|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||Phantom Fortune|
uctooer was ending drearily with north-west winds, dust, drifting dead leaves, and a steel gray sky; and the Dolphin Hotel at Southampton was glorified by the presence of Lady Maulevrier and suite. Her ladyship's suite on this occasion was limited to three servants-her French maid, a footman, and a kind of factotum, a man of no distinct and arbitrary signification in her ladyship's house- hold, neither butler or steward, but that privileged being an old and trusted servant, and a person who was supposed to enjoy more of Lady Maulevrier's confidence than any other
member of her establishment.
This James Steadman had been valet to her ladyship's father, Lord Peverill, during the declining yearB of that nobleman. The narrow limits of a sick room had brought the master and servant into a closer companionship than is common to that relation. Lady Diana Angersthorpe was a devoted daughter, and in her attendance upon the Earl during the last three years of his life-a life which closed more than a year before her own marriage-she saw a great deal of James Steadman, and learned to trust him as ser- vants are not often trusted. He was not more than twenty years of age at the beginning of his service, but he was a man of extraordinary gravity, much in advance of his years ; a man of shrewd common sense and clear sharp intellect. Not a reading man, or a man in any way superior to his station and belongings, but a man who could think quickly, and understand quickly, and who always seemed to think rightly. Prompt in action, yet steady as a rock, and to all appearance recognising no earthly interest, no human tie, beyond or above the interests of his master. As a nurse Steadman showed himself invaluable. Lord Peverill left him a hundred pounds in, acknowledgment of his services, which was something for Lord Peverill, who had very little ready cash wherewith to endow his only daughter. After his death the title and estates went to a distant cousin, and I Lady Diana Angersthorpe was taken in hand by her aunt, ; the Dowager Marchioness of Carisbrook, and James Stead- man would have had to find employment among strangers
if Lady Diana had not pleaded so urgently with her as to secure him a somewhat insignificant post in her ladyship's
" If eyer I have a house of my own, you shall have a better place in it Steadman," said Lady Diana.
She kept her word, and on her marriage with Lord Maulevrier, which happened about eighteen months after- wards, Steadman passed into that nobleman's service. He was a member of her ladyship's bodyguard, and his employ- ment seemed to consist chiefly in poking fires, cutting the leaves of books and newspapers, superintending the foot- man's attendance upon her ladyship's household pets, and conveying her sentiments to the other servants. He was in a manner Lady Maulevrier's mouthpiece, and although treated with a respect that verged upon awe, he was not a
favourite with the other servants.
And now the house in May Fair was given over to the charge of caretakers, and all the other servants had been despatched by coach to her ladyship's favourite retreat in Westmoreland, within a few miles of the Laureate's home at Rydal Mount, and James Steadman was charged with
the whole responsibility of her ladyship's travelling arrange-
Penelope had come to Southampton to wait for Ulysses, whose ship had been due for more than a week, and whose I white sails might be expected above the horizon at any moment. James Steadman spent a good deal of his time waiting about at the docks for the earliest news of Greene's ship, the Hypermnestra, while Lady Maulevrier waited patiently in her sitting-room at the Dolphin, whose three long French windows commanded a full view of the High Street, with all those various distractions afforded by the chief thoroughfare of a provincial town. Her ladyship was provided with a large box of books from Ebers' in Bond Street, a basket of fancy work, and her favourite Blenheim spaniel, Lalla Rookh ; but even these sources of amusement did not prevent the involuntary expression of weariness in occasional yawns, and frequent pacings up and down the long, empty room, where the formal hotel furniture had a comfortless and chilly look.
Fellside, her ladyship's place in Westmoreland, was the pleasure house which, among all her possessions, she most valued ; but it had hitherto been reserved for summer occupation, or for perhaps two or three weeks at Easter, when the spring was exceptionally fine. The sudden deter- mination to spend the coming winter in the house near Grasmere was considered a curious freak of Lady Maulev- rier's, and she was constrained to explain her motives to
" His lordship is out of health," she said, "and wants perfect rest and retirement. Now, Fellside is the only place we have in which he is likely to get perfect rest. Any where else we should have to entertain. Fellside is out of the world. There is no one to be entertained."
