The Principal Girl
AFFAIRS OF STATE
STILL feeling rather a puppet in the hands of fate, Philip reached No. 88 Grosvenor Square, the corner house, about twenty minutes after the hour appointed. But as the great Proconsul really must be at the House of Lords by a quarter to four, luncheon had already begun.
‘I notice, Philip,’ said S. of P., who had arranged with the Woolsack to address his fellow peers in support of the Daylight-Saving Bill that afternoon, ‘that you hardly realize how important and how valuable time is to all of us. I said half-past one distinctly in my note.’
The unfortunate young man apologized very humbly and politely to the great Proconsul.
Considering what an Odyssey his life had been that morning, the young fellow made a very decent, luncheon. Just the wing of a woodcock, and a bit off the breast, a few slices of York ham, a jam-puff or so, a bite of cheese and an imperial pint of bitter ale out of a presentation silver tankard bearing the arms of ‘Ch: Ch:’ Blind instinct seemed to tell the young man that he must keep up his strength, because there was a dull sensation behind the chocolate waistcoat, knitted for him by his mother, which clearly suggested that trouble was looming in the middle distance. Port wine, green chartreuse, a big cigar, and black coffee all played their manly parts. Yes, with the help of the gods, he might be able to keep up his end all right; although he was by no means sure that he liked that concentrated governing-classes look in the eye of the good old mater.
The after-luncheon conference in the library, however, was most impressive. The Governing Classes were distinctly fortissimo; and in spite of his ample sustenance, Mr. Philip felt rather meagre in the presence of this deep reverence for the established order, and so much of that which is best in the public and private life of these islands.
Lord Rocklaw, subject to certain contingencies, was prepared to accept other contingencies in respect of Adela. The first Baron was admirably clear and statesmanlike in his aperçu of the most interesting position which had been evolved by the higher diplomacy.
‘Sometime in October, at dear Saint George’s,’ t hought the good old mater.
The heir to the barony was silent, dismal, and undone. He had hesitated about a second green chartreuse; he wished now that he had obeyed the inward monitor. There was a sense of vacuum behind the knitted chocolate waistcoat that was really the devil.
‘It is like this, you know — ’ The young man floundered and came down rather awkwardly at fence Number One. ‘Adela and I — well, fact is, we have n’t — ’
The Governing Classes showed great patience.
‘We have n’t sort of — you know — ’
‘I am afraid we don’t,my boy,’ said S. of P., with the blandness that goes so well with conscious power.
‘The end of October is such a good time, especially if there is to be an autumn session,’ said Mother.
‘Yes, I dare say,’said the young man, ‘but fact is, Adela and I have never quite hit it off from the start.’
The Governing Classes, with lowered eyelids, looked across the chaste expanse of Messrs. Maple’s carpet at one another. The pause was rather trying. Yes, it was an awful pity about that second green chartreuse.
At last S. of P. was sorry.
The rejoinder may look a little inadequate. But it was n’t really. Eton and Balliol, ‘distinguished public service,’ terms of intimacy with his Majesty’s late government, are capable of considerable chest-resonance on the domestic hearth. It was already clear that the higher statesmanship might have to be tempered with a little benevolent autocracy.
‘Warlock is really most liberal — that is, of course, for an Irish peerage.’
’Most liberal, Wally,’ the Suffolk Colthurst chimed.
‘Is n’t October rather soon, mater?’ said Mr. Philip, beginning to shape like a tailor at fence Number Two.
‘The sooner the better we think.’
‘I agree with you, Agatha.’
‘ Oh, but — ’ said the unfortunate heir.
The Governing Classes were to be butted no buts, however.
‘Philip,’ said the good old mater, ‘ your father has been at the trouble to draw up an announcement for the Morning Post. It will be shown to Lord Warlock this evening, and with his sanction it will be sent to the editor by the first post to-morrow.’
‘I don’t think I should trouble, mater, if I were you,’ said the unhappy young man.
Now, that really was rather ineffectual, and sounded quite as much so as it appears.
‘The sooner the announcement is made, the better I think,’ said Father. ‘Adela is a charming girl; you are a very lucky fellow; and you are to be envied. Philip, my dear boy, with all my heart I congratulate you.’
