh yes, a proper minx, my lords and gentlemen. If she will go on like this we shall really have to see about a boor who will abuse her.
Pa talked high politics with First Baron: whether it was merely fun of Wilhelm, or whether Wilhelm weally meant it.
’We will keep our eyes upon him,’said these two distinguished peers.
’Dear Adela,’ said the good old mater, ‘don’t you think that Elektra is quite the finest music that Wagner has ever written?’
Dear Adela didn’t really know. In fact, she didn’t seem to care about Elektra, or about Busoni, or about Sir Henry Wood. Seemed to think that salted almonds and Burgundy were of more importance far, although we are bound to say we feel dear Adela was wrong in this.
Of course it was up to Mr, Philip, as a man of birth and education, to have a word or two to say. But, unluckily for him, in the stress of this laudable ambition, he suddenly slipped his bridle, and waltzed right into the conversation.
It was not so much lack of tact, my lords and gentlemen, as the act of destiny. He could be as tactful as another previous to attending this ill-fated matinée at Drury Lane. But since that tragic action he was merely one more tempest-tossed mortal — for all the soigné look he had—in the grim toils of fate.
We are afraid this is where Euripides begins to backfire a bit, and Mr. G-lsw-rthy smiles within the precincts of his collar.
‘I wish you had come, Adela, really,’ said the vain young man. ’There was a girl there playin’ Cinderella.’
’How interesting!’ said the good old mater.
Adela nibbled a salted almond, kind of pensive-like.
‘Absolute nailer,’said Mr. Philip.
‘How very interesting. And Busoni’s first piece was the overtoor to the polonaise by Chopin, quite classical of course, but so full of verve and charm.’
‘Her name is Mary Caspar, and Teddy Clapham hadn’t heard of her before.’
‘What a strain it must be for those poor professionals. It made one quite ill to watch Busoni. Poor man got so excited, but a polonaise is such a difficult form of music, one understands.’
‘“Nelsonand his Boys in Blue” was absolutely rippin’. I say, mater, if you have a free afternoon, Saturday or Wednesday, I should like you and Adela to come and hear her sing it, awfully.'
’And Sir Henry Wood conducted so admirably, didn’t he, Adela dear?’
Adela was at almond the sixth.
' I suppose he is a good conductor,’ said she, ‘But music is so tiresome unless one happens to be musical, and even then one is likely to be bored.’
‘Ought to have come to Cinderella,’ said Mr. Philip. ‘ Enjoyed it, awfully, I’m sure. An absolute nailer! I mean to go again.’
Even with a weight-for-age allowance for the tact, the charm, and the urbanity of one of London’s leading Constitutional hostesses, it would be idle to speak of the evening as a great success. The good old mater did all that a brave woman and a devoted mother could have done, in the circumstances, but such was the atmospheric pressure that at last she was obliged to ask the butler whether anything had gone wrong with the ventilator of the new fire-grate, which she had always viewed with suspicion from the moment it had been put in.
In the withdrawing-room the frost grew worser. ‘ I must really have my cloak,’ said the mother of the heir.
The morning following being Sunday, dear Adela kept her bed till Monday, instead of going to church.
‘ Where is the Pain ? ’ said Sir Wotherspoon Ogle, Bart.
The rude girl snapped at him a little, although he was such a very dear old fellah, as Windsor Cassel used to say. But he quite agreed that dining with dull people was likely to overthrow a sensitive digestion; still for the next twenty-four hours, at any rate, she must take nothing in the way of nourishment but peptonized biscuits and desiccated milk.
Mr. Philip hardly missed her genial presence at St. Sepulchre’s as much as he might have done perhaps. Sitting with his mother, only two rows off the chancel, with his hair brushed back from his intellectual forehead, he got wrong in the responses, could n’t find the Psalms appointed for Third Sunday, got mixed most hopelessly over the order of the prayers. He allowed his mind to wander in respect of those appointed for the Royal Family; and when the Reverend Canon Fearon, robed in full canonicals and a rather ritualistic stole, came to grips with the Laws of Moses, the eye of Mr. Philip, as it envisaged him, saw a golden chariot where other people saw a wooden pulpit merely, and in lieu of a sconce of shining silver, a diadem of chestnut curls.
At five o’clock on Monday, O ye Liberal organs of opinion! the heir to the barony looked in at a resort of fashion that we almost blush to mention. Youth and Beauty, in their various disguises, were also there. Some in mink and some in ermine, some in frieze and some in velvet, some with clocks upon their wrists, some with clocks upon their stockings, some in paint and some in feathers, some in hobbles, some without ’em, some in turquoise earrings, some in pearls, some in mutch of sanguine hue, some in coal-scuttle, some in beehive and other arch creations; and as the weather east of Piccadilly was really getting rather chilly, all we hope wearing Jaeger combinations.
Ping went the heart of the heir to the barony as each fresh arrival entered. Ping went the heart of Philip. Ping, ping it went continuous, as the patent doors revolved upon their hinges, and rank and fashion, youth and beauty, swept proudly past commissionaires and other quite unimportant people. But as late as 5.15 Arminius Wingrove had n’t shown a feather.
A puss in every corner worrying buttered scones and muffins with the aid of silver-plated forks. All across the parquet, under palms and awnings, the latest things by Paquin toyed with their real old china teacups, and coquetted with toast and bread and butter and Monsieur Eschoffier’s most delightful comfit cakes.
Ping went the heart of the heir to the barony; ping went the heart of Philip; but although the strain upon that important organ was terrific, Arminius Wingrove never showed a feather.
