The Principal Girl



AT the punctual hour of half-past four that afternoon Mother entered the lift at Park Mansions, and was hoisted in a patent elevator to the threshold of the Guilty Pair.

Happily on this occasion her ring was answered not by a damsel, a knife, and a potato, but by an undeniably smart young parlor-maid who was quite trim enough to please the most severely critical.

Was Mrs. Shelmerdine at home?

The S. Y. P., who had charming natural manners, answered smilingly in the affirmative.

As Mother entered the domain of the Guilty Pair, it seemed to her that everything in the little vestibule, and there was hardly anything in it to speak of, was, considering all things, in surprisingly good taste.

‘Why, Mater, this is awfully nice of you,’ said the manly voice of Mr. Philip.

Salutations of a filial and unaffected character. The young man was really not deep enough to be wary. All was about to be forgiven evidently, else the good old mater would not be calling upon ’em.

Nevertheless, a little surprise was in store for this optimist. Mary, whose amiable custom it was to meet the whole world a little more than halfway, did not exactly throw herself into the arms of Mother. Mother, moreover, did not exactly cast herself upon the neck of Mary.

They chose to shake hands rather than have recourse to any less formal style of reception.

‘So nice of you, Lady Shelmerdine, to find your way up to our little foot in the air.’

It was said very cool and smiling, but if the young Minx had left it unsaid, it would have been just as well, perhaps, since somehow it did n’t seem to help things particularly.

‘The art furniture is more comfortable than it looks. Lady Shelmerdine,’ said the young Madam archly. ‘Try this one. Don’t you like our yellow wall-paper? Phil-ipp’s taste is so wonderful. Will you have some tea?

Mother would be pleased to have some tea, but it was by no means clear, for all that, that Mrs. Philip was yet in the Family.

The young Madam poured out tea as though she did n’t mind very much whether she was in the Family or whether she was n’t.

‘ Have some tea-cake while it’s warm, Mater.’

Mother preferred bread and butter, thank you.

Conversation seemed to languish rather until Mother made the important discovery that you got quite a nice view of the park.

‘Toppin’ !’ said Mr. Philip.

‘I’m afraid these flats must be dreadfully expensive,’ said the Maternal One.

‘Not for the position, Mater.’

Mother hoped not, at any rate.

‘Have you noticed our Whistler, Lady Shelmerdine?’ said Mary the Demure.

Oh, where was the Whistler? Mother was so fond of canaries.

Something very nearly went wrong with the muffin of Daughter-in-law. Happily it stopped at very nearly.

‘The little picture opposite, Lady Shelmerdine. But you can’t really see it now the sun has got round to the west.’

Mother had to examine the gem, of course, like any other art critic. Glasses did great execution. Which was the Whistler? Ah yes, to be sure, an artist with a name so original was bound to be rated highly. A present from Sir Herbert Forrest, the famous actor-manager. Yes, Mother had seen him as the Woodman in Twelfth Night. How interesting to have such a memento from such a famous man. And how well you could see the park. And she did hope it was not too expensive. And everything in such good taste, although yellow for a wall-paper was a rather modern color. And such delicious tea. And what charming teacups. A present from Mr. Vandeleur. How kind — a memento, of course, of his respect and admiration for Philip’s father.

‘It did n’t say so on the card though, Mater,’ said Philip, the proudly inadvertent. ‘ It said on the card, “ To Cinderella, from a Humble Admirer who wishes her every happiness.” ’

So nice of Mr. Vandeleur to be so tactful. Could there be a clearer indication of Mr. Vandeleur’s esteem for the great Pro-Consul?

So much for these elegant preliminaries. But Mother’s mission was both high and delicate. Enormous tact was needed. Where and how should she open the ball? Suaviter in modo this time, at least.

Was it correct that Philip was standing for Parliament?

Oh, yes.

But as a Rag, Tag, and Bobtail, according to the Leading Morning Journal.