" Except your neighbour, Wordsworth. I suppose you
see him sometimes ? "
"Dear, simple-minded old soul, he gives nobody any trouble," said her ladyship.
" But is not Westmoreland very cold in winter ? -' asked
Lady Maulevrier smiled benignly, as at inoffensive
"So sheltered," she murmured. "We are at the base of the fell. Loughrigg rises up like a cyclopean wall
between us and the wiud."
" But when the wiud is in the other direction ? "
" We have Nabb Scar. You do not know how we are girdled and defended by hills."
"Very pleasant," agreed the friend; "but for my own part I would rather winter in the south."
Those terrible rumours which had first come upon the world of London last June, had been growing darker and more refined ever since, but still Lady Maulevrier made believe to ignore them ; and alie acted her part of uncon- sciousness with such consummate skill that nobody in her circle could be sure where the acting began and where the ignorance left off. The astute Lord Denyer declared that she was a wonderful woman, and knew more about the real state of the case than anybody else.
Meanwhile it was said by those who were supposed to be well informed that a startling mass of evidence was accu- mulating against Lord Maulevrier. The Indian House, it was rumoured, was busy with the secret investigation of his case, prior to that public enquiry which was to come on during the next session. His private fortune would be made answerable for his misdemeanours-his life, said the alarmists, might pay the penalty of his treason. On all sides it was agreed that the case against Lord Maulevrier looked as black as Erebus; and still Lady Maulevrier looked society in the face with an unshaken courage, and was ready with smiles and gracious words for all comers.
And now came a harder trial, which was to receive the man who had disgraced her, lowered her pride to the dust, degraded the name she bore. She had married him, not loving him - nay, plucking another love out of her heart in order that she might give herself to him. She had mar- ried him for position and fortune, and now by his follies, by his extravagance and by that greed of gold which ÍB the natural result of the spendthrift's habits, he had gone near to cheat her out of both name and fortune. Yet she so commanded herself as to receive him with a friendly air when he arrived at the Dolphin on a dull grey autumn afternoon, after she had waited fur him nearly a fortnight.
James Steadman ushered in his Lordship, a frail atten- uated looking figure, of middle height, wrapped in a furred cloak, yet shivering, a pale sickly face, light auburn whiskers, light blue eyes, full and large, but with no intellectual power in them. Lady Maulevrier was sitting by the fire, in a melancholy attitude, with the Blenheim spaniel on her lap. Her son was at Hastings with his nurses. She had nothing nearer and dearer than the spaniel.
She rose, and went over to her husband, and let him kiss her. It wonld have been too much to say she kissed him ; I but she submitted her lips unresistingly to his, and then ! they sat down on opposite sides of the hearth,
j "A wretched afternoon," said his lordship, shivering,
and drawing his chair closer to the fire. ¿Steadman had taken away his fur-lined cloak. " I had really underrated the disagreeableness of the English climate. It is abomin-
"To-day is not a fair sample," answered her ladyship, trying to be cheerful, "We have had some pleasant
"I detest autumn!" exclaimed Lord Maulevrier, "a season of dead leaves, damp, and dreariness. I should like to get away to the south of France as soon as we can." ,
tier ladyship gave him a scathing look, half scornful,
. half incredulous.
I "You surely would nob dream of leaving the country,'
she said, " under present circumstances. So long as you an
here to answer all charges no one will interfere with your liberty, but if you were to cross the channel-"
"My slanderers might insinuate that I was running away," interrupted Maulevrier, "although the very fact of
my return ought to prove to everyone that I am able to '
meet and face this cabal."
" Is it a cabal ?" asked her ladyship, looking at him with a gaze that searched his soul. ' ' Can you meet their charges ? Can you live down this hideous accusation, and hold up your head as a man of honour ?"
The sensualist's blue eyes nervously shunned that look of earnest interrogation. His lips answered the wife's spoken question with a lie, a lie made manifest by the ex- pression of his countenance.
"I am not afraid," he said.