The Blue Bulgarian Bazoukas discoursed really delightful music; tunes by Strauss and tunes by Wagner, oratorio by Monckton, masterpiece by Rubens, chic morsels by Debussy, rhapsodies by gentlemen whose names are easier to spell in Russian, the latest expression of the genius of German, things in Spanish, things in French, Elgar and Villiers Stanford, Sullivan and Dr. Parry, Leslie Stuart and the Abbé Liszt — but Arminius W. never showed a feather.
Actually the hour of six had struck. Already the motley throng of muffin-worriers, replete with tea and cake and music, had begun to take again to taxis, and to pair-horse vehicles, with and without cockades.
Now, what do you suppose had happened to Arminius? His excuse, when ten days later it happened to be forthcoming, was so comprehensive, that the dignity of human nature calls for a special chapter in which to unfold the same.
IN WHICH WE AGAIN DRINK TEA AT THE CARLTON
It was the simple fact that Arminius Wingrove had forgotten all about it. Let us not be hasty in our blame, however, since according to his amende to Mr. Philip, at least ten days after his breach of faith, he made it clear that he was without any sort of stain.
Indeed the poor idle rich young fellow had to chew dust and practice the compleat art of humility when next they met at the Club.
‘ You are a rotter to go back on your word like that. You promised to be at the Carlton last Monday week, and you never showed a feather. And I waited a solid hour and a quarter for you.’
Arminius transfixed the poor unintellectual, though not with the naked eye.
‘ You have n’t been to Windsor,’ Arminius removed his hat in his loyal mannah. ‘ You don’t know the Cassel.’
Poor young upstart took it in the neck terrific.
‘Telephone or send a wire? Only just time to pack my bag and then dam near had to have a special. I feel obliged to chastise you, you cub, for this display of e-go-tism.’
The luckless heir groveled in abasement.
‘But we’ll let it go at that,’ said Arminius, with an air of really princely magnanimity, ‘if in the future you ’ll please not overrate yourself so much, and you’ll refrain from being so curst familiar in mixed company. One don’t mind so much in this Bohemian resort, but when I meet you as one of the mob at the Blenheims I particularly hope you will not address me as “ Fathead” before all the congregation.’
Deep shame overflowed the blond complexion of the heir.
‘You’ve been asking for it a long time,’ said Arminius grimly, ‘and now it’s come. Cheek I abhor. But as I like you pooty well I am going to forgive you.’
The heir to the barony was only too glad to be forgiven on these terms by such a distinguished man. He had been several times in front to see Cinderella, but he was not sufficiently intimate with Mr. Hollins to dare to go behind. And not one of his acquaintances seemed able to bring him closer to his divinity, with the sole and august exception of Arminius Wingrove.
Perhaps that is the reason the young man ate humble pie ad lib.
‘I’ve only one afternoon free this month, and that’s to-morrah,’ said Arminius.
Most unfortunate, but it happened that on the morrow the vain young fellow was booked to take Adela and her Cousin Jane from Cumberland to drink tea at Claridge’s.
‘Just as you like,’ said Arminius W. ‘My only afternoon.’
The young man knitted his brow in grave perpexity.
’I wonder if I could persuade Adela to turn up the other shop and come to the Carlton. It is n’t quite playing the game though, is it? She must n’t know the reason.’
So supremely bored looked Arminius, in the stress of these parochial affairs, that, like a wise young fellow, the heir to the barony decided to curtail them somewhat.
‘Yes, I ’ll be there at five to-morrow, Minnie. Carlton is quite as expensive as the other place, and the crush is greater. You know Adela Rocklaw, don’t you?’
‘ Met her atHighcliff,’ said Arminius, casual-like. ‘Old Warlock’s daughter. Girl you are engaged to.’
‘Not engaged exactly.’
‘Thought you were.’
‘Not exactly. Not official yet.'
‘Time it was, then,’ said Arminius with magisterial gravity. ‘Just the girl for you.’
Life itself is a great perhaps, says — no, there hardly seems a sufficient warrant to fix responsibility upon any private individual for this venerable saw. But all the same, peut-être is perhaps the most important word in any tongue.
The morrow and the hour appointed brought forth the vain young fellow with Adela, looking very smart, and Cousin Jane from Cumberland, looking rather the reverse of fashionable. Precautions had been taken to book a table in a sequestered nook where the Blue Bulgarian Bazoukas would be powerless to wreck any conversation that might chance to be forthcoming.
The heir was feeling all to pieces, and Adela, as usual, was not so very gay. She had said Claridge’s, distinctly. Why had he not obeyed instructions? Best people went no longer — now pray don’t think we are going to risk an action on your account, you minx. If you can’t be more agreeable, Miss, when you are taken out to places by rat her slow and wooden, but patient, meek and long-suffering young men, we shall have to take the opinion of the Editor of t he N-t-on — who was once a great friend of ours, and we hope he’ll be again—as to what is to be done with you. You are a minx, you know; and we almost think that the best course in the circumstances is to arrange for one of Mr. Arnold W-lls’s heroes to pay his addresses to you. Stern measures will have to be tried with you, you Insolent Young Hussy, looking so very uppish in that absolutely charming hat.
Five P. M., yet never a sign of Arminius Wingrove. But even the heir to the barony, with a sinking sensation behind his superior double-breasted angola waistcoat, as he ordered tea and muffins for three persons, was man of the world enough to be aware that Arminius might n’t appear very much before the hour of six.