Yes, that was correct also.

That seemed to leave matters rather as they were. Philip was pleasantly frank, yet without being particularly communicative. Mrs. Philip, who was dressed in quite good taste, seemed absorbed in the view of the park from the window.

‘I am sure, dear Phil-ipp, you will be sorry to know that your father is upset.’

Like a dutiful son Phil-ipp was awfully sorry.

‘ And Mr. Vandeleur, of course. Your father was the last peer made by his gover’ment. So wounding to a man as sensitive as Mr. Vandeleur!’

Mr. Philip was sincerely sorry that his little adventure was being taken so seriously by people who he would not have supposed would have paid it any attention.

‘But, dear Phil-ipp,’ said Mother, ‘your father holds such a special position in public life. He is so upset. A real grief to him, with the affairs of the country in their present deplorable state. The Constitution, you know, about to be overthrown. Dear Philipp, have you fully considered the question?’

Dear Phil-ipp had considered the question, that is, as well as he was able to. He did n’t pretend that he knew very much about it; but Polly rather thought (the prophetic soul of Mother!) but Polly rather thought that a man of means and leisure ought to go into Parliament and try and make himself useful to the world. Not that personally he felt he would be of any use at all.

‘I can only say, dear Phil-ipp,’ said Mother, ‘that your father is much upset; Mr. Vandeleur is much upset; the Press is much upset, and we have all talked about you quite anxiously. Don’t you realize what an amount of political capital will be made of your standing as a Rag by the enemies of the Empire?’

‘I should n’t have thought anybody would have cared twopence about it, Mater. It is n’t as though I had any ability.’

‘ It is not you, of course, who matters so much. It is your dear father who carries so much weight in the country.’

But Mr. Philip supposed, though not at all disrespectfully, that a chap of twenty-eight was entitled to views of his own.

Mother did n’t quite agree with that general proposition. There were some things — for instance, Religion and Politics, to name only two, although there were others she could have mentioned— in which it was only right for a well-born and expensively nurtured Englishman to defer to the more matured wisdom of his ancestors.

Mr. Philip was awfully sorry, but he rather believed in Progress.

Daughter-in-law still looking through the window, although not wholly absorbed in contemplation of the vernal prospect, was dreadfully afraid that her smile might become vocal.

Mother was fearfully good at argument and always had been. Phil-ipp, of course, was the merest child at it, even though he had been selected by the Party of Progress to fight their great cause.

Mother in her inmost heart thought it was the clearest proof of the contemptible level of Rag intellect, that any body of registered voters should have brought themselves to confide in any such candidate. And Mother nearly boiled over when Mr. Philip made an even more abject confession of his impotence.

‘Come and argue with the Mater a bit,’ said he to the Person who was still pretending to look out of the window. ‘She’s much too clever for me.’

Should Mother take off the gloves? No, decidedly more politic not to remove them. Mother’s third chin advanced a little, though, in spite of herself. This daughter of the people was likely to know more about the peeling of potatoes than of the conduct of high politics.

At the summons of her lord, however, the young Minx controlled her mobile features as well as in her lay; and in that designing mind was the question, Should she toy a little with this Victorian Mamma ? Or should she exercise her arts and blandishments?

‘It is so wrong of Phil-ipp,’ said Mother, ‘and I think you ought to exercise the influence that every wife, that is, if she is good and worthy, has with her husband, and dissuade him from this course. You do see, do you not, that it is most injudicious for a man in his position?’

‘Well, Lady Shelmerdine,’ said Mischief, having decided in favor of the broader way, ‘Phil-ipp looks at it like this — don’t you, Phil-ipp? The Rags do get on a bit, but the Waggers are generally going backwards.’

Followed an academic discussion of the situation. A most immoral proceeding Mother was bound to believe. Ingratitude could not further go than for the eldest son of the very last peer created by Mr. Vandeleur’s gover’ment to go over, horse, foot, and artillery to the foe.

