|Chapter Title||PROUND CAN I NEVER BE OF WHAT I HATE.|
|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||Phantom Fortune|
" PflOUD CAN I NEVER BE OE WHAT I HATE."
/ ,1t was a Saturday afternoon, and even in that great1 world
which has no occupation in life except to amuse itself, whose days are all holidays, there'is a sort of exceptional flavour, a kind of extraexcitementon Saturday afternoons, distinguished by Polo matches at Hurlingham. There was a great military Polo match for this particular Saturday-Lancers against Dragoons. It was a lovely June afternoon, and Hurling- ham would be at its best. The cool green sward, the branching trees, the. flowing river would afford an unspeak- able relief after the heated air of London ; and to Hur- lingham Lady Kirkbank drove directly after luncheon.
. Lesbia leaned back in the barouche listening calmly, while her chaperon expatiated upon the wealth and possessions of Mr Smithson. It was now ten days since the meeting at Ascot, and Mr. Smithson had contrived to see a great deal of Lesbia in that short time. He had haunted her at afternoon and evening parties ; he had supped in' Arlington Street after the opera ; he had played cards with Lesbia, and had enjoyed the felicity of winning her money. His admiration was obvious, and showed that, in Lady Kirk- bank's unromantic phraseology, "the man meant business."
" Smithson is caught at last, and 1 am glad of it," said Georgie. ' ' The creature is an abominable flirt, and has broken more hearts than any man in London. He was all but/the death of one of the dearest girls I know."
" Mr. Smithson break hearts !" exclaimed Lesbia, lan- guidly. "I should not have thought that was in his line.
Mr. Smithson is not an Adonis, nor is he particularly fasci-
" My child, how fresh you are ! Do you suppose it is the handsome m?n or the fascinating men for whom women break their hearts in society? It is the rich men they all want to marry-men like Smithson, who can give them dia- monds, and yachts, and a hunting-stud, and half-a-dozen fine houses. Those are the prizes-the blue ribbons of the matrimonial race-course-men like Smithson, who pretend to admire all the pretty women, who dangle, au<l dangle, and dangle, and keep off other offers, and give ten guinea ; bouquets, and then at the end of the season are off to Hom
bourg or the Scotch moors, without a word. Do you think that kind of treatment is not hard enough to break a penni- less girl's heart ? She sees the golden prize within her grasp, as she believes.; she thinks that she and poverty have parted company ; she imagines herself mistress of town- house and country houses, yachts, and stables ; and then one fine morning the gentleman is off and away ! Dc not you think that is enough to break a girl's heart?"
" I can imagine that a girl steeped to the lips in poverty might be willing to marry Mr. Smithson's houses arie yachts," answered Lesbia in her low, sweet voice, with i faint sneer even, amidst the sweetness, "but I think ii must have been:a happy release for any one to be let off th<
sacrifice at the last moment."
" Poor Belle Trinder did not think so." " Who was Belle Trinder ?"
"A poor parson's daughter, whom I took under my win five years ago-a splendid girl, large and fair, and just
trifle coarse-not to be spoken of in.the same day with you, dearest ; but still a decidedly handsome créature. She was a very lively girl, 'never ran mute,' Sir George used to say. Sir George was very fond of her. She amused him, poor girl, with her rather brainless rattle."
" Did Mr. Smithson admire her ?"
" Followed her about every where, sent her whole flower gardens in the way of bouquets and Japanese baskets, and floral parures for her gowns, and opera boxes and concert tickets. Their names were always coupled. People used to call them Bel and the Dragon. The poor child made up her mind she was to be Mrs. Smithson. She used to talk of what she would do for her own people-the poor old father, buried alive in an Essex parsonage, and struggling every winter with chronic bronchitis ; the four younger sisters pining in dulness and penury; the mother hardly knew what it was to rest from the continual worries of ' daily life.
"Poor things," sighed Lesbia, gazing admiringly at the
handle of her last new sunshade.
"Belle used to talk of what she would do for them all," pursued Lady Kirkbank. " Father should go every year to Monte Carlo, mother and the girls have a month in Part Lane every season, and their autumn holiday at one of Mr. Smithson's country houses. It is only one man in a thousand-the modern Arthur, the modern Don Quixote who will marry a whole family. I told Belle as much, but she laughed. She felt so secure of her power over the man, ' he will do anything I ask him,' she said."
" Miss Trinder must be an extraordinary young person," observed Lesbia, scornfully. " The man had not proposed,
had he ?"