Indeed the odds were seven to four on that Arminius would either forget this little engagement for the second time, or that he would be again commanded to the Cassel. Still it was by no means clear at the moment that this would cause the young man grief. For a fortnight past, asleep and awake, had he dreamed of Cinderella, but alas! he was feeling rat her cheap just now, for the young minx opposite, with the cool blue eye and the chin of domination, — ’ware ’em, you young bachelors, — was engaged in giving him tea without any sugar in it.
‘What?’ said the young cat.
They could hear her quite three tables away.
‘A Mr. Wingrove. Says he’s met you. Thought you would n’t mind meeting him again — awful clever chap — and he’s bringin’ a girl he knows.’
‘What?’ snarled the young puss, starting on her first muffin.
Even poor Cousin Jane from Cumberland, who was nearly twice the age of the young minx, got snubbed most severely when she ventured some perfectly commonplace remark. And such a nice, sensible, well-disposed girl as she was.
‘How do you spend your time in Cumberland?’ said the unfortunate heir, feeling weaker and weaker, and wondering if he might order a large whiskey and a small apollinaris.
‘I hunt otters all the morn in’,’said nice sensible Cousin Jane, ‘and in the evenin’ I gen’rally knit bed-socks.’
Overpass it, Mr. Editor; any port in a storm, you know. You are a kindhearted man, sir, as none has better reason to know than ourselves, so please don’t let these poor idle rich upset you. They are doing their best, you know. That young minx opposite has already got to her second muffin; perhaps Nemesis may be persuaded presently to take her case in hand.
You must talk a little louder, please, now that the Blue Bulgarian Bazoukas have opened fire upon that magnificent 1812 Overtoor by Tchaikowski.
‘How rippin’ they play, don’t they, Adela?’ said Cousin Jane from Cumberland. ‘So nice and loud.'
‘What?’ snarled the young minx above the strident outcries of the great retreat.
‘ Rather makes you think of otter huntin’ — just when they begin the worry.’
The irresistible élan of the Blue Bulgarian Bazoukas inspired Mr. Philip to an act of hardihood. Under cover of the clamor he hailed a passing waiter.
‘ Large whiskey and small polly,’ said the desperate young man.
Girt with this classic beverage, he was once more able to look the whole world in the eye. It was indeed a happy inspiration, for hardly had his courage risen, when, at 5.27 by the hand of the clock, among the greenery, a most distinguished figure emerged through a host of minor persons and converged upon the scene.
Ping went the central organ of the young man’s being. The hour and the man had come to hand. And ye gods, there was Cinderella!
Retain your presence of mind, my lords and gentlemen; the authentic heroine is coming to you, as fast as her feet in very sensible number threes can bring her. And her trim form inhabits a plain blue serge costume made by a very ordinary provincial tailor on very reasonable terms; and her sensible head is surmounted by a hat, not a coal-scuttle, nor a sauceboat, nor a beehive, but a form of headgear well behind the fashion two years ago in Manchester; and there is just a common strip of fur around her throat, because the weather east of Piccadilly is still blowing rather chilly, and she has to sing this evening.
She is coming past the tables, whose critical occupants are wondering whyyoung ladies from the suburbs are admitted to this Valhalla, which holds all that is best and brightest in the metropolis. Not of course that Arminius comes within the purview of this misdirected criticism; his far-flung gaze surmounted by a noble topper; astrachan collar inches deeper than the heir’s; white spats by Grant and Cockburn, and a very snappy pair of gloves.
The far-flung gaze of Arminius Wingrove has seen the vacant places at the table, although he affecteth not to notice ’em.
‘ ’Ow did-do, Lady Adela. When did you return from Highcliff?’
Rude girl slowly raiseth fin.
‘Awful good of you, Fat—Minnie, I mean—old boy.’ The heir, stronger for his liquid sustenance, spoke in tones of deep emotion. ‘Sit here, Miss Caspar, won’t you? I know you are Miss Caspar, I’ve seen you so often lately.’
General introductions, which even the best society seems at present unable to dispense with.
Nice sensible Cousin Jane from Cumberland smiled so kind and pleasant, and thought they ought to have more tea.
‘And what’s your choice in cakes, Miss Caspar?’ said the young man brightly. ‘Scones or muffins or some of those toppin’ things with sugar on ’em.’
‘Thanks, anything’ll do for me,’ said the Principal Girl, as easy as if she were playing Cinderella. ‘No fresh tea — quite warm and liquid. Just as I like it. I ’ll pour it out myself. No use offering tea to Mr. Wingrove. A whiskey and apollinaris; and — I didn’t catch your name — had n’t you better have another one yourself ?’
Oh, how rippin’! The heir to the barony was wreathed in smiles. But the rude girl opposite stared considerable at such spontaneity and natural ease of bearing.
‘ Such a bore,’ said Arminius. ‘Got, to go to-morrah to the Cassel. Dare say, Lady Adela, I shall see you there.’
‘Papa is so poorly,’ said the rude girl, thawing some. ‘But of course Aunt Selina will explain it to the Cassel as she is in wait ing there just now.’
‘Don’t know Blackhampton!’ said the Principal Girl. ‘ Oh, but you ought. It is the duty of every Englishman to know dear, dirty old Blackhampton. It is the very best town in England. You are always sure of your friends in front when you play in Blackhampton.’
The heir to the barony supposed it was so! Not in any perfunctory spirit, my lords and gentlemen. How do you suppose the young chap could be perfunctory with his divinity drinking her Bohea and eating Monsieur Eschoffier’s famous comfit cakes as though she enjoyed them thoroughly?
Don’t let us heed the rude girl opposite. She is quite safe in the competent hands of Arminius.