‘I’m not to blame for that, though, Mater, am I? And it would have been so much pleasanter for everybody, would n’t it, if the Guv’nor had never been given that peerage.’

‘To what extent should a son suffer for the indiscretion of his forebears?’ inquired Mischief solemnly.

Mother begged pardon; she did n’t understand. At this point the Conference seemed to take a turn for the worse.

Did Mrs. Shelmerdine really suppose, said Mother in icy tones, that young men who stood in the position of her husband had no responsibilities to society?

Oh, yes, Mrs. Shelmerdine quite agreed that they had, and that was why personally she was so glad that he had decided to throw in his lot with the Party of Progress.

‘ Progress,’ said Mother; ‘ what pray is Progress? ’

It was certainly a difficult question for the young Madam to answer, but fortunately Phil-ipp was not depending wholly upon dialectics in the coming battle.

‘I am sorry to hear it,’ said Mother.

Yes, that was rather subtle for Mother.

‘I suppose you feel, Lady Shelmerdine,’ said the young wife, ‘that if he depended entirely on his powers of argument he would have no chance of getting in.’

Yes, that was what Mother meant, exactly.

Well it seemed that Phil-ipp had several other strings to his bow.

Mother had implicit faith, however, in the essential good sense of her countrymen. They were such shrewd people in the midlands; and Mother hoped and believed that they would demand qualities more positive than those guaranteed by the fact that the Rag candidate was the eldest son of a distinguished father.

Mischief agreed; but if the Candidate was able to kick three goals against Aston Villa, which, in the opinion of the local experts, he was quite capable of doing if he went into special training for the purpose, there was no power on earth which could keep him from the head of the poll.

This, of course, took Mother out of her depth completely. She herself was something of an old parliamentary hand; and she had gained first-hand experience in the days when the ProConsul was merely Sir Walter and a light of the House of Commons. But this was beyond her.

Mother had never heard of Aston Villa; and when Daughter-in-Law took pains to explain who Aston Villa was, somehow Mother did n’t seem to be very much enlightened. But of one thing she was sure. To fight a parliamentary election upon any such basis was sheer degradation of the British Constitution.

No, somehow the Conference did n’t seem to prosper. But to do Mother justice, too, she was quite prepared to eat Humble Pie.

‘To be perfectly candid, Phil-ipp,’ said Mother, really getting to business at last, ‘your father has taken counsel of Mr. Vandeleur, most anxious counsel; and acting upon his suggestion he is fully prepared to offer a warm welcome to you both in Grosvenor Square; and he very much hopes you will allow your name to be withdrawn, and sometime quite soon Mr. Vandeleur himself will find you a constituency, because he is really concerned that a young man of such promise should be lost to the party.

Thus did Mother struggle right nobly with the unsavory cates.

Phil-ipp and Mary were touched, of course, by the liberal offer, touched very deeply; but they did n’t quite see how it would be possible for the former to swallow his principles, even allowing for the fact that the fatted calf is such delectable eating. They were awfully nice about it, though, which is, of course, what you would expect them to be; but they maintained that, after all, a man who had attained the ripe age of twenty-eight might aspire to a few convictions. Dear Phil-ipp felt so strongly that the future lay with the Party of Progress.

Mother failed undoubtedly in her diplomatic errand. And no doubt the measure of her failure was in her parting words, that dear Phil-ipp would never be forgiven by his father if he persisted in going to the poll.

Mother took an affectionate leave of the Errant Son, but her leave of Daughter-in-Law was very guarded.



Things had to go forward at Blackhampton in spite of the Ukase, and forward they went right merrily. The adoption of Philip was really a fine stroke on the part of the Rags, because the Blackhampton Rovers had a following of about thirty thousand persons weekly, and one and all of these thirty thousand acclaimed it as quite the right policy. The famous insideright had had in his day — which was not so very far off either — only one superior in that responsible position, and he was Steve Bloomer. If the Rag candidate could only reproduce his form on a certain great occasion he was bound to go straight to the top of the poll.

