Chapter 64034496

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitlePENELOPE.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article64034496
Full Date1883-04-14
Page Number0
Corrections0
Word Count3114
IllustratedY
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleIllustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)
Trove TitlePhantom Fortune
article text

:-;-??---?.-~-~~ ¡¿írl "The outline of the rigid figure lintier thc coverlet looked like a sculptured effigy on a tomb." '¡ VI

"PHANTOM FORTUNE:'

By MISS BRADDON, Í1

A uthor of " Lady Audley's Secret," 11 Dead Menu Shoe*," "'Weavers and Weft," " Just as I Am,?' \lx , <£.<?. ^'¡l-í 1.1

PROLOGUE-CHAPTER I.

PENELOPE.

PEOPLE dined earlier forty years ago than they do now. Even the salt of the earth, the elect of society, represented by that little great world which lies within the narrow circle bounded by Bryanstone Square on the north and by Birdcage Walk on the south, did not consider seven o'clock too early an hour for a dinner party, which was to be followed by routs, drums, concerts, conversazione, as the case might be. It was seven o'clock on a lovely June evening, and the Park was already deserted, and carriages were rolling swiftly along all those west-end streets and through the west-end squares, carrying rank, fashion, wealth, and beauty, political influence, and intellectual power, to the particular circle in which each was destined to shine upon that particular evening. Stateliest among London squares Grosvenor, in somewise a wonder to the universe as newly lighted with gas, grave Grosvenor with its heavy old Geor- gian houses and pompous entrances, sparkled and shone, not alone with the novel splendour of gas but with the light of many wax candles, clustering flower-like in silver branches and girandoles, multiplying their flame in numerous mirrors : and of all the houses in that stately square none had a more imposing figure than Lord Denyer's dark red- brick mansion, with stone dressings and the solidity of an Egyptian mausoleum.

Lord Denyer was an important personage in the political and diplomatic world. He had been ambassador at Con- stantinople and at Paris, and had now retired on his laurels, an influence still, but no longer an active power in the machine of government. At his house gathered all that was most brilliant in London society. To be seen at Lady Denyer's evening parties was the guinea stamp of social dis- tinction ; to dine with Lord Denyer was an opening in life, almost as valuable as University honours and more difficult

of attainment. |

It waa during the quarter of au hour before dinner that a group of persons, mostly personages, congregated round Lord Denyetfs hearthrug, naturally trending towards the social hearth, albeit it was the season of roses and lilies rather than of fires, and the hum of the city was floating in upon the breath of the warm June evening through the five tall windows which opened upon Lord Denyer's balcony.

The ten or twelve person's assembled seemed only a sprinkling in the large lofty room, furnished sparsely with amber satin sofa?, a pair of Florentine marble tables, and half-an acre or so of looking glass. Voluminous amber dra-: peries shrouded the windows and deadened the sound of rolling wheels and the voice and murmur of western Lon- don. The drawing-rooms of those days were neither artistic nor picturesque, neither early English nor low Dutch, nor Rennaissanoe, nor 'Anglo-Japanese. A stately common-place distinguished the reception-rooms of the great world. Uphol- stery stagnated, at a dead level, of fluted legq, gilding, plate glass, and amber satin.

Lady Denyer stood a little way in advance of the group on the hearth-rug, fanning herself, with her eye on the door, while she listened languidly to the remarks of a youthful Secretary of Legatiou, a sprig of a lordly tree, upon the last debut at Mer Majesty's Theatre.

"My owu idea was that she screamed," said her lady- ship; "but the new Itosinas generally do scream. Why do we have a new Rosina every year, whom nobody ever hears of afterwards ? What, becomes of them ? Do they die, or do they set^ up as singing mistresses in second-rate watering-places ?" hazarded her ladyship, with her eye always on th« door.

She was a large woman in amethyst satin and a gauze turban with a diamond aigrette, a splendid jewel which would not have misbeseemed the head-gear of an Indian prince. Lady Denyer was one of the last women who'wore a turban, and that Oriental headdress became her bold and

massive features.