’Here’s your whiskey and polly,’ said the Principal Girl, ‘and Mr. Wingrove’s too. Better have some more tea, I think. Miss Percival and Lady Adela are going t o have some to keep me company. Oh yes — please! And I say, waiter, have you any of those cakes with currants in them, like you get at Nottingham?’
The waiter, a little loftily, said he would inquire.
Never mind the rude girl opposite; Arminius has her well in hand. With that chaste pair of yellow gloves and his knowledge of the world there is really no need to fear for him, my lords and gentlemen. A Miss Caspar — Drury Lane — the Backinghams thought the stock was bound to go higher. Sorry that the stage had no interest for Lady Adela. Yes, the Cassel was looking awfully well just now, in every way quite its own bright and cheery Presence.
The heir to the barony said he had been to Blackhampton. ‘Only once — but I’ve been there.’
‘Oh, how interesting! — to play for the Olympians against Blackhampton Rovers — no— really — I did n’t catch your name — why, who are you ? ’
‘My name is Shelmerdine,’ said the heir to the barony, as modestly as the circumstances permitted.
‘ Why — the Mr. Shelmerdine!’
If there was such a person as the Mr. Shelmerdine, the heir to the barony feared it was a true bill.
Cinderella, with her provincial naïveté, didn’t know that lords and people did such democratic things as these.
‘Do all sorts of wild things when you are up at the ’Varsity,’ said the heir to the barony. ’And, of course, you know, that was before my guv’nor got his leg up.’
‘Now it is no good your being modest, is it?’ said Cinderella. ‘Because I know all about you. It was you who kicked those three goals against Scotland in nineteen four.’
The confusion of the heir to the barony was dire.
‘Not a bit of good your blushing, is it? I saw the match — I was only a flapper then, playing Fairy Foot-light at the Royal Caledonian, Glasgow, and I went with my Aunt Bessie to Celtic Park, and saw you kick three goals, and I won tons of chocolates off the Scotchies in the company, because I had put my pinafore on old England, as I always have, and as I always shall —’
‘—They say the new system of drainage at the Cassel —’
*— Steve Bloomer himself could n’t have done better than you did that day — and it is no use your being modest, is it?’
‘ — And the Kaiser is one of the most charming and well-read men I have ever — ’
‘And so you really are the great Phil Shelmerdine, with your hair brushed just as nice as ever. Even when I was a flapper, and wore a blue ribbon round my pigtail, I used to think your hair was fine. You ought never to have left off playing socker; but I suppose you kind of had to when Mr. Vandeleur made a peer of your poor father. But England needs you more than ever now that Steve is on the shelf.’
‘Don’t you find the theatre a very trying profession, Miss Caspar?’ said nice, sensible Cousin Jane from Cumberland. ‘Are n’t the late hours a dreadful strain?’
‘ One sort of gets used to them,’ said Cinderella. ‘I’m as strong as a horse; and it’s great fun; and it is wonderful how one gets to love the good old British Public.’
‘And how the British Public gets to love you, Miss Caspar — not of course that I mean that that is wonderful.’
Not so bad for a very dull young man. But don’t get out of your depth, young fellow, — that is our advice to you.
‘Oh, Homburg is the greatest bore of all—’ The seventh unmarried daughter suspended the story of her sorrows to train a gaze of twenty-four candlepower upon the heir.
‘I shall never forget your Cinderella, and such a cold as you had! But it seems to be better now.’
‘The best way with a cold is to pretend you have n’t got it.’
‘And I shall always remember your “Arcadee” and “Nelson and his Gentlemen in Blue.”We were in a box, you know, second tier on the left, my friend Clapham and his five kids — lost their mother last year — and their nannas. They simply howled with joy. That little Marge is a nailer. I should like you to meet her, Miss Caspar. When she grows up she’ll be just like you.’
Miss Insolence opposite rose in the majesty of black velvet and white ermine.
‘ Goo’-bye. ’
Arminius received a fin at an angle of sixty-five degrees.
Cousin Jane was so glad to have met Miss Caspar, and hoped before she returned to Cumberland to have the pleasure of seeing her play Cinderella. But that other unmannerly young madam never even bowed. Yes, Mr. G-lsw-rthy, we shall really have to save it up for her. A proper young cat, my lords and gentlemen.
’Well, I’m awfully proud to have met you, Miss Caspar. And I hope you’ll honor me some day soon by bringing your friends along to tea. My number on the telephone is 059 Mayfair, and I ’ll lay in a stock of cake.’
‘Delighted! — and you must come and see us, me and my old Granny — Mrs. Cathcart — used to play Lady Macbeth to John Philip Kemble, and those old swells, although I dare say you can hardly remember them. But she’s a dear, Mr. Shelmerdine; and if you want to hear about the dignity of the profession and how her granddaughter ’s lowered it, come round to Bedford Gardens Number Ten any Sunday afternoon, and you ’ll say she is the dearest old thing about.’
IN WHICH IT IS OUR PRIVILEGE TO MAKE THE ACQUAINTANCE OF THE GODDAUGHTER OF EDMUND KEAN
Mr. Philip counted the hours till Sunday came. He was sorely infected now by the deadly virus.
He had forgotten those three goals against Scotland. They were never mentioned in his own little world. In Grosvenor Square, in particular, no store was set by such irresponsible undergraduate behaviour. There his career only dated from the time he had managed to get his commission so easily in the Second; and he had never been quite forgiven for tiring of a respectable course of life so soon. It was strange
that this sportswoman, so full of sense and pluck, had seen him in the crowded and glorious hour when life was his in its fulness. He had lived in those days, crudely and vulgarly perhaps, but now he wanted to have done with his idleness and start to live again.