"No, the actual proposal hung fire, but Belle thought it was a settled thing all the same. Everybody talked to her as if she were engaged to Smithson, and the vicarage girls used to write her long letters of congratulation, envying her her good fortune, speculating about what she would do when she was married. The girl was too open and candid for London society - talked too much, ' gave the view holloa before she was sure of her fox,' Sir George said. All this silly talk came to Smithson's ears, and one morning we read in the Post that he had started the day before for Algiers. We waited, hoping for some letter of explanation, some friendly farewell which would mean à revoir. But there was nothing, and then poor Belle gave way altogether. She shut herself up in her room, went out of one hysterical fit into another. She was not fit to be seen for a week, and then she went home to her father's and eat her heart, as Byron calls it. And the worst of it was that she had no actual justification for considering herself jilted. Smithson had only flirted to his heart's content, had spent a few hundreds upon flowers, gloves, and opera tickets, which perhaps would not have been accepted by a girl with a strong sen Be of her own dignity."
" I should think not, iudeed," interjected Lesbia.
" But which poor Belle was only too delighted to get."
"Miss Trinder must be very bad style," said Lesbia, with languid scorn ; " and Mr. Smithson is an execrable person. Did she die ?" \
" No, my dear ; she is alive, poor soul !"
"Yon said he broke her heart."
" ' The heart may break, yet brokenly live on,' " quoted Lady Kirkbank. "The disappointed young women don't all die. The lucky ones marry well-to-do widowers with large families, and so slip into a comfortable groove by the time they are-five-and-thirty. Poor Belle is still single, still buried in the damp parsonage."
"The idea of any one wanting to marry Mr. Smithson," said Lesbia. " It seems too dreadful."
" A case of real destitution, you think. Wait till you have seen Smithson's house in Park Lane-his team-his yacht-his orchid houses in Berkshire."
Lesbia sighed. Her knowledge of London society was only seven weeks old ; and yet already the day of dis- enchantment had begun. She was having her eyes opened to the stern realities of life. A year ago she had pictured to herself the crowd of suitors who would come to woo, and she had resolved to choose the worthiest.
What would he be like, that worthiest among the wooers, that King Arthur among her knights ?
First and foremost, he would be of rank higher than her own-a duke, a marquis, or one of the first and oldest among earls. It would be a fall, a failure, a disappoint- ment, were she to marry a commoner, however distinguished.
The worthy one must be of the old nobility. He must be young, handsome, intellectual. He must stand out from among his peers by his gifts of mind and person, have won distinction in the arena of politics, or diplomacy, arms, or letters. He must be "somebody."
She had been seven weeks in society, and this modern Arthur had not appeared. The dukes and marquises were mostly men of advanced years. The young unmarried nobility were given over to sport, play, and foolishness. She had heard only of one man who at all corresponded with her ideal, and he was Lord Hartfield. But Lord Hartfield had given himself up to politics, and was no doubt a prig. Lady Kirkbank spoke of him with contempt, as an intoler- able person. But then he was not in Lady Kirkbank's set. He belonged to that serious circle to which Lady Kirkbank's house appeared about as reputable a place of gathering as a booth on a race-course.
And now Lady Kirkbank told Lesbia that this Mr. Smithson, a nobody with a great fortune, was a man whose addresses she, the sister of Lord Maulevrier, ought to wel- come. Mr. Smithson, whose arrogant claim of belonging to those great Smithsons whose crest he bore on his carriage panels was almost too shallow for the belief of toadies aod sycophants. She was told that her conquest of Mr. Smith- son was her first real triumph, and that she had reason tc be glad and proud.
Lady Kirkbank, and all Lady Kirkbank's friends, seemed to have conspired to teach her one lesson, and that lessor meant that money was the first prize in the great game of life Money ranked before everything-was Alpha and Omega the beginning and the end. Mr. Smithson, whose ante, cedents were as cloudy as those of Aphrodite, was a greatei man than a peer whose broad acres only brought him twc per cent., or half of whose farms were tenantless, and hh fields growing cockle instead of barley.
Yes, Lady Leshia's illusions were reft from her one byone A year ago she had fancied beauty all powerful, a gift whicl must ensure to its possessor dominion over all the king doms of the earth. Hank, intellect, fame, would bow down before that magical diadem. And, behold, she hac been shining upon London society for seven weeks, andonb empty heads and empty pockets had bowed down-th< frivolous, the ineligible,-and Mr. Smithson.
Another illusion which had been dispelled was Lesbia' comfortable idea of her own expectations. Her grandmothe had told her that she might take rank among heiresses
and she had held herself accordingly, deeming that her place was among the wealthiest. And now, since Mr. Smithson's appearance upon the scene, Lady Kirkbank had informed her with friendly candour that Lady Maulevrier's fortune, however large it might seem at Grasmere, would be a poor thing in London ; and that Lady Maulevrier's ideas about money were as old-fashioned as her notions about
" Life is about six times as expensive as it was in your grandmother's time," said Lady Kirkbank, as the carriage rolled softly along the shabby road between Knightsbridge and Fulham. "It is the pace that kills. Society, which used to jog along comfortably, like the old Brighton stage, at ten miles an hour, now goes as fast as the Brighton
express. In my mother's time poor Lord Byron was held . up to the execration of respectable people ; in my own time people talked about Lord Waterford ; but, my dear, the young men now are all Byrons and Waterfords, without the genius of the one or the generosity of the other. We. are all going at steeplechase rate. Social success without money is impossible. The rich Americans, the successful Jews, will crowd us out unless we keep pace with them. Ah, Lesbia, my dear girl, there would be a great future before you if you could only make up your mind to accept
" How do you know that he means to propose to me ?" asked Lesbia, mockingly. "Perhaps he is only going to behave as he did to Miss Trinder."