A general election was expected in the autumn. Philip and Mary spent August at Trouville in order to get ready for the fray. Philip trained on the sands, and Mary composed speeches by the score while she listened to the seductive strains of Monsieur Marly’s Marine Orchestra.

And then when this delightful month was over they went to Blackhampton in fighting trim, hired a house on its outskirts for three months, and set to work in grim earnest.

It was not long before they were the two most popular people in this rather unalluring city. It was democratic to the core; and the fact that the Rag candidate was the son of Mr. Vandeleur’s very last creation was made a cardinal point by both his opponents in this three-cornered contest. But as the Candidate said with simple pathos at every meeting, ‘ Gentlemen, it is not fair to hold me responsible for my father. No man ought to be held responsible for his father. I am doing my level best to live down my father, gentlemen, and in so doing, I look confidently for the support of every follower of the Rovers in this room because they, I know, are good sportsmen.’

Whereupon, the good sportsmen in question invariably roared themselves hoarse.

‘ And now, gentlemen, I am going to ask my wife, who is a far better speaker than I am, to say a few words. There is no need for me to make you known to one another, because she tells me you are all old friends of hers.’ (Loud cheers and cries of ‘Sing us a song, Mary.’)

Mary, looking like a picture-postcard, would then sit down to the piano, which with great foresight had been provided by the Executive Committee, and proceed to sing that famous ballad from Iolanthe about good Queen Bess’s glorious days when the House of Lords did nothing in particular and did it very well.

Aston Villa were beaten handsomely on the following Saturday, and although the Candidate only managed to kick one goal he showed so much of his old form that it was clear that another striking blow had been delivered for the cause of Free Trade. In fact, the Opposition had not a look in.

Their meetings were very tame affairs by comparison, even if the standard of speech-making was thought by some people to be higher. But little or no interest was taken in them; while at those of the unfilial young man who was going to take away his father’s Veto there was n’t even standing-room an hour before the proceedings began. Undoubtedly it was going to be a signal triumph for the People’s Cause.

The dissolution of Parliament occurred in the middle of November. A crowded and glorious fortnight followed. Notts Forest was beaten; a draw was made with Sunderland; and on the very eve of the poll, Tottenham Hotspur received a most crushing reverse.

It was all over but the shouting even before the fateful day had dawned. The Flag-Waggers could hardly raise a waggle; the sitting member realized already that he had lost his seat; Blackhampton went solidly for the Rags, and the best Inside-Right in England — never mind Steve Bloomer! — was hoisted with a noble majority to the top of the poll.

Unparalleled scenes were enacted in the Market Square. The horses were taken out of the New Member’s carriage, and he and his charming wife were drawn in triumph through the principal streets.

When the news was published that the Rags had gained a seat at Blackhampton, and that the turnover of votes had been tremendous, Grosvenor Square was quite at a loss to understand it.

‘ It was n’t as if the fellow had any brains,’ said Father to everybody.

Mother, however, told everybody privately that she always thought that dear Phil-ipp had been underrated by his father.

Perhaps she was inclined to weaken a bit. After all it was better than leading an idle and useless life. However misplaced the ambition, it was an evidence of that dormant ability, which she, at any rate, always suspected to be there, since her family had never been known to be without it.

Father, however, was adamant. He went his way, and Philip and Mary went theirs. In spite of their wrongdoing the guilty pair contrived to be extremely happy in the little nest in Knightsbridge, whilst Father, alas! grew exceeding miserable.

By the time the guilty pair had been married a little more than a year, Mrs. Philip fulfilled one of the important duties incident to the degree in life to which it had pleased Providence to call her. She presented Philip with twins.

To the credit of Mother, be it said, the Twins proved altogether too much for her. She hauled down her flag completely, but Father still declined to be comforted, and every day made himself more unhappy and miserable. His appetite declined; his clothes no longer fitted him; no longer did he seem to care about public business. Instead of the succession being doubly secure, the Family might have been threatened with extinction.