He was in love with Mary Caspar, and that was all about it! She rang true in every note, whether she drank tea at the Carlton or warbled ditties on t he boards of Drury. No wonder that she was the uncrowned queen of many a provincial city; no wonder that every errand boy in the metropolis whistled ‘Nelson’ and ‘Arcadee.’
On his way to the Albany, he called at a news-agent’s and invested a shilling in picture-postcards of Mary Caspar.
‘I suppose you sell a lot of these?’
‘Hundreds,’ said the young man behind the counter. ‘We’ve sold out three times in a fortnight, and the demand is increasing.’
Yes, it was clear enough that, as usual, the public knew a good thing when they saw it.
On the Sunday afternoon, as five o’clock was striking from St. Martin’s Church, Mr. Philip drove up to Bedford Gardens and pulled the door-bell of Number Ten.
Miss Caspar received him with unaffected cordiality.
‘And this is Granny, Mr. Shelmerdine,’ said Cinderella, proudly.
Granny was a stat ely old dame in a turban, turned eighty-three — a really wonderful old lady. Her speech was lively and forcible; and her manner had the charm of one who had grown old with dignity. It had a semi-humorous touch of grandeur also, as of one who has known the great world from the inside and is not inclined to rate it above its value.
She shook hands and said she was glad to meet the son of his father.
‘A good and honorable and upright man, I “m sure, Mr. Shelmerdine, although his politics are all wrong, to my mind. You see we artists, even the oldest of us, live for ideas, and these unfortunate Vandeleurites — but we won’t talk politics, although it was I who bought Mr. Vandeleur his first, bells and coral. At that time nobody except his mot her and myself, and possibly his nurse, foresaw that he was the future Prime Minister of England. Polly, my dear, the tea.'
‘You boastful old Granny,’ said Mary. ‘And I don’t think Mr. Shelmerdine is a bit impressed.’
‘Oh yes I am — awfully,’ said Mr. Shelmerdine gallantly, handing tea.
And he came within an ace of dropping the cup on the hearthrug, because Mary chose at that fateful moment to twitch her adorable left eyelid so artfully that he had to whisk away his countenance to keep from laughing in the face of Grandmamma.
‘Mr. Shelmerdine, have you seen my granddaughter play at the Lane?’
Yes, Mr. Shelmerdine had, and if he might say so, admired her playing awfully.
‘I am sorry to hear you say that,’ said the old lady. ‘To my mind she displays a strange lack of ambition. We are an old theatrical family, Mr. Shelmerdine, a very old theatrical family. When I was her age I was playing Lady Macbeth to John Philip Kemble.’
The young man was mightily interested, although, to be sure, this was the first he had heard of John Philip Kemble; but happily he had a sort of general idea that Lady Macbeth was the name of a thrilling drama by the late Earl of Lytton.
Mary’s laugh was ready and responsive to this damaging criticism.
‘ Yes, Granny dear, but then you had genius and that’s a thing that does n’t often occur in any family, does it?’
’ Polly, child,’ — the natural grandeur showed a little, — ‘it is a mere fagon de ’parler to speak of ambition, respect for one’s calling, determination to live up to the highest that is within one’s self, as genius, but the absence of genius does not excuse any one for lowering the traditions of a distinguished family. Mr. Shelmerdine, I hope you agree with me.’
Appealed to at point-blank range, the young man was fain to agree with Grandmamma. But if his note of conviction was not very robust, it must be remembered that his present ambition was to run with the hare and to hunt with the hounds.
‘ By taking pains,’ said the old lady, ‘and showing a proper reverence for its calling, even a modest talent may add a cubit to its stature. That, at least, was the opinion of John Philip Kemble and Mr. Macready.’
Of course Mr. Shelmerdine was bound to agree with these great men.
‘To think of my granddaughter playing Cinderella at the Lane, when she should be playing Lady Macbeth at His Majesty’s!’
‘Oh, but, ma’am,’ said the young man, ‘she is a nailin’ good Cinderella, you know.’
‘A nailing good Cinderella, when her great-grandmother played with Betterton and Garrick, and one of her forebears was in Shakespeare’s own company!'
The young man thought silence would be safer here. Still knightly conduct was undoubtedly called for.
’I hope you won’t mind my sayin’, ma’am,’ said the heir to the barony, ‘that she’s the finest Cinderella I’ve ever — although I dare say I ought n’t to say it in her presence.’
But Grandmamma would neither brook contradiction, nor admit any extenuating circumstances. Polly was really a disgrace.
' Well, Granny dear,’— and again that wicked left, eyelid came into action — ‘you can’t deny that next year they are going to double my salary at the Lane, though I am sure I get quite enough already.”
‘Polly, my child, do you suppose for a moment that John Philip Kemble would have urged such an excuse?’
Grandmamma’s majesty dissolved Miss Mary in light-hearted mirth.
‘I quite see your point, ma’am,”said the young man, playing as well as he knew how.
‘Mr. Shelmerdine,’ said the old lady, ‘I make you my compliments on your good sense.’
It must certainly be said for the heir to the barony, that he made quite a favorable impression upon Grandmamma. Rather a plume in the bonnet of the parfit, gentil knight moreover; because Granny had been kissed by Mr. Dickens, had known Mr. Thackeray almost as intimately as she knew her own father, had dined and supped with Mr. Gladstone, and had a very poor opinion indeed of Mr. Disraeli.
A LITTLE LUNCH AT DIEUDONNÉ’S
Mr. Philip was in for an attack of the ancient malady. What made it worse for him was that he had never had it before. He was twenty-nine, a very healthy and normal citizen, ‘a little slow in the uptake’ to be sure, but with a snug little patrimony already, and the heir to something even more substantial. He should, of course, like other interest ing young men, have tried to keep out of mischief by serving his country in a Household regiment .
