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thing quite to his mind was whirling in the valse, and scampering round the ballrooms to the strains of a mad galop.
He-the chubby cherub, furnished with his bow and a quiver full of arrows, well tipped and duly provided with the orthodox feathers plucked from a goose's wing-soon put all straight between East and West, between Epping Forest and Westbourneterrace, between the City and the old Court suburb.
The prince of diplomatists, he immediately cultivated a good understanding between money that had been made and money that had been spent-between the sons and daughters of men who were toiling and struggling to increase their already large fortunes, and the sons and daughters of others who had never been industrious save in the pursuit of pleasure, or sedulous except to squander what they possessed. He enticed men that evening to seek acquaintance with people who lived away in Essex, or who had just persuaded papa' to leave Southgate and other such out-of-the-world suburbs, and take a house at Campden Hill. He induced young ladies to think business might not be 'so dreadful' a thing after all. Young Mammon, they said afterwards, was delightful; he had been eevrywhere and seen everything, and his step in vaising was perfection.' When in early youth one hears that Lord So-and-So has married the daughter of Mr. Suchand-Such, one wonders at first where the lord and the lady met; but when later on London 'Society' opens its portals to an unsophisticated Englishman, and, standing by a doorway or leaning against a convenient pillar, he contemplates the doings in Vanity Fair, he comes to understand when and how
people meet, and comprehends that the whole affair is not one of barter. The daughters are not bought or the sons sold; there is as much beauty now down East as there was when Osborne, ancestor of the first Duke of Leeds, plunged into the Thames to save his master's heiress; and underlying all the conventional restrictions we place upon a close amalgamation between the Court of St. James's and the Court of the Lord Mayor of London, there is a deep humanity, which says, 'Let the young people remove the arbitrary barriers we have established; let youth and love and hope have their way. Let us each concede something we will overlook your lack of birth if you will forget our lack of money. We will throw culture and position into one scale, if you will pile high your guineas in the other; for the young people like each other, and it may not be amiss to permit them to have their way.'
And thus, as often as not, the thing is done, and the young people' are made happy, or think they are made happy, which is not perhaps quite the same.
Anyhow, to return to our story, in Holyrood House there were that night the foundations laid for many subsequent marriages. Going home in the cool of the morning, young Mammon thought a good deal about Miss Pedigree, and decided it might not be a bad investment for him to quarter his newly-acquired arms with hers; whilst Miss Golconda decided there was, after all, a something about West-end eligibles which Mr. Mincing Lane, who had been paying his addresses to her-addresses hitherto not quite unappreciated-lacked.
Those conversant with the ways of society, who have been behind most scenes, know something
about balls such as this, and need scarcely be told how, in the midst of all this splendid festivity, the host and hostess were really nowhere. The guests, of course, felt it necessary to speak to Lady Moffat, and those who did not desire to join in the giddy dance felt she was a rock of vantage; but beyond that! Ah, my friends, if most of you felt on this point as Sir John did, there would be fewer grand parties given, and fewer extraordinary matches made.
Quite half the guests present did not know their host even by sight; and during the progress of the entertainment he had, therefore, the advantage of hearing scraps of conversation, which showed him how little share the givers of the feast had in any of the praises lavished upon it.
The rooms look very well,' remarked one young fellow to his friend.
'Yes, after all there is no one like Pompadour for this sort of thing; he understands his business thoroughly.'
What exquisite flowers! observed a lady walking round the conservatory, to her partner.
Exquisite; that part of the decoration was left to Fontell, I believe, and one can always depend upon him for producing the greatest effect possible.'
'I do not think I ever saw a finer supper laid out,' said another; 'but then, to be sure, only give Vanille carte blanche, and he can perform wonders.'
'Capital wine,' capped his companion; these City people have such opportunities for purchasing the best brands for a mere song.'
Wonderful spread!' was a complimentary comment. What are these Moffats?'
'Don't know, I'm sure; never heard of them till about a month
ago. He is something in the City, I think.'
'What lots of money they do make there! I often think I will go into the City myself.'
'Not a bad notion; only I am afraid one requires to be to the manner born.'
'Handsome woman,' Sir John heard again. 'Do you know who she was?'
'No; shouldn't think she had been anybody.'
'Splendid house,' said a gentleman, leaning against an Australian fern, and damaging ever so many of its arching branches. Some City man had it before this Moffat, hadn't he?'