The little nest in Knightsbridge was no longer adequate, and a move was made to a more commodious abode in Pont Street. It was Mary’s custom to give the Twins an airing in the park every morning when the weather was fine. Like a wise young mother she personally undertook this important duty, trundling the perambulator herself, and gaining health and happiness thereby, in spite of the emphatic protests of Philip, who seemed to think that nursemaids had been invented for that purpose.

This was a subject, however, upon which Mary was a little inclined to dogmatism. She had no belief in nursemaids.

Thereupon the proud father, in spite of an involuntary shudder, felt that he himself should be allowed to undertake this onerous duty.

Mary laughed at this. It was not the business of man to push perambulators, and no self-respecting woman would ever endure the spectacle. Besides, said Mary, it would never do for white spats by Grant and Cockburn to condescend to such a menial occupation. The Button Club would certainly expel their wearer if he were guilty of any such solecism. Even as it was, rumor had it that he had been severely reprimanded by the Committee for daring to stand as a Rag for Blackhampton, and, worse, for getting himself elected by a considerable majority. If he were to be seen pushing a ‘pram’ in the park on a fine June morning, he would be compelled to resign.

The Young-Woman-with - the - Perambulator made a fascinating picture on these fine June mornings along by the railings of the Row; and had it been painted by Rembrandt or Velasquez or some other old and respectable painter, a good deal of money might have been offered for it by cosmopolitan millionaires.

Indeed the Young-Woman-with-thePerambulator became rather a source of remark for some of the habitués of the thoroughfare. Elderly gentlemen with well-brushed side-whiskers, grandfathers all, remarked upon her to other elderly gentlemen. Sensible girl, they said, doing good to herself and to the nation at large, and setting an example to others. It was far better than leaving ’em to nursemaids and such-like careless hussies. You know that they are all right when you have charge of them yourself.

It chanced one morning as the procession followed its accustomed course, with Philip near at hand mounted on a quadruped that had turned out better as a hack than as a ‘chaser,’ a distinguished personage came upon the scene in faultless morning attire. He was none other than Arminius Wingrove.

A man of such wisdom could not do less than stay to admire the Twins. For the life of him, though, he could n’t say which side of the family they favored most. Walter Augustus, named after the misguided Grandpapa who had declined to attend the christening, had certainly the eyes of his mother; Philip Archibald had certainly the eyes of his mother, also. The nose of Philip Archibald was undoubtedly that of his father; the nose of Walter Augustus was undoubtedly that of his father, also; while as for the mouth, the mouth of both Walter Augustus and Philip Archibald was undoubtedly that of both parents. Still it must not be thought that Walter Augustus and Philip Archibald had always to endure these imposing names. In domestic circles one was called Bow and the other Wow.

So unfeigned was the admiration of Arminius Wingrove that nothing would content him but that he should turn and accompany the procession as far as the Achilles statue. But before they were able to gain that desirable bourn, which itself commemorates a great moment in the life of the nation, yet one more historic incident was destined to occur. Alas, that its only commemoration is like to be these unworthy pages.

An elderly gentleman in a glossy silk hat, with well-brushed eyebrows and of a mien of generally composed importance, was debouching slowly yet all unknown into this historic episode. He was not looking very happy, for all that he wore his habitual air of distinction. He was a Pro-Consul, and full many of the passers-by saluted him respectfully. But he did not seem in anywise the better for these manifestations of public regard.

If the truth must be told of this elderly gentleman, sorrow and envy were the occupants of his heart this lovely June morning, when even the metropolitan prospect was all that was fair and gracious. He was the most miserable grandfather in London instead of being the proudest and happiest, as he certainly ought to have been.