It was a mistake to have left the Second, said his admirable parents. He wanted a wife, said all the world. It was really necessary that a young man rising thirty should provide himself with this indispensable accessory.
In his rather torpid way, he rather agreed. Still, he got no for’arder, although it was perfectly clear that the hour and the girl were waiting for him.
To be quite frank, he had never exactly hit it off with Adela. Self-willed and over-bearing young women were amusing in the right place and season; but he was much too shrewd a young chap to crave to be tied up for life with one of them. But if he was n’t careful, the fetters might easily be riveted. Things had rather shaped that way for twelve months past.
Yes, the young man was in a rather parlous state just now. Let the right sort of girl come along, and the consequences were likely to be serious. The fruit was ripe for plucking. A single shake of the branch and it might fall from the tree.
Cinderella had shaken the tree pretty severely. Simple, kind, and cheerful, she was just the sort of girl you could get on with. Straight as a die, overflowing with life and sympathy, she had the noble faculty of being genuinely interested in all the world and his wife.
Would she come out to lunch?
Oh yes, any day except Wednesday and Saturday, when she had to play.
So the very next morning they lunched at Dieudonné’s, and everything seemed perilously pleasant.
Punctual to the minute; how delightful to have a table in the corner; the restaurant of all others she liked to lunch at; and lark and oyster-pudding and Chablis, the fare above all others she coveted. Comparisons are odious, as the world has long agreed, but really they seemed inevitable just now!
Did n’t he think Granny was wonderful? And really quite great in her day. A link with the past, much esteemed in the profession.
Was Miss Caspar never tired of the theatre? Wasn’t it an awful grind? Did n’t she ever want a night off? When she was feeling as cheap as she must have been feeling a fortnight ago last Saturday, did n’t she feel inclined to turn it up?
No, she just loved it all the time. Her motto was Nelson’s, ‘Never to know when you were beaten.’ It was Nelson’s motto, was n’t it? Besides, having two thousand people in your pocket, gave you such a sense of power. And then the princely salary — a hundred pounds a week, and next year it was going to be doubled. She really did n’t know how she would ever be able to spend it.
‘ Why spend it at all? Why not invest it at four-and-a-half per cent?’
‘Oh yes — for a rainy day!’
Such an idea was evidently quite new to Cinderella, and she proclaimed it forthwith as the very zenith of human wisdom.
‘You must let me spend a little, though.’
She spoke as though he had charge already of her hundred pounds a week.
‘Not more than a fiver now and again.’ The good forebears made answer for the heir to the barony. ‘No need, really. Of course, when you take a holiday abroad, you can dip a little more freely.’
Granny thought the provinces were vulgar, but Cinderella was quite sure that Mr. Shelmerdine did n’t. agree with Grandmamma.
‘Now look me right in the eyes and tell me whether the provinces are vulgar. Honest Injun now, and on your oath!’
The good gray eyes were open to a width that was positively astonishing.
Mr. Shelmerdine did not agree with Grandmamma.
‘No, of course you don’t. The provinces are hearty and easy to get on with, and we are very fond of each other, and I don’t consider either of us vulgar. Of course, it is Granny’s Victorianism, to which I always pretend to give in, although I don’t really. Do you know dear dirty old Sheffield? The next time you go and play against the Wednesday — I beg your pardon, I had forgotten those wretched Tories had made your father a peer; well, the next time you go to Sheffield, — which you never will again, — ask the dear old Tykes whether they have ever seen Mary Caspar as Alice in Dick Whittington. Why, it was I who presented the Cup and Medals to the United when they won the Hallamshire and West Riding Charity vase.’
‘You must n’t say, “Oh, really”; you must say, “Did you, ma lass! I wish I’d been playin’ in ta match.” ’
Would Miss Caspar have a cigarette?
Avec plaisir ; but she insisted on lighting his before he was allowed to light hers.
‘I wonder if I know you well enough to call you Philip?’ she said at about the fourth puff. ‘Your name is such a long one, is n’t it?’
The heir to the barony was bound to admit that his name was long, and that even Philip was shorter when it became Phil.
‘Wouldn’t Phil be just a little familiar, considering that we have only known each other a week?’
‘ I seem to have known you for years and years and years.’
‘ Well, if you really mean that, Philip, I don’t think there is any reason why it should n’t be Phil. But you must n’t go beyond Mary, you know. To Granny I’m Polly, of course; but there’s only one other person outside the family who calls me Polly, because somehow I object to it on principle. And you’ll never be able to guess who that is.’
‘Dear no! — of all people. I am a perfectly ferocious Radical.’
‘Well, I hope it is n’t — ?’
‘ — Be careful, Philip. Very dangerous ground. But no, it is n’t he. The only other person who is allowed to call me Polly is the Lessee and Manager of the Royal Italian Opera House, Blackhampton.’
A sudden pang of consternation went through the being of Mr. Philip. There was a confounded ring on her finger!
‘ Goose,’ said Mary, with her incorrigible frankness, and vastly amused by the course of the young man’s gaze. ‘Old enough to be my father. But he’s a dear; and if I ever marry any one — which I never shall — I don’t think I should mind marrying him, although he’s just celebrated his silver wedding, and he’s got a family of eleven, seven girls and four boys, all with a broad enough accent to derail any tram in Blackhampton.’
Yes, Mr. Philip enjoyed every moment of this little luncheon at Dieudonné’s.