S. of P. stepped briskly off Messrs. Maple’s best hearthrug and shook the heir to the barony warmly by the hand.
‘Kiss me, dear Philip.’ And Mother offered the blond bland frontispiece.
No seaworthy excuse can be put forward for dear Philip’s refusal to kiss his mother. Not a refusal exactly; but he burked the issue by asking to be allowed to read the announcement which his father had taken the trouble to draw up for the Morning Post.
A very little research discovered the interesting document on the first baron’s writing table.
Mr. Philip read the announcement as duly set forth in the rather illegible paternal hand. He then sighed heavily; and then it was that the Green Chartreuse really behaved so well. The young man folded the announcement carefully and placed it in his cigar-case.
‘Well, if you prefer to send it yourself— so long as it is sent, my dear boy.’
‘I hope you won’t forget all about it, Philip,’ said Mother.
‘But I am not going to send it,’ said the young man, all simplicity and politeness.
There was great credit due to the Green Chartreuse.
Both parents were a little aghast.
Why was n’t dear Philip going to send it?
Dear Philip thought it was premature.
The Governing Classes almost achieved the tragic note. Warlock would not take kindly to delay, said Father, in deep tones. Was it kind to dear Adela? asked the third person at the conference.
‘ I shall be glad to hear the grounds of your objection,’ said S. of P.
It was merely that they did n’t seem quite to hit it off. Adela was an awfully nice girl; the fault was his entirely; but still he did n’t quite feel as if he wanted to marry her — yet.
In this charming passage in the aria, the Suffolk Colthurst fluted tremulously. So sweet a girl as Adela, so good. a family, such excellent connections —
The great Proconsul was much surprised, in his deepest, richest baritone.
But there it was! said the pot-valiant Green Chartreuse.
Nevertheless, the Governing Classes seemed hardly able to concede that it was there. They were dining that evening in Mount Street to meet Warlock’s sister, Dumbarton’s sixth duchess. Had n’t dear Philip better return the sheet of note-paper to his father, since he hardly appeared to realize its importance.
The young man rose slowly to his feet to confront the Governing Classes.
‘Fact is, you know,’ said he, ‘I have n’t asked her yet; and if I did ask her, I’m pretty certain she would n’t have me. Not that I blame her, of course.’
‘Philip, you must listen to me,’ said the Proconsul impressively. ‘Lady Adela will, I am sure, be quite willing to identify herself with the wishes of her father. My dear boy, allow me to express the hope that you, as the future head of your family, will show yourself in every respect worthy of a girl so charming.’
The firmness of the Powers was rather awkward. From their point of view they were right, no doubt. The clear and obvious duty of Philip was to marry Adela and further consolidate the fortunes of a newly-risen family.
Was n’t it rather selfish to do otherwise?
Has a chap a right to be selfish, even when his life’s happiness is at stake? Depends on the sort of chap you are, said the Green Chartreuse. Personally, we consider, said the Green Chartreuse, you will be the ‘absolute it’ in the fool class if you allow your people to queer your pitch for you on the score of Family. Adela is a cat, and you know it; Mary Caspar is a nailer, and you know that too; you have no need to be ambitious; you will have quite as much money and quite as much position as is good for any young fellow. If you don’t want to make a clean sweep of all the prizes in the Juggins Department, you will pull up your socks, my son, and answer in the negative in a quiet, firm, and manly voice.
Here it was, however, that Destiny, who seemed to hold a watching brief for the defendant, played a very useful card for the Green Chartreuse. S. of P. consulted his private timepiece, and raised his well-brushed white eyebrows in dismay. A quarter past three already and he made a point of never missing prayers if he had to keep an appointment with the Woolsack. In the circumstances there was only one thing to be done, and that was to move that the Conference stand adjourned.
‘Come to lunch on Sunday, Philip, and in the meantime the announcement had better be kept out of the papers.’
We hope, my lords and gentlemen, you concur with us, that it was a decidedly useful card that the old fox, Destiny, had played for the Green Chartreuse.
LICENTIOUS BEHAVIOR OF THE GREEN CHARTREUSE
The heir to the barony was a superficial young man, — it is idle to pretend that he was n’t, — yet in his slow-witted way he had a habit of turning things over in his mind. If he married Adela, it would please his parents immensely; it would advance him in the world undoubtedly; people would say, here is a young man wiser than we thought, — see how well he has married. But there was no shirking the fact that if he married Adela, he was bound to be miserable for the rest of his days.