In his stately progress he passed other grandfathers. They were walking with their sons and daughters, and with the sons and daughters of their sons and daughters, and looking immeasurably the better for the privilege. Surely it was good to be a grandfather on this fine June morning. It seemed a perfectly honorable and rational and proper state of being.

With every yard he walked, the conviction grew firmer in him that this was the case. It was surely the duty of elderly gentlemen with well-brushed eyebrows to rejoice in that degree. There was a man he knew well, a member of Parliament, looking so pink and prosperous, with a small girl holding one hand and a small boy holding the other. Envy and sorrow were not in that heart, it was certain.

Could it be that his recent policy had been vain and weak and shortsighted? The great Pro-Consul had never asked himself such questions before, but it had become very clear to him that he would have to be asking them presently. A grandfather had surely no right to make himself as ridiculous as he had done.

Then it was that the great ProConsul came right opposite the Achilles statue, and the episode to which we have already referred got itself made into history.

A certain Mr. Wingrove, a famous dramatist who had been elected recently under the rule honoris causa to Grandfather’s club, and with whom Grandfather was upon pleasantly familiar terms, came into view. Walking by the side of Mr. Wingrove was a charming-looking girl. She had charge of a most commodious double perambulator, and so proudly was she trundling it that it was quite clear to the great Pro-Consul that this was a case of Twins.

Grandfather in his present somewhat emotional state must needs stop and shake Mr. Wingrove heartily by the hand. And further he was constrained to offer his sincere congratulations. He overflowed with admiration.

‘And what are their names?’ he asked.

‘One is called Bow, and the other is called Wow,’ said the demure young mother.

It seemed indeed strange to Mr. Wingrove that the great Pro-Consul should not know the names of his own grandchildren, and, moreover, that he should not recognize them and their mother.

Then a light dawned suddenly upon him. Further, it seemed to this acute mind that in the absence of the lawful father, who had turned his horse and who was going now down the Row at a canter, a legitimate opportunity had presented itself for the exercise of the comic spirit.

‘I should really like my wife to see them,’ said the great Pro-Consul. ‘Such splendid fellows; the picture of health.’

‘Oh, yes, by all means,’ said Mr. Wingrove, with a rather sly smile at the proud young mother.

No time like the present. If Mrs. W. did n’t mind bringing along these infant phenomena as far as Grosvenor Square, which is hardly ten minutes from the Achilles statue as the crow flies, he was sure that Lady S. would be enchanted.

The gracious young matron would be delighted to take them round to Grosvenor Square for the inspection of the wife of this most agreeable elderly gentleman, whose name, by the way, she had not the pleasure of knowing. All the same, the mention of Grosvenor Square and the demeanor of Mr. Wingrove combined to give the young madam a pretty shrewd suspicion.

As for Arminius Wingrove, he was amazed at the resource and the boldness of Providence, which, of course, he was quite entitled to be. And in that, to be sure, he was by no means singular. Many first-rate minds have been similarly occupied.

Grandfather, all unconscious of the wicked trick that Fate had put upon him, prattled along by the side of the four-wheeled chariot; and he was presently moved to indulge in the proud confidence that they had recently had Twins in the Family.

‘Oh, really,’ said Mr. Wingrove.

‘How interesting,’ said the proud young mother, not to be outdone in gravity.

‘I must really go and see ’em,’ said Grandfather.

‘Oh, haven’t you seen them yet?’ said the fair charioteer.

Not yet. It seemed that a ProConsul had so many calls upon his attention.

‘Well, if I were their mother, I don’t, think I should be very pleased with you. Have n’t you been rather remiss, Mr. —? I have n’t the pleasure of knowing your name.’

‘Lord Shelmerdine,’ said Mr. Wingrove, hastening to atone for his remissness.

By this they were waiting to cross Park Lane.

‘Shall I tell him your name?’ whispered the famous playwright to Mrs. Philip.

‘No, of course you mustn’t,’ said that designing young madam, ‘unless you want to spoil everything.’

And that is the end of the tale.

(The End.)