Before going to misspend his afternoon at one of his clubs, he accompanied the charmer as far as Bedford Gardens. They went on foot for the sake of the exercise, which she vowed she would rather die than do without; along the Strand if he did n’t mind, because she loved it so.
The Strand was a wonderful place, they both agreed. Certainly, he had been in it before — often — though always on the way to the play or to supper at the Savoy. But he had to admit that this was the first time he had come to it in broad daylight as an amateur.
‘You get more human nature to the square inch in the dear old Strand than any place in the world,’ said this young woman who had traveled the five continents in the exercise of her calling.
‘Piper, miss? ’Orrible murder in the Borough.’
Mary was proof against this lure; and with true feminine irrelevance, proceeded to pile insult upon the head of injury by calling upon a young gentleman of nine, who apparently was not going to Eton next term, and whose person was held together by a single button, to explain the absence of his shoes and stockings.
‘Are n’t got none, lidy.’
‘Why have n’t you?’
‘Ain’t ’ad none, lidy, since mother was put away for doin’ in father a year lawst Boxin’ night.’
’I daresay it is quite a good reason,’ said Mary Caspar, ‘if only it could be translated into English. What did your mother do to your father? ’
‘ ’E come ’ome ravin’ and mother throwed a paraffin lamp at him, and the judge give her ten years.’
Mary Caspar opened her purse and produced the hundredth part of her week’s salary.
‘Never let me see you again without your boots — or your stockings either.’
The recipient looked at the sovereign doubtfully. Then he looked up at the donor.
‘Gawd bless yer, lidy,’ he said, depositing this incredible wealth in some inaccessible purlieu of his late father’s waistcoat.
The heir to the barony was rather silent as they turned up Bedford Street. He was, of course, a drone in the hive, but he sometimes indulged in the habit of turning things over in his mind.
‘There’s something wrong,you know, somewhere. A kid not a day more than nine, all on his own. I think we ought to have got his name and address.’
Mary thought he would have forgotten his name and that he would n’t have been at the trouble to possess himself of anything so superfluous as an address, but she agreed wit h a further display of true feminine irrelevance — and what would any Principal Girl be without it?— that they certainly ought to have got them. So they turned back for the purpose. But the bird had flown. They walked back as far as Trafalgar Square, crossed over and came back on the other side, but their quarry had quitted the Strand.
‘We must look out for him again,’said the heir to the barony. ‘Although I expect there are thousands like him.'
‘Millions,’ said Mary.
‘And of course it don’t matter what you do in individual cases, so the johnnies say who know about it — but you must let me stand that sovereign, although it is good of you and all that.’
The heir to the barony produced the sum of one pound sterling and inserted it in Mary’s muff, a very ordinary sort of rabbit-skin affair, our feminine readers will regret to learn.
Mary declined point-blank to accept the sovereign, which irresponsible behaviour on her part, made the young man look rather troubled and unhappy.
‘Oh, but you must,.’
The heir to the barony seemed perfectly clear in his own mind that she ought to do as she was told, but not being gifted in the matter of clothing his thoughts with language, the reasons he gave seemed both vague and inadequate to an independent-minded young woman whose salary for the time being was equal to that of the First Lord of the Treasury.
They parted on Grandmamma’s doorstep, with a hearty handshake, and a reluctant promise on Mary’s part to come out to tea on the morrow at Harrod’s Stores. The young man walked on air to one of his numerous houses of call, firm in the conviction that he had never enjoyed a luncheon so much in all his born days.
‘Ye-es, Agatha, I a-gree with you,’said the first Baron Shelmerdine of Potterhanworth at half-past seven that evening, twisting his face in the torment of achieving the conventional without a suspicion of the baroque or the bizarre. ‘The ve-ry next shirts I order from Hoodlam shall all turn down. Harold Box, I believe — so why not I? Oh, confound it all — that’s the third I’ve ruined.’
‘ Fetch another, Wally, and I will tie it for you,’ said the Suffolk Colthurst superbly.
It was humiliation for a Proconsul, but we are pledged to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, in this ingenuous narrative. And of their courtesy we ask none of our readers to accuse us of malice.
‘You must bend a bit, Wally.’ The Suffolk Colthurst grappled firmly with the situation. ‘ Better order two dozen at once from Healeand Binman. Their’s carry more starch.’
Here it was that Destiny came into the picture, casual-like.
‘Wally,’ —the Suffolk Colthurst had just achieved a reticent, self-respecting single bowq— ‘now’ that Lord Warlock has agreed to that settlement, if I were you, I would send round a note to the Albany for Philip to come and see us in the morning.’
’ Well tied, Agatha. I ’ll write a note to Philip now.’
If the truth must be set down, and that of course is essential in all circumstances, the parental communication, in spite of the fact that it had an impressive device on the back and a motto in Latin, was not the first note that was opened at B-4 the Albany on the following morning. It was not the second, nor the third either, because there was quite a pile of correspondence in front of the kidneys and bacon at a quarter past ten in the forenoon of Tuesday, the first of Feb.
‘ Dear Philip,’ said the parental communication, when it was open at last, ‘Your Mother will be pleased if you will come to luncheon to-morrow, as there is an important matter she would like me to speak to you about. Luncheon at one-thirty sharp, as I have to go down to the House. Your affectionate Father, S. of P.'
Mr. Philip helped himself pensively, but not illiberally, to kidneys and bacon. He sprinkled salt and pepper over them, spread mustard on the plate, buttered his toast, poured out a cup of tea of almost immoral strength, read over the parental communication again, and then made use of an objurgation.
‘I wish the good old mater would n’t get so meddlin’,’ said he.
