Billeder på siden

self, has taken to me in the most wonderful manner. I can ask her for anything!

Once set rolling, it is wonderful how a thing of this sort increases in size and in importance. Most people began to talk about the Moffat ball; tradespeople of course were full of it; servants, many of whom had, when the 'family' was out at dinner, obtained through the domestics of Holyrood House a surreptitious glance around the rooms, knew not what it was to weary of talking about the glories to come; ladies living on a certain income, whose ball-days, if they ever had any, were over, talked of the wild doings impending at Mr. Seaton's old place with uplifted hands and bated breath. Dressmakers and milliners were worked to death. Very nice families in the neighbourhood, possessed of many daughters, wished they were going; and even a few of the creme de la crême-people who went to Court, and whose names were in the Peerage-felt and expressed a certain amount of curiosity concerning the entertainment Sir John Moffat was going to give in the old Court suburb.

Miss Banks would have dearly loved to get these last to appear; but she could not manage it. She was aware her efforts must be futile, and consequently she did not make them.

'We have a very good list, indeed,' she said, in answer to a remark from Lady Moffat on this subject; and for the present must be content. The best, the very best, people won't come yet. Plenty of lords and honourables could have been got, no doubt, but we don't want any lord or any honourable. If we have them at all, they must not be black sheep. I wish that good husband of yours would take up the


baronetcy I am told he might have any day. After all, great folks don't think much of a knight. Sir John,' she went on, as the subject of her conversation entered the room, 'I was just asking when your modesty is going to permit of your writing baronet after your name?'

Never, Miss Banks,' he answered; and if I could get rid of this troublesome title of knight -which with all my heart I wish I had never accepted-I should feel most thankful.'

'Really you are too provoking,' said the lady.

'I believe if Sir John could have his choice he would like to be a farm-labourer,' remarked Lady Moffat.

'I do not think you have ever heard me express such a desire,' answered her husband; 'but I can imagine conditions under which I should rather like to be a fieldlabourer.'

Miss Banks looked at her hostess as Sir John, having delivered himself of this sentiment, went out on the terrace-looked, and significantly raised her eyebrows. Lady Moffat shrugged her shoulders. No one could accuse her of aping that petty virtue, humility.

The guests were bidden, and the guests had accepted; few apologies were offered, and most of those were in their regrets more genuine than is usually the case. It was quite certain the rooms would be crowded; it was also certain that, taking public opinion altogether, people felt Sir John Moffat was doing a proper thing in giving so magnificent an entertainment.

He had seen that timely invitations were sent to those amongst his City acquaintance whom he wished to honour; and, indeed, in this respect Miss Banks had


been even more zealous than himself.

'Take my advice,' she said to Lady Moffat, and ask all the friends you have ever known. There can be no worse policy than leaving any worthy person out in the cold upon such an occasion. Even if they do not enjoy themselves when they are here, they will like to say they have been here.'

'O, we don't know very many City people,' answered Lady Moffat, in a tone and with a manner which implied she herself despised trade, and felt she owed nothing to it; but we can ask them if you like.'

'Now I wonder what you were,' considered Miss Banks, looking at the speaker with meditative sweetness. 'If you did not happen to be so inconceivably ignorant on many points, I should imagine you must have been a governess. You are not fond of City people, then?' she remarked aloud.

'I? O, I know nothing about them,' said her ladyship.

'I am so glad Mr. Woodham is coming,' observed Miss Banks. She was turning over the notes of acceptance as she spoke. I was in a panic lest his mother would not give him leave.'

"Why should she not give him leave? asked Lady Moffat.

'She is afraid of his looking at a pretty girl,' was the answer. 'She is never easy about him; and I am sure she might be, for he has never yet exhibited the slightest partiality for any one. She always thinks he would be better where he is not. He had a curacy somewhere in the east of London, and she never rested till she persuaded him to come to St. Theresa's, the church I was telling you about which is getting higher and higher in the way of Ritualism. Now she is in agony

because all the young ladies are in love with him; and fifty times a week, I know, wishes he was back at the East-end, or safe amongst the heathen, or anywhere except at Kensington.'

'Why does she not wish him to marry?' asked Lady Moffat, with a faint show of interest.

'Because some day or other he may be Viscount Chesunt, and in the mean time she dreads his making a mésalliance. They are as poor as church mice now, and she is prouder than any prelate ever was. They live in Edwardes-square, have a very pretty house, but go nowhere and receive nobody. She is a faded, languid, peevish-looking woman. He is thin and ascetic-looking, with sharp-chisell ed features, dark hair, no beard, no moustache, no whiskers, no anything. Judging from dress and appearance, he might be one of the strictest and straitest of his sect; but people say there are many points on which he joins issue with his vicar, and that his vicar only keeps him on because of his blue blood, his severe and monkish cast of face, and his

extraordinary abilities. He can preach such sermons, my dear! You should hear him.'

'I wonder why he is coming,' speculated Lady Moffat, returning as usual to the only sheep likely to interest her.

'He called and left his card for Sir John, if you remember, some time since,' said Miss Banks, going over to a great china bowl— once, no doubt, filled with fragrant rose-leaves, now devoted to the vile uses of a card-basket-and tossing amongst its contents till she found that of which she was in search. Yes, here we have it : "Rev. Noel Woodham, Edwardessquare, Kensington." He told me he had met a brother of Sir John's down in Lancashire; I think he

[ocr errors]

is very anxious to make his acquaintance.'