His wife answered not a word. She was assured that the charges were true, and that the battered rake who shivered over the fire had neither courage nor ability to face his accusers. She saw the whole fabric of her life in ruins, her son the penniless successor to a tarnished name. There was silence for some minutes. Lady Maulevrier sat with lowered eyelids looking at the fire, deep in painful thought. Two perpendicular wrinkles upon her broad white forehead - so calm, so unclouded in society-told of gnawing cares. Then she stole a look at her husband, as he reclined in his arm-chair, his head lying back against the cushions in list- less repose, his eyes looking vacantly towards the window, whence he could see only the rain-blurred fronts of opposite houses, blank, dull windows, grey slated roofs, against a grey sky.
He had been a handsome man, and he was handsome still,, albeit premature decay, the result of a dissipated, evil life, was distinctly marked in his faded face. The dull yellow tint of the complexion, the tarnished dimness of the large blue eyes, the discontented droop of the lips, the lan- guor of the attitude, the pallid transparency of the wasted hands, all told of a life worn threadbare, energies exhausted, chances thrown away, a mind abandoned to despair.
" You look very ill," said his wife, after that long blank interval, which marked so unnatural an apathy between husband and wife meeting after so long a severance.
"I am very ill. I have been worried to death-sur- rounded by rogues and liars-the victim of a most infernal conspiracy. " He spoke hurriedly, growing whiter and more
tremulous as he went on.
" Don't talk about it. You agitate yourself to no pur- pose," said Lady Maulevrier, not unkindly, but with a tran- quility which seemed to indicate supreme coldness, yet which might be the result, pf suppressed feeling. " If you are to face this scandal firmly and boldly next January, you must try to recover physical strength in the meanwhile. Mental energy may come with better health."
"I shall never be any better," said Lord Maulevrier testily ; " that infernal climate has shattered my constitu- tion."
" Two or three months of perfect rest and good nursing will make a new man of you. I have arranged that we shall go straight from here to Fellside. No one can plague you there with that disguised maliciousness called ' sympathy.' You can give all your thoughts to the ordeal before you, and be ready to meet your accusers. Fortunately, you have no Burke against you."
" Yes. You know how fond I am of that place. I little thought when you settled it upon me-a cottage in West- moreland, with fifty acres of garden and meadow-so utterly insignificant-that I should ever like it better than any of your places."
" A charming retreat in summer, but we have never wintered there? What put it in your head to go there at such a season as this ? Why, I daresay the snow is on top of the hills already. "
"It is the only place I know where you will not be watched and talked about," replied Lady Maulevrier. You will be out of the eyes of the world. I should think that consideration would weigh more with you than two or three degrees of the thermometer."
"I detest cold," said the Fiarl, "and in my weak
"We will take care of you," answered her ladyship, and in the discussion which followed she bore herself so firmly that her husband was fain to give way. How could a dis- graced and ruined man, broken in-health and spirits, con- test the mere details of life with a resolute high-spirited woman, ten years his junior.
The Earl wanted to go to London and remain there at least a week, but this her ladyship strenuously opposed. He must see his lawyer, he urged ; there were steps to be taken which could be taken only under legal advice-counsel to be retained. If this lying invention of Satan were really destined to take the form of a public trial, he must be pre- pared to fight his foes on their own ground.
"You can make all your preparations at Fellside," answered his wife, resolutely. " I have seen Messrs. Rigby and Ryder, and your own particular ally, Rigby, will go to you at Fellside whenever you want him."
"That is nob like my being on the spot," said his Lord- ship, nervously, evidently much disconcerted by her lady- ship's firmness, but too feeble in mind and body for a pro- longed contest. "I ought to be on the spot, I am not with- out influence ; I have friends, men in power."
"Surely you are not going to appeal to friendship in order to vindicate your honour. These charges are true or or false. If they are false your own manhood, your own rectitude, can face them and trample upon them, unaided by back-stairs influence. If they are true no one can help you."
"Ithink you, at least, ought to know that they are as false as hell," retorted the Earl with an attempt to maintain his dignity.
" I have acted as if I so believed," replied his wife, gravely. "T have lived as if there was no such slanders in the air. I have steadily ignored every report, every insinu- ation-have held my head as high as if I knew you were immaculate."
"I expected as much from you," answered the'Earl, coolly. "If I had not known you were a woman of sense I should not have married you."
This was his utmost expression of gratitude. His next remarks had reference solely to his own comfort. Where were his rooms, at what hour were they to dine. And here- upon he rang for his valet, a German Swiss, and a servant out of a thousand.