Infinitely bored by the whiskerless attaché, who had entered upon a disquisition on the genius of Rossini as com- pared with this new man, Meyerbeer, her ladyship made believe to hear, while she listened intently to the confi- dential murmurs of the group on the hearth rug, the little knot of personages clustered round Lord Denyer.

"Indian mail iu this morning," said one, " nothing else talked of at the clubs. A flagrant cape, almost as bad as Warren Hastings. Quite clear there must be a public inquiry-House of Lords-criminal prosecution.

" I was told, on very good authority, that he has been recalled, and is now on his passage home," said another

man.

Lord Denyer shrugged his shoulders, pursed up his lips, and looked ineffably wise, a way he had when he knew very little about the subject under discussion.

"How will she take it, do you think ?" inquired Colonel Madison, of the Life Guards, a man about town, and an inveterate gossip, who knèw everybody, and everybody'? family history, down to the very peccadilloes of their great grandmothers.

" You have.an opportunity of judging," replied his lord- ship, coolly. she's to be here this evening."

" But do you think she'll shew ?" asked the Colonel.

. " The mail must have brought the news to her, as well as to other people - supposing she «knew nothiug about it beforehand. She must know that the storm has burst. Do you think she'll-"

" Come out in the thunder and lightning?" interrupted Lord Denyer; "I'm sure she will. She has the pride of Lucifer and the courage of a lion. Five to one in ponies that she is here before the clock strikes seven."

"I think you're right. I knew her mother, Constance Talmash. Pluck was a family characteristic with the Tal mash's. Wicked as devils and brave as lions. Old Talmash, the grandfather, shot his valet in a paroxysm of delirium I tremens," said Colonel Madison. " She's a splendid woman,

"Illustrated Sydney News" is tht' only imblication in Kew South Wale* in xvhich Ods tal^

and she won't flinch. I'd rather back her than bet against her.» I

" Lady Maulevrier !" announced the groom of the cham- bers ; and Lady Denyer moved at' least three paces forward

to meet her guest.

The lady who entered with slow and stately movements and proudly balanced head might have served as a model for Juno or the Empress Livia. She was still in the bloom of youth, at most seven-and twenty, but she had all the calm assurance of middle-age. No dowager, hardened by the varied experiences of a quarter of a century in the great world could have faced society with more perfect coolness and self-possession. She was beautiful, and she let the world see that she was conscious of her beauty and the > power that went along with it. She was clever, and she

used her cleverness with unfailing tact and unscrupulous audacity. She had won her place in the world as an acknow- ledged beauty, and one of the leaders of fashion. Two years ago she had been the glory and delight of Anglo-Indian society in the city of Madras, ruling that remote and limited kingdom with a despotic power. Then all of a sudden she was ordered, or she ordered her physician to order her, an immediate departure from that perilous climate, and ahe came back to England with her three-year-old son, two Ayahs, and four European servants, leaving her husband, Lord Maulevrier, Governor of the Madras Presidency, to finish the terms of his service in an enforced widowhood.

She returned to be the delight of London society. She threw open the family mansion in Curzon Street to the very best people, but to those only. She went out a good deal, but she was never seen at a second-rate party. She had not a single doubtful acquaintance upon her visiting list. She spent half of every year at the family seat on the Scottish border, was a miracle of goodness to the poor of her parish, and taught her boy his alphabet.

Lord Denyer came forward while his wife and Lady Maul- evrier were shaking hands, and greeted her with more than his usual cordiality. Colonel Madison watched for the pri- vilege of a recognizing nod from the divinity. Sir Jasper Paulet, a legal luminary of the first brilliancy, likely to be employed for the Government if there should be an inquiry into Lord Maulevrier's conduct out yonder, came to press Lady Maulevrier's hand and murmur a tender welcome.