Weak, disgraceful thoughts, Shelmerdine, quoth the Twin Brethren, Eton and Christ Church. It was not on our playing fields you learned to be so puerile. No girl in London makes a more distinguished appearance in black velvet. You will shoot at Highcliff With what grace and charm will the seventh married daughter preside over that dear little house in Grosvenor Street on the left going to the park, which your admirable parents have promised her admirable parent to take for you on a lease, in order that you may both be near them.
Shelmerdine, we don’t know when we have been so ashamed of an alumnus of ours. If you have n’t enough character, sir, to tackle the very ordinary job of driving a young woman on the curb, — as every young woman ought to be driven for her soul’s welfare at the beginning,— you are a miserable shirker, sir, and unworthy of the most liberal nurture that money can procure.
In that event, sir, we wash our hands of you; and you are free to form an alliance with this underbred Bohemian, — it is not our custom to mince our language when our emotions are deeply stirred, — bring down the gray hairs of your admirable parents in sorrow to the grave — your portrait receive the freedom of the gutter press — you will never be asked to shoot at Highcliff — you will bring tragedy into your own life and into the life of others — in fact, sir, and in a word — One understood these infernal safety-razors were guaranteed not to cut gashes in one’s neck!
Little recked Cinderella of the reason why the heir to the barony had to appear at tea-time on Friday done up in court-plaister. He was also strangely pensive and embarrassed. She was as cheerful and charming as usual; and she had just been engaged to create the title rôle in Mr. Wingrove’s brilliant new play at the Millennium, that was to be produced in the middle of Lent. But poor Philip was far from being himself. Still he insisted on walking home with Mary to Bedford Crescent, when it did n’t really seem in the least necessary.
However, by the time they had reached the Strand, that romantic thoroughfare, the murder was pretty well out. It really came out as they stood on the edge of the curb opposite Charing Cross, waiting for the moment in which they might commit their frail lives to the maelstrom of mechanically-propelled vehicles, with a sporting chance of being able to boast of it to their grand children.
‘Fact is, old girl,’ the heir to the barony gripped Mary firmly by the arm to see that she did n’t step off the curb too soon — ‘fact is, old girl, I want a pal. Will you be a pal to me?’
‘Why of course I will, Philip,’ said Mary, as they walked arm in arm into the jaws of a Barnes and Hammersmith ’bus.
‘A pal for life, I mean, old girl.’
By the time they had got to the opposite curb, Mary was quivering. And the color in her face surmounted the natural pallor of her profession.
‘Oh, but, Philip—’
‘You will, old girl!’
‘ I don’t think that Granny — besides — !’
‘Besides what, old girl?’
The knitted chocolate waistcoat was beginning to be grievously assaulted.
‘It would n’t do — for you I mean — although it is sweet of you to have asked me, Philip.’
‘It’s whether it would do for you, old girl. I’m not much of a chap, I know, but I should begin to pick up a bit, I’m sure I should, if I had got a real pal like you to pull my socks up for me.’
‘It isn’t because I don’t like you, Philip,’ said Mary, so nicely that the owner of the knitted chocolate waistcoat wanted to clasp her to it in one of London’s most important thoroughfares. ‘It is because I do.’
‘I’ll risk it, anyway.’
‘But I don’t think you should — really. Your people, you know. And I’m sure that Granny —’
‘Oh, but. this is our affair, old girl. I’ve thought it all out; and if a chap wants a wife I don’t see that anybody has a right to meddle. It’s askin’ a lot, I know — your career and all that — but I’ve enough for two, and you would n’t have to sing and dance to three thousand people when you were feeling so cheap you did n’t know how.’
Mary was troubled by this importunity as a girl as nice as she was was bound to be. She had already grown to like this sombre and rather heavy young man; she felt by no means incapable of being a father, a mother, a brother and a sister to him, or any equally near relation whose function it would be to pull his socks up for him. But she was also a very sensible and unselfish girl, — which is the least you expect in a heroine, — also a very clear-sighted and shrewd young woman; and when she said that Granny would never, she really meant what she said, and a great deal more than she did say.