'O said Lady Moffat, and Miss Banks already knew this exclamation was rarely a sign of pleasure on the part of her new friend.

A more lovely morning never dawned than that which ushered in the eventful day. Palace Gardens had never looked so cheerful, Kensington more desirable, Holyrood House so gay.

Even passers-by could catch a glimpse of the glories evening was fully to reveal. Vans of flowers, tradesmen's carts, tradesmen's boys, open-mouthed idlers, blocked up the roadway. Inside all was confusion. Gardeners were at work filling the conservatory, and piling stately plants in the hall and on the terrace; confectioners were bringing in square wooden trays and marvellous boxes; upholsterers were busy likewise; whilst down in the basement, from the butler to the pantry-lad, from the cook to the scullery-wench, all were hard at work-so hard, that an onlooker might have imagined theré could not possibly be left any work in them for the night.

As for Miss Banks, any one would have thought she was at least fifty single ladies in one. She was here and there and everywhere. She was in the ballroom, the conservatory, the supper-room, on the terrace; talking to the men who brought the routseats, screaming out agonised entreaties and contradictory directions all at once. She had her dress pinned up, and her hair pushed back, and a garden-hat of Rachel's on her head; and if ever there was an old guy,' remarked an enraged workman to his companion, that is one;' only he did not say 'guy,' his expression was much stronger. Niel, the invaluable, was coming over the whole

day long with notes, and going on messages and bringing back answers. You would not have thought there was so much dust on earth as seemed suddenly to crop up in a moment in that newly furnished and perfectly clean house. It made Miss Banks sneeze at intervals in a highly inconvenient and ludicrous manner. The British artisan contrived to extract a good deal of amusement out of this fact; for whenever two or three of that body were grouped together one could hear a certain rough mimicry of the lady's shrill voice, interrupted by 'tscha, tscha! O dear, this dust how it does get up my nose !' followed by muffled peals of irreverent laughter.

One purveyor from the City was indeed downright rude to Lady Moffat's friend. In so many words he said he would be glad of her room, that he understood his business, and that he didn't want nobody a-coming and afussing about him while he was doing it.'

Except the servants, no one that day had any regular meal. They had their dinner punctually, and sat for an hour over it with the most praiseworthy diligence. Upstairs, however, luncheon was a picnic and dinner a farce. During the course of the afternoon Lady Moffat had a comfortable nap; and Miss Banks, subsequent to her rout by the City creature, went home, ostensibly to see after the other dreadful creature, but really to attend to some private and pressing affairs of her own.

Sir John, wisely, had a chop and half-pint of bitter in the City, and so was able to shut himself in his dressing-room wher he returned very late from his office.

He looked pale and somewhat careworn, Rachel thought, when

she went to show herself to him in her new dress.

'Do you like it, papa? she asked, looking at him with eyes that, reminding him of an old trouble, came often between him and his rest. Ah, what a sweet face it was! what a tender voice! what a true, soft, loving, grateful heart!

'It is not handsome enough,' he answered a little unsteadily. 'I wanted you to have something very handsome indeed.'

'You dear papa, you would like me to wear cloth of gold, I do believe,' she said, laughing.

'I should like you to have everything I could get for you,' he said. One thing I trust you will always remember, that this is your ball; if it had not been for you, nothing should have made me consent to it. Entirely for you,' he added. 'Solely for you.' Papa,' cried the girl, 'you are ill, you are tired. Let me get you a glass of wine, or a cup of coffee, do-'

[ocr errors]


'No, my child,' he replied. do not need anything except to see you enjoy yourself. Yes, your dress is very pretty.'

'And Edwina's is exactly the same,' she said. She does look so nice; she is coming down to show herself presently.'

'There there, run away now. You are sure you feel pleased about this ball?'

'Why, of course, papa,' she answered. 'I have dreamt of it. I feel now as if it were too good to be real.'

She flitted away, peeping back at him ere she went through the half closed door, away down the staircase, across the wide hall, into the ballroom, out on the terrace, a fair and gracious vision, as the servants who were passing to and fro acknowledged by their whispered words and looks. It

was a lovely moonlight night; the place seemed unreal, unfamiliar.

'O Eddy,' she cried, as her sister joined her, 'is it not too beautiful, is it not almost too much!'

I only hope mamma won't get into one of her tempers,' remarked Miss Edwina. 'You should have heard her just now because Gray stuck a hair-pin into her head: I thought she would have struck her. I came away lest I should come in for a share of whatever might be going.'

'I wish you would not talk that way, Eddy. Afterall, you know

'O, yes, I know,' interrupted the younger girl, who was far too like her mother. 'What do you think that old Banks and the mater are plotting? To catch Mr. Woodham for me, so that I may be a viscountess. I heard them. Well, whenever I am married, I never will have Banks inside the doors. I hate her; a detestable gray-haired sycophant, that is what she is. She is up there now, smoothing down mamma's velvet dress as if she was stroking a cat. And it is "Dear Lady Moffat this," and "Dear Lady Moffat that," and -good gracious, Rachel, let us get in; there are the carriages!'

Yes, there were the carriages; they came on steadily. The rooms got fuller and fuller; never was there a more successful party; save in the ballroom there was scarcely standing room. People were glad to get out into the moonlit garden, and talk poetry or prose, as the case might be, the while they wandered under the stars of the summer night or stood idly looking at the yews in Kensington, what time the strains of music rose and fell, and youth and beauty and wealth and fashion kept time to its measure with twinkling feet.

Ah, it was a lovely party! All along the terrace there were

« ForrigeFortsæt »