She accepted their friendliness as a matter of course, and not by the faintest extra quiver of the tremulous stars whict glittered in a circlet above her raven hair did she betray hei consciousness of the cloud that darkened her husband'! reputation. Never had she appeared gayer or more com pletely satisfied with herself and the world in which sh< lived. She was ready to talk about anything and every thing-the newly-wedded queen, and the fortunate Prince whose existence among us had all the charm of novelty-o Lord Melbourne's declining health-and Sir Robert Peel' sliding scale-mesmerism-the latest balloon ascent-th' opera-Macready's last production at Drury Lane-Bulwer' new novel-that clever little comic paper just struggliuj into popularity, what do you call the thing, Punch-yes Punch-or the London Charivari-a much more respectabl paper than its Parisian prototype.

Seated next Lord Denyer, who was an excellent listener Lady Maulevrier vivacity never flagged throughout th diuner, happily not so long as a modern banquet, albeit mor pondrous and not less expensive. Prom the turtle to th pines and strawberries, Lady Maulevrier held her host o her right hand neighbour in interested conversation. Sh always knew the particular subjects likely to interest parti oular people, and was a good listener as well as a goo talker. Her right hand neighbour was Sir Jasper Paulel who had been allotted to the pompous wife of a Cour physician, a lady who had begun her married life in th outer darkness of John street, Bloomsbury, with a house hold consisting of a maid-of-all-work and a boy in buttons with an occasional interregnum of charwoman ; and fe

> whom all the length and breadth of Harley street was no1

much too small.

Sir Jasper was only decently civil to this haughty matroi who on the strength of a card for a ball or a concert, at th palace once in a season affected to be on the most intimât terms with the Royalty, and knew everything that happenec and every fluctuation of opinion in that charmed circle The great lawyer's left ear was listening greedily for an word of meaning that might fall from the lips of Lad Maulevrier ; but no such word fell. She talked delightfull with a touch-and-go vivacity, which is the highest form e dinner-table talk, not dwelling with a heavy hand upon an one subject, but glancing from theme to theme with air lightness. But not one word did she say about the Governc of Madras ; and at this juncture of affairs it would hav

been the worst possible taste to enquire too closely afte

that nobleman's welfare.

So the dinner wore on to its stately close, and just as tl solemn procession of flunkeys, long as the shadowy line < the kings in Macbeth, filed off with the empty ice-dishe Lady Maulevrier said something which was as if a shell ha exploded in the middle of the table.

" Perhaps you are surprised to see me in such goc spirits," she said, beaming upon her host, and speaking : those clear, perfectly finished syllables which are heard fu ther than the louder accents of less polished speakers, "bi you will not wonder when I let you into, the secre Maulevrier is on his way home. "

" Indeed," said Lord Denyer, with the most benigna: smile he could command at such short notice. He felt th his orbicular muscles and the corners of his mouth we betraying too much of his real sentiments. "You must

very glad."

"I am gladder than I can say," answered Lady Maule rier gaily. "That horrid climate-a Bky like molt copper-an atmosphere that tastes of red hot sand-th fiat barren coast never suited him. His term of office wou expire in a little more than a year, but I hardly think could have lived out the year. However, I am happy say the mail that came in to-day-I suppose you know t mail is in?" (Lord Denyer bowed)-"brought me a lett from his lordship, telling me that he has sent in his resign tion, and taken his passage by the next big ship that leav Madras. I imagine he will be home in October."

"If he have a favourable passage," said Lord Deny« " Favoured by your good wishes the winds and the wa\ ought to deal gently with him."

"Ah, we have done with old days of Greek story, wh Poseidon was open to feminine influence," Bighed her lad

ship. My poor Ulysses has no goddess of wisdom to lo

after him."

"Perhaps not, but he has the most charming of Penelot

waiting for him at home."

"A Penelope who goes to dinners, and takes life pleasanl in his absence. That is a new order of things, is it nc said her ladyship laughingly. "I hope my poor Ulys;

will not come home thoroughly broken in health, but that our Sutherlandshire breezes will set him up again."