All the same she was very proud and happy as she turned up Bedford Street, with the hand of Philip still gripping her arm very tightly, although in this haven there was not a solitary Barnes and Hammersmith ’bus to warrant a continuance of such a course of behavior.
The heir to the barony, in our humble judgment, was about the luckiest young fellow in London just then, to be walking up Bedford Street with a girl as good as gold in his possession. Very nearly, but not quite in his possession. He had come at his fence so boldly; it was an inspiration to have taken off just where he did in the welter of Barnes and Hammersmith omnibuses in front of Charing Cross; his solid, manly British qualities had shone out suddenly so clear and free, that where another might have hesitated and come a purler, this sportsman had gone straight at the obstacle and very nearly come home a winner. Very nearly captured the queen of beauty, but not quite, although she was feeling very proud and happy because of the honor done to her, — and it is an honor, O you young ladies of Newnham and Girton, the highest that can be paid to you; so please to remember it, my dears, when you turn down your thumbs to the next undesirable, — and she blushed so charmingly all the way up the street that it was a pity there were not more lamps in Long Acre by which you could have seen her.
Their feet swayed together in a delightful rhythm in their radiant progress; spats by Grant and Cockburn and Mr. Moykppf’s most superior handstitched Russia leather, and eightand-eleven-penny Walk-easies made by the gross at Kettering, which had no spats upon ’em. Yes, it was a lovely walk in the dark amid the purlieus of Long Acre. Several times they lost their way and did n’t try very hard to find it. And then suddenly, from out of the distant mirk, where the time-spirit was keeping its grim eye upon ’em, the hour was told from Saint Martin’s Church.
One — two — three — four — five six — seven! — the excited heart of the Principal Girl counted each stroke. Cinderella must fly. She would only just have time to drink her Oxo, and to get into her rags — which were not rags at all really — and fix her warpaint, if the great British Public was not to receive one of the severest disappointments in its annals.
‘Well, think about it, old girl — although I don’t mean to take “ No.” I’ve made up my mind to that.’
They were on Granny’s doorstep now. And there let us leave them without waiting to see what happened.
Did something happen?
We decline to gratify idle curiosity upon the subject.
The really important thing that did happen, before Cinderella slipped her latch-key in the door, was that Mr. Philip reaffirmed his manly determination not to take ‘No’ for an answer, and that he would come and interview Granny after she had had her siesta on the afternoon of the Sabbath day.
THE PROCONSULAR TOUCH
It had been a crowded and glorious week for the Green Chartreuse, but it was not until the Sabbath day that it had really to embrace the crisis of its fate. Mary had not said Yes, and she had not said No, but she had seemed to imply that Granny might prove obdurate. Then there was also that little obstacle in Grosvenor Square to negotiate. Yes, taking one fact with another, it was perfectly clear to the Twin Brethren that Sunday promised to be a rather important day in the calendar.
The heir to the barony did not go to church on the morning of the fateful day, although perhaps it would have been wise to have done so. He read The Referee instead, in order to collect a few ideas as to his general bearing in the convention to be held after luncheon in the library at No. 88 Grosvenor Square.
The Governing Classes were decidedly ff. Not a day later than the third week in October, Warlock thought, otherwise it would play the dickens with his shooting.
‘Egypt would be such a nice place in which to spend the honeymoon,’ said Mother,
Little recked the Powers, however, of the Homeric struggle that was being waged within the precincts of the immaculate braided morning coat that sat so perfectly upon the manly form of Mr. Philip.
Do, if you Dare, said the Twin Brethren.
Don’t be a Cur, said the Green Chartreuse.
And as no young man likes to be thought a Cur by a boon companion, the miserable, yet half-exultant heir gathered his forces for the conflict.
‘There’s something, father, I’d like to say,’ said he, as he performed the superfluous action of tucking the end of his handkerchief still further up his shirt sleeve.
Perfect frankness was invited.
‘I would like to say,’ said the young man, ‘before we go any further,that I don’t feel that I can marry Adela.’
The timepiece with the silvery tones had the only speaking part for the space of ninety seconds. And then outspoke Mother.
‘Can’t — possibly — mater.’