" Lady Lesbia Haselden is a very different person from a. country parson's* daughter," answered her chaperon : " Smithson told me all about it afterwards. He was really smitten by Belle's showy good looks, but one of her parti- cular friends told him of her foolish talk about her sisters, and how well she meant to get them married when she was Mrs. Smithson. This disgusted him. 11 had half made up my mind to marry the girl, but I would sooner have hung myself than marry her mother and sisters, so I took the first train en route to Algiers,' said Smithson, aud upon my word I could hardly blame the man," concluded Lady
They were driving up the narrow avenue to the gates of Hurlingham by this time. Lesbia shook out her frock and looked at her gloves, reaching up to the elbow, and embroi-
dered to match her frock.
She was a study in brown and gold. Brown satin petti- coat, embroidered with marsh marigolds ; little bronze shoes, with marsh marigolds tied on the , lachets ; brown stockings with marsh marigold clocks ; tunic brown foulard smothered with quillings of soft brown lace ; Princess bon- net of brown straw, with a wreath of marsh marigold and a" neat little buckle of brown diamonds ; parasol brown satin, with an immense bunch of marsh marigolds on the top ; fan to. match parasol.
The seats in front were nearly all full when Lady Kirk- bank and Lesbia left their carriage ; but their interest? had been protected by a gentleman who had turned down two chairs and sat between them on guard. This was Mr.
" I have been sitting here for au hour keeping your chairs," he said, as he rose to greet them. " You have no idea what a fight I have had, and how suspiciously all the women
have looked at me."
The match was going on. The Lancers scuffling for the ; ball-a tine display of hog-maned ponies and close cropped young men in ideal boots. But Lesbia cared very little about the match. She was looking along the serried ranks of youth and beauty to see if anybody's costume looked
smarter than her own.
No. She could see nothing she liked so well as her brown satin and "buttercups. She sat down in a perfectly contented frame of mind-pleased even with Mr. Smithson, who had shown himself devoted by his patient attendance upon the
After the match was over the two ladies and their attend- ant strolled about the gardens. Other men came and fluttered round Lesbia, and women and girls exchanged endearing smiles and pretty little words of greeting with her, and envied her the brown frock and buttercups and Mr. Smithson at her chariot wheel. And then they went to the lawn in front of the club-house, which was so crowded that even Mr. Smithson found it difficult to get a tea-table, and would hardly have succeeded so soon as he did if it had not been for the assistance of a couple of Leshia's devoted Guardsmen, who rah to and fro and badgered the
waiters. ' . '
After much skirmishing they were seated at a rustic round table, and Lesbia poured out the tea with the prêt tiest air of domesticity.
" Can you really pour out tea?" gasped a callow lieu tenant, gazing upon her with goggling, enraptured eyes. "I did not think you could do anything so earthly."
''Lean, and drink it too," answered Lesbia, laughing.'1 "I adore tea. Cream and sugar?"
"What-I beg your pardon-how many?" murmured the youth, who had lost himself in gazing, and no longer understood plain English.
Mr. Smithson frowned at the intruder, and contrived to absorb Leshia's attention for the rest of the afternoon. He had a good deal more to say for himself than her military admirers, and was altogether more amusing. He had a little cynical air which Leshia's recent education had taught her to enjoy. He depreciated all her female friends, and gave her to understand, between the lines as it were, that she was the only woman in London worth thinking about.
She looked at him curiously, wondering how Belle Trinder had been able to resign herself to the idea of marrying him.
He was not absolutely bad looking-but he was in all things unlike a girl's ideal lover. He was short and stout,, with a pale complexion, and sunken faded eyes. He dressed well, or allowed himself to be dressed by the most correct of tailors, but he never attempted to lead the fashion in his garments. He had no originality. He had small feet, of which he was intensely proud, pudgy white hands, on which he wore the most exquisite of rings. He changed them every day like a Roman Emperor; was reported to have summer and winter rings - onyx and the coolest looking intaglios set in slenderest gold rims for warm weather-fiery
rubies and diamonds for winter.
Lady Lesbia surveyed Mr. Smithson critically, and shud- dered at the thought that this person was the best substi- tute which the season had yet offered her .for her ideal knight. She thought of John Hammond - the tall, strong figure, straight and square ; the head so proudly carried on a neck which would have graced a Greek arena. The straight clearly cut features, the flashing eyes, bright with youth and hope and the promise of all good things.
Yes, there was indeed a man-a man in all the nobility of
j manhood, as God made him, an Adam before the Fall.
(To bc continued in our next.)