"Eather an ordeal after India, I should think," said

Lord Denyer.

" It is his native air. He will revel in it. "

"Delicious country, no doubt," assented his lordship, who was no sportsman, and who detested Scotland, grouse moore, deer forests, and salmon rivers included.

His only idea of a winter residence was Florence or Capri, and of the two he preferred Capri. The island was at that time little frequented by Englishmen. It had hardly been fashionable since the time of Tiberus, but Lord Denyer went there, accompanied by his French chef, and a dozen other servants, and roughed it in the native hotel, while Lady Denyer wintered at the family seat among the hills near Bath, and gave herself over to Low Church devotion, and works of benevolence. She made herself a terror to the neighbourhood by the strictness of her ideas all through the autumn and winter; and in the spring she went up to London, put on her turban and her diamonds, and plunged into the vortex of West End society, where she revolved among other diamonded matrons for the season, telling her- self and her intimates that this sacrifice of inclination was due to his lordship's position. Lady Denyer was not the less serious-minded because she was seen at every aristocratic resort, and wore low gowns with very short sleeves, and a great display of mottled arm and dimpled elbow.

Now came her ladyship's smiling signal for the with- drawal of that fairer half of the assembly which was supposed to be indifferent to Lord Denyer's famous port and Madeira. She had been throwing out her gracious signals unperceived for at least five minutes before Lady Maulevrier responded, so entirely was that lady absorbed in her conversation with Lord Denyer ; but she caught the look at last, and rose as if moved by the same machinery which impelled her hostess, and then, graceful as a swan sailing with the current, she drifted down the room to the distant door, and headed the stately procession of matronly velvet and diamonds, herself at once the most regal and the most graceful figure in that bevy of matrons.

In the drawing-room nobody could be gayer than Lady Maulevrier, as she marked the time of Signor Paponizzi's tarantella, exquisitely performed on the Signor's famed Amati Violin-or talked of the latest scandal - always excepting that latest scandal of all which involved her own husband -in subdued murmurs with one of her intimates. In the dining-room the men drew closer together over their wine, and tore Lord Maulevrier's character to rags. Yea, they rent him with their teeth and gnawed the flesh, from his bones, until there was not so much left of him as the dogs left of Jezebel.

He had been a scamp from his cradle, a spendthrift and a cheat at Eton and Oxford, a blackleg in his manhood. Clever, yes, undoubtedly, just as Satan is clever, and as unscrupulous as that very Satan. This was what his friends said of him over their wine. And now he was rumoured to have sold the British forces in the Carnatic provinces to one of the native Princes. Yes, to have taken gold, gold to an amount which Clive in his most rapacious moments never dreamt of, for his countrymen's blood. Tidings of dark transactions between the Governor and the native princes had reached the ears of the government, tidings so vague, so incredible, that the government might naturally be slow to believe, still slower to act. There were whispers of a woman's influence, a wicked Indian Princess, a creature as facinating and as unscrupulous as Cleopatra. The scandal had been growing for months past, but it was only in the letters received to-day that the rumour had taken a tangible shape and now it was currently reported that Lord Maulevrier had been recalled, and he would have to answer at the bar of the House of Lords for his misdemeanours, just as Warren Hastings had done at the bar of the House of Commons, and with far less chance of escape.

Yet, in the face of all this, Lady Maulevrier bore herself as proudly as if her husband's name were spotless, and talked of his return with all the ardour of a fond and trust- ing wife.

" One of the finest bits of acting I ever saw in my life," said the court physician. " Mademoiselle Mars never did anything better,"

"Do you really think it was acting?" enquired Lord Denyer, affecting a youthful candour and trustfulness which at his age, and with his experience, he could hardly

be supposed to possess.

" I know it," replied the doctor. " I watched her while she was talking of Maulevrier, and I saw just one bead oi perspiration break out on her upper lip-an unmistakeable sign of the mental struggle," s