And all this time the benevolent autocrat, who had put on his eyeglasses and taken them off again and then put them on again, was trying to recapture the touch of a great proconsul who had started out in life with a Balliol scholarship.
‘Of course, my dear boy, you must use your own discretion.’ The proconsular eyelids conveyed a delicate suggestion to the Suffolk Colthurst that after all the suaviter in modo cannot be surpassed in the hands of an acknowledged master. ‘But, as Warlock knows already, we shall be very happy to make Lady Adela welcome in the family.’
‘Oh yes, of course, but you see —’
Neither parent appeared to see, unfortunately, so that the poor Green Chartreuse grew desperate.
‘So you see, I’ve kind of proposed to another girl.’
The Proconsul took off his eyeglasses and buttoned his coat; the Colthurst of Suffolk manipulated her third and fourth chins into a condition of majestically eloquent inarticulation. The silver timepiece alone was moved to make an observation, and that, of course, was quite irrelevant.
‘ Her name is Mary Caspar, and she is an absolute nailer,’ said the heir to the barony.
‘A pantomime performer, I believe,’ said Mother, who, like every member of her family, had an almost uncanny memory for names.
‘An absolute nailer,’ said Mr. Philip.
Three weeks ago the young man had taken to Jaeger underclothing, but even that hardly seemed able to cope with the thermometer.
‘It is n’t quite fixed up definite. She seems to think there are things against it, but I’m goin’ to talk it over this afternoon with her old grandmother.’
‘Who, pray, is her grandmother?’ inquired Mother.
‘Her name is Mrs. Cathcart, and she lives at 10 Bedford Gardens.’
‘I will call upon her,’ said Mother, somewhat ostentatiously making a note of the address.
‘Philip,’ said the Great Proconsul, ‘you must listen to me. I am afraid this is all very improper. A man of your age, my dear boy, ought to know that in these days they give swingeing damages for breach. This must go no further, you understand; and the best thing we can hope for is that the young woman’s grandmother is as sensible as we have a right to expect an old woman and a grandmother to be.’
But then, as the young fellow explained with pardonable circumlocution, he was in deadly earnest and meant it all the time.
Fortiter in re, as classical scholars do not require to be told, is the natural corollary of suaviter in modo. Spasmodic trumpetings were emitted freely by the Great Proconsul. The Colthurst of Suffolk also had recourse to the clarion note. It was really a scene of great majesty and power, and it lasted until hard upon tea-time. The behavior of the heir was subversive of all that there was left to subvert in the Cosmos, since the wicked Welsh Chancellor’s deadly missiles had knocked Mars and Jupiter and several other leading planets clean out of their orbits.
What would people say, said Mother.
Swingeing damages these days, and rightly, reaffirmed the Great Proconsul.
She wasn’t that sort of girl at all, said Philip the manful. He had had to make all the running. Father and Mother must n’t misjudge her. And they must forgive him if he seemed to have lost his head a bit, but it was all for the best he was sure. Never been able to hit it off with Adela; had n’t any tastes in common. It would be better so.
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Phil-ipp,’ said Mother upon G sharp.
Was it conceivable that the Eldest Son was without a sense of moral responsibility? blandly inquired the ExResident of Barataria North-West.
‘I hope the grandmother of the Person is a woman of the world,’ said Mother. ‘To-morrow I will call upon her.’
And then the heir to the barony spoke like a very nice young chap. He sincerely hoped his excellent parents would not blame him more than they felt obliged. He had thought it all out in the watches of the night; it would be all for the best, she was such an absolute dear; he would be awfully pleased to trot her round for inspection; and was there really any reason why a man rising thirty with a private income should not marry a nice girl?
But then, said Mother, dearest Adela is a girl in a thousand.
And please don’t forget, said Father, the Proconsul, you are the future head of a recently ennobled Family.
If only he could Abdicate! murmured the wretched Green Chartreuse.
Neither Father nor Mother heard it, fortunately.
And then in tones of solemn music, the silver-tongued timepiece chimed the hour of half-past four.
‘ By Jove,’ said the heir to the barony with a sigh of relief. ‘How awfully late! ’ And rising to his full height from Messrs. Maple’s choice upholstery, he dispensed a cloud of sweet and gentle and perfectly sincere apology.