Nevertheless, like a dutiful young man, he decided he must go and lunch at 88 Grosvenor Square. But by the time he had put on his boots with five buttons, and had been inserted into the coat with the astrachan collar, and had sauntered forth to his favorite florist’s, twirling his whangee cane, somehow the good old sky of London did n’t look quite so bright as it did yesterday.
His favorite florist’s was in charge of his favorite young lady assistant, Miss Pearson by name, whom, a fortnight ago, he had had serious thoughts of calling Sally, without her permission. But a good deal of water had flowed under London Bridge in the meantime, so that now, whether she gave her permission or whether she withheld it, he no longer yearned to be guilty of any such freedom.
Still Miss Pearson was a very good sort for all that; and the heir to the barony raised his hat to her this morning in his politest manner; although perhaps it is right to remark that he would still have done so on any other morning, and even if Miss Pearson had not been such a very good sort — but in that case he might have gone a little higher up the street, as far as Miss Jackson.
‘Mornin’, Miss Pearson. How are we?’
Miss Pearson was so-so. Had been to the Coliseum to see Richard III, the previous evening.
‘Have you been to Drury yet?’
No, but Miss Pearson’s best boy had promised to take her next Monday — that being her night out.
‘I envy you, Miss Pearson,’said the heir to the barony, with emotion. ‘And the young chap — of course.’
‘Mr. Shelmerdine,’ said Miss Pearson, ’do you know what my impression is?’
Mr. Shelmerdine had not the faintest idea what her impression was.
‘My impression, Mr. Shelmerdine,’ said Miss Pearson, ‘is, that you are in love.’
No rebutting evidence being offered, Miss Pearson grew grave and serious as became a young lady of good Scottish lineage on the spindle side.
‘If you’ll take my advice, Mr. Shelmerdine, you’ll go a short sea-voyage. I’ve noticed a deterioration in you during the last, fortnight. It is far worse than when Cassie Smallpiece was at the Gaiety. I shall go and see for myself on Monday, but I’ve no opinion of actresses as a class. It is time you married that Lady Adela, you know.’
It was the first, time that Miss Pearson had been moved to these communications so far as this particular client was concerned; but the fair president of as smart a florist as was to be found in Piccadilly was a lady of considerable social insight.
’Well, Miss Pearson,’ said the heir to the barony, slowly and thoughtfully, ‘you know that I always value your opinion, but Mary Caspar is an absolute nailer.’
‘Go across to Dean and Dawsons,’ said Miss Pearson. ‘Or you can use my telephone, if you don’t want to run the risk of crossing the street. Egypt or Switzerland or a short sea-voyage. Think what a blow it would be to your father if you did n’t marry a lady in society.’
‘Ha, you have n’t seen her yet, Miss Pearson,’ cried the incredible young man. ‘ If I could book a couple of stalls for Monday, do you think your young chap would mind accepting ’em ?'
‘Only too pleased, I’m sure,’ said Miss Pearson promptly. ‘No false delicacy about Alf. He’s in the green-grocery the other side the Marble Arch.’
The heir to the barony was a little ‘slow in the uptake,’ but like others who labor under that natural defect, in the end he generally contrived to get to his destination.
‘I hope you ain’t throwin’ yourself away, Miss Pearson,’ said the heir to the barony. ’Blow to your people, I ’m sure, if you are side-tracked by anything under a bank clerk.’
‘Money before position, Mr. Shelmerdine, is my motto,’ said Miss Pearson. ‘If you’ve got the one, you can always get the other.’
The heir to the barony seemed rather impressed by this pearl of wisdom. He pondered it while that very able and personable young woman twined a piece of wire round a posy of violets. And then as if to prove a general proposition, Position itself appeared and somewhat abruptly terminated this instructive tête-à-tête.
Position entered in the person of a youthful marquis, leading a bull terrier whose natural beauty was almost as chastened as his own.
‘Why Shel — haven’t seen you for years! ’
Position held out a hand gloved somewhat aggressively in yellow. His senior by four years shook the gauntlet warily.
Position turned its back and put its elbows on the counter. It might have been the sole proprietor, not only of those most desirable lock-up basement premises, but of Miss Pearson and all their other contents. Still no reproof was forthcoming.
During an even earlier phase of Position’s adolescence, it had been Mr. Shelmerdine’s privilege as a House Prefect, a member of the Eleven, a member of Pop, and of other high dignities, to lay into Position in no uncertain manner. Alas that his zeal had proved so unfruitful!
Autre temps, autres mœurs. Had we the pen of the sage, the fervor of the poet, the saeva indignatio of the preacher, what a theme is here, my lords and gentlemen! Position not only usurping the badge of intimacy, reserved for the peers of the Keeper of the Field, but actually venturing to take the pas of him by addressing Miss Pearson by her first name, setting his elbows on the counter and removing a bunch of violets from her ample bosom, while he — the unspeakable humiliation of it! — actually had to wait meekly for his own.
Had t here been a toasting-fork within the precincts of those desirable lockup basement premises, it is appalling to think of the consequences that might have ensued.
Miss Pearson handed Mr. Shelmerdine his bunch of violets in a manner quite decidedly dégagé, as though her interest in him had assumed a less acute phase. Raging within, the heir to the barony, a mere 1905 creation, sought the purer air of the Ritz Arcade, leaving the field to 1720, who could be heard salut ing Sally not too chastely, as his early benefactor hurriedly crossed the threshold of his favorite florist’s.
‘Called me Shel — my God! If only I’d got that long-handled old-fashioned one with the five prongs — !’
(To be continued.)