He did not desire to bring a moment of pain to his excellent parents. He was sure it would be all for the best if only he could persuade her to have him — he had not persuaded her yet, worse luck! But in spite of this charming urbanity, Mother took no leave of him; Father had ‘a damned disinheriting countenance’ as he escaped through the door of the library.
A pretty mess you have made of things, you fool! snarled the Twin Brethren, as Mr. Jennings showed him over the doormat and whistled up a taxi.
A TIGHT PLACE
The Green Chartreuse was able to break its journey at Romano’s, as it passed that home of wassail en route to Bedford Gardens. And having done so, it was able to answer back a bit, but only in a very minor key just now, my lords and gentlemen.
The dear girl let Philip in herself, because it was Jane’s afternoon out. Was n’t she very tired after the two performances of yesterday? Not a bit. But was n’t he a bit below the weather? No? She thought he looked so, rather. Merely because he had been lunching with his people, was it? Very wrong to make a joke of such a filial action, particularly as Grosvenor Square on a Sunday is thought to be the home of the serious.
Granny was sitting very upright in the cosy corner, and looking very stately in her smartest cap with real lace on it that had been worn by Siddons. An approximation of the grand manner when she shook hands. The weather not cold perhaps for the season of the year, but when one was turned four and eighty one’s vitality was perhaps a little less than formerly.
Miss Mary brought in the tea, looking frightfully demure.
Grandmamma herself had a preference for Chayney tea. She hoped Mr. Shelmerdine did not object to Chayney tea. If he did, there was whiskey and soda, which some gentlemen preferred. John Philip Kemble always preferred it; likewise John, his father; and she had heard that this preference was shared by Edmund Kean, who was her godpapa, — and the silver mug he gave her at her christening was upon the chiffonier.
Had Mr. Shelmerdine heard that the Lane was going to double Mary’s salary, and desired her to sign a contract. for a term of five years?
‘Two hundred a week, Mr. Shelmerdine. A fabulous sum. Why, I don’t think that Garrick —’
‘ Not a penny more than she deserves, ma’am,’averred the heir to the barony.
‘Mr. Shelmerdine, it is enough to make Edmund Kean turn in his grave. A preposterous sum for a girl of very ordinary ability, without any true histrionic genius. Why, I don’t think that Siddons in the heyday of her power — ’
‘Why of course she did n’t, you jealous old Granny. And if I were a woman of genius like you are and she was, I should n’t be getting it either, and signing contracts. Don’t you agree, Philip?’
And Miss Mary fixed the young man with her glorious gray eye, and said to him quite distinctly by the Marconi system, ‘Say yes in your heartiest voice, like a dear boy.’
So of course the young fellow had to say ‘Yes’ when he meant ‘No.’
It is unkind to make comparisons, but tea and cake in Bedford Gardens, thought Mr. Philip, is a far more interesting function than a four-course luncheon farther west. And yet the young man had by no means a great appetite just now. It was the crisis of his fate. Had Mary told Grandmamma? And what would Grandmamma say, if told she had been? For men and gods, these were all-important questions.
Certainly the old thing in the real lace that had been worn by Siddons, was very grande dame indeed. Diction clear-cut, lively, and forcible; not a single English actor worthy of the name in the present generation, and she had n’t seen the foreign ones; in fact, the race had perished with Mr. Macready who had often taken her to Gad’s Hill to drink tea with Mr. Dickens.
‘But what about Sir Henry Irving, Granny?’ said Mary, covertly twitching her charming left eyelid at the heir.
‘Pretty well for an amateur, my dear; but better fitted to play the hind leg of a dragon than the Prince of Denmark.’
‘ Oh, how terribly severe! ’ said Mary, so demurely that the Morning Coat had an overpowering desire to clasp her to its Braided Bosom.
‘Good at melodrama no doubt, my dear,’ said Granny, ‘in the Surrey theatres; but to my mind wholly unfitted to carry on the great tradition of Edmund Kean and John Kemble.’
It is by no means clear that the Braided Morning Coat was able to enjoy Grandmamma’s caustic criticism of the present hopelessly inferior histrionic age as much as it might have done, because there was that sinking sensation somewhere about the third button which somehow seemed to suggest that it was going to be its turn presently. And although a very ordinary sort of coat, which put forth no special claim to be endowed with the gift of prophecy, in this it was undoubtedly correct.
When at last its turn came it seemed to arrive rather suddenly. It was when the Chayney tea and the cake and bread and butter, having ceased to have attractions, were removed by Mary, still acting as deputy of Jane, the parlor-maid.
‘Mr. Shelmerdine,’ said Lady Macbeth to John Philip Kemble, ‘I am given to understand that you have been good enough to make my granddaughter a proposal of marriage.’
‘I hope you don’t mind, ma’am,’ murmured the Braided Morning Coat, whose diction, however, although that of Eton and Ch: Ch: was for the time being, at any rate, nothing like so distinguished as that of Grandmamma.
‘ I may say at once. Mr. Shelmerdine,’said the Lady-Macbeth-to-John-PhilipKemble, ‘that I am sensible of the honor that has been paid to my granddaughter. Further, I may say that she also is sensible of the honor that has been paid to her, as every right-minded girl should be, even when, as in this case, she is unfortunately unable to accept it.’
That unhappy feeling was coming over Mr. Philip that afflicted him on the occasions when he called at the Foreign Office to look up the friends of his boyhood. It is magnificent, and it has to do with war.
‘I regret, Mr. Shelmerdine, that I cannot give my consent. You are a personable and mannerly young man — I am old enough to speak with freedom, and even if I were not, I have always been accustomed to use it. You have considerable private means, I am informed by my granddaughter, who has an independent mind, yet one which is in no sense mercenary, and I think it is probable that you will make an excellent husband for a young woman in your own sphere of life; but to be quite frank with you, Mr. Shelmerdine, I do not feel that I can give my consent to the Match.’
The Braided Morning Coat was cast down not a little.
Still Grandmamma knew how to temper firmness of character with kindness and consideration; and that, of course, the world has a right to look for in majestic old ladies who have played Lady Macbeth to John Philip Kemble.
‘My granddaughter, Mr. Shelmerdine, comes of a very old theatrical stock. One of her forebears — a greatgreat-great-grandfather of my own — played in Shakespeare’s own company. Without impropriety, I think I am entitled to say that her standing in her profession is likely to be one of eminence.’
Braided Morning Coat hardly needed that assurance.
‘ In the circumstances, Mr. Shelmerdine, perhaps I am entitled to ask what is your own profession?’
This question was a little too complex for the Braided Morning Coat to be able to answer offhand. Still the worthy garment struggled manfully and did its best.
Four years in the Guards, but at a loose end at present. Had thought of going into Parliament.
Lady Macbeth agreed that the ablest young men in the country made rather a point of finding their way into Parliament, and long might it be so — but unfortunately this particular able young man was not in Parliament yet.
‘If it will help things, ma’am,’ said the Braided Morning Coat, ‘I will see about it at once.’
It was spoken like a man of spirit and an English gentleman, which after all is just what you expect of a Braided Morning Coat and Spats by Grant and Cockburn; but Grandmamma, confessing to reluctance, was bound to say that although this spirited conduct might help things a little, she was afraid that it would not help them sufficiently.
Braided Morning Coat was awfully sorry. So was Grandmamma, sincerely sorry; such a mannerly and personable young man; same school as John Philip Kemble, though not the same college; but it appeared to her, speaking with all reserve, and an ample sense of responsibility, that Mr. Shclmerdine’s status in his profession, whatever his profession might be, — and she was not so clear on that point as she would like to be, — was due to the fact that he was the eldest son of his father.
Braided Morning Coat confessed frankly that it might be so, although he was not without pecuniary resources of his own. There was a small property in Cheshire which had come to him recently through his Aunt Tabitha, and was let on a five years’ lease to the financial adviser of the Sultan of Zanzibar.
‘ I learn from my granddaughter, Mr. Shelmerdine, that your father is a Peer.’
Braided Morning Coat humbly made that damaging admission.
‘And that you inherit?’
Braided Morning Coat, beginning to feel very low and miserable, pleaded guilty to this also.
‘All this to my mind, Mr. Shelmerdine, constitutes an insuperable barrier.’
Diction beautifully clear and mellow. How can it be otherwise with the Kean and Kemble tradition!
‘Let me make myself quite understood, Mr. Shelmerdine. It hardly seems right to my mind, that an old theatrical family should form an alliance with a comparatively recent peerage. I believe, Mr. Shelmerdine, comparatively recent is not in excess of the facts. Jane, my parlor-maid, has looked it up in Debrett, as my eyesight is not of the best. Created 1904, I believe, — to the best of my recollection, — during Mr. Vandeleur’s second administration.’
The answer was in the affirmative.
‘Your father is a man of great distinction, I understand, a great proconsul, who has rendered invaluable service to the Empire. All that I have heard about him redounds to his honor, but I cannot think he would give his sanction to this proposed alliance. I may say that I should not, if I were he.’
Braided Morning Coat was awfully sorry.
‘The fact is, Mr. Shelmerdine, I am strongly opposed to this modern craze for contracting matrimonial alliances between the theatrical profession and the peerage. To my mind, they are two entirely alien institutions. They both have their personal traditions and their private status of which they have a right to be jealous; but it seems to me, and I am sure I voice the opinion of John Philip Kemble, were he not in his grave, that this unfortunate custom, which has lately come into vogue, lowers the dignity of both those institutions, is demoralizing in itself, and tends to diminish the respect in which either is held by the Public.’
Braided Morning Coat felt that ‘Hear, Hear!’ would have been appropriate to this beautifully delivered oration. But it had not the spirit now to say ‘Hear, Hear’ to anything. Its fond but presumptuous hopes lay shattered in a thousand pieces.
‘The Public expects certain things of you, Mr. Shelmerdine, as a future hereditary legislator and the future head of a distinguished family. As a woman of extended public experience, let me give you this piece of advice, which was given to me by Mr. Macready: Never disappoint the Public, and the Public will never disappoint you. You have your duties to fulfill — to yourself, to your family, and to your country. I do not say that my granddaughter would be incapable of helping you to fulfill them, because a member of an old theatrical family, in my judgment, Mr. Shelmerdine, is unworthy of the great traditions in which she has been bred if she cannot adorn any position to which it may please Providence to call her. But at t he same time, I recognize that public opinion looks to you to form an alliance elsewhere. I am sure it will be a great disappointment to everybody and a great grief to your excellent parents, whom I have not the pleasure of knowing, but who I am sure must be very worthy as well as very distinguished people, to have a son who in every way is so agreeable, if you persist in this desire to form an alliance with my granddaughter.'
Braided Morning Coat, for all the compliments paid to it, which it had every reason to think sincere, began to feel as chastened as if it had been knocked down and run over by a Barnes and Hammersmith omnibus. Long before Grandmamma had said her say, the unlucky garment had n’t a kick left in it.
Where was Mary? Somehow it did not seem to be playing quite fair to leave him all this time to the tender mercies of Grandmamma. Full of mischief like the rest of ’em, thought the Braided Morning Coat. She knows all the time we are gettin’ it terrific; but instead of standin’ by us like a man and a brother, she retires to the basement to help cook peel the potatoes for supper.
‘I hope, ma’am,’ said the miserable varlet, ‘you’ll be able to reconsider your decision.’
‘ I am afraid I must ask you to find a reason for that course.’
‘Well, ma’am, it’s hardly my fault that I may have to be a peer.’
‘Mr. Shelmerdine, I quite accept that statement.'
In the neck again, you silly blighter, snarled the Twin Brethren.
‘I’d abdicate if I could, but I can’t, ma’am, accordin’ to the rules of the country. My Governor says —’
‘Mr. Shelmerdine, I fully appreciate the insurmountable nature of the barrier.’
' I shall have enough to keep a wife, ma’am, but if you feel that I ought to go into Parliament, I shall be only too pleased to see about it at once.’
Lady Macbeth appreciated the honorable nature of the proposal, which intensified her great regret. But even a seat in Parliament could not gloss over the fact that he was the son of his father.
Suddenly the front-door bell pealed loudly down in the basement and reverberated throughout the house. A casual caller — perhaps Grandmamma’s old friend, Sir Squire, who called to see her most Sundays when he was in London.
The Braided Morning Coat winged a pious apostrophe to its private, particular gods.
Alas! the luckless garment was a trifle premature in its hymn of thanksgiving.
(To be continued.)