'Made a great smash, didn't he?' 'Yes, ruined hundreds-thousands, for all I know.'
'Wonder if our host will go the same road?'
'O no, quite a different line; noted for probity, prudence, and all the other virtues.'
Well, as a rule, none of them pose for sinners; they are all supposed to be patterns of excellence till found out.'
'I don't think Moffat, from what I have heard of him, is a hypocrite.'
'I have no doubt he is like his fellows,' was the reply.
When a man hears such pleasing scraps of conversation he begins to reflect. If many persons who ruin themselves to give large parties and to receive thankless guests heard what those guests say of them, they might commence to consider too.
At least,' thought Sir John, 'if I were Vanille, or Fontell, or Pompadour, some praise might be bestowed upon me; but as I am only the man who will have to pay the piper, no one deems it needful to put in a good word for me.' He went out on the terrace, feel
ing the overpowering scent of the flowers in the conservatory, and the talk of the men and women who went there to flirt and gossip, too much for him. Walking listlessly along he became aware that three young men, seated on a bench placed beneath on the grassplot, were speaking in tones which did not indicate that their discourse was of a confidential nature.
'Why don't I dance?' said one. 'I have been dancing; but I am not going to do so any more. I was making great running with the youngest girl, a confoundedly pretty little thing, with a good spice of the in her, when Miss Banks must needs come and spoil sport. No; I don't dance again. Suppose I am not rich enough. How I do hate that vulgar idea, a man cannot speak to a nice-looking girl without having a design of marrying her!'
'It wouldn't be a bad spec for you, Lassils,' was the reply. daresay she will have a tidy dot.'
'Don't believe in City dots so long as the people remain in trade. Money made in the City has an uncommon knack of taking unto itself wings. Look at Seaton, for instance. Why, I dined here not a week before the crash, and every one might have sworn he was safe as the Bank of England; besides, I am booked-’
'Booked! how do you mean?' asked a couple of eager voices. 'Engaged?'
'No, I only wish I were; but I have a bride coming from over the sea. Now don't laugh; it is a fact. She is coming all the way from the other side of the world, and I hope and trust she may like me as I mean to like her. There is something to the tune of eighty thousand pinned up about her; not great wealth,
perhaps, you will say, but not penury either.'
There was a laugh at this, which Sir John heard only faintly; for he had walked out of earshot long before.
'I should like a little such penury,' remarked one of Mr. Lassil's companions.
'Daresay you would; and so should I. Only wish I may get the chance of liking it.'
"Why, I thought you said you were "booked," said the other. 'So I am, if she will have me. I intend to have her, no matter what she is, supposing I can get her.'
'And how stand the chances?' asked his friend.
'Can't tell you in the least. Everything depends on the lady. If she says yes, I will marry her; if she says no, I suppose I can't marry her.'
'But what makes you think she will say yes?' persisted his former questioner.
'I don't think she will say yes, or, for that matter indeed, no. One never can tell what women may do. However, we shall soon know; for she is on her way home, and I am here ready to welcome her.'
'What is she like, Lassils?' 'Have not an idea; never saw her in my life.'
Is she a real personage, or one born of your own imagination?'
'Real,' was the answer, too real; and there is eighty thousand hanging to her: consider that for a clerk in the War Office.'
'Still I cannot understand why you imagine she will jump at your offer.'
'I have told you before I do not think so. I do not know what to think. All I can tell you is, I hope she may look favourably upon me; and for this reason
-that, if she does not, she loses the fortune.'
'And you get it?'
'Would that I did! No, the old idiot who made the will provides for any contingency of that sort with a vengeance. If I won't have her, or she won't have me, in fact if we do not marry, however hateful we find each other on acquaintance, the money goes to the old idiot's next of kin. The will was made about the time we were both born, I think, or rather when we were both juvenile, for the lady is my junior. A nice way to hang a man's prospects, isn't it? The old imbecile only died last autumn, and the good news had to be sent to the furthest ends of the earth.'
'I hope there may be no hitch, with all my heart,' said one of his friends.
'And that she may not be as ugly as sin.'
Say as Miss Banks,' entreated Mr. Lassils. She is uglier than any sin I ever encountered.'
Dreadful old hag,' commented the other two in chorus.
'Sha'n't forgive her in a hurry, coming between me and my partner,' said Mr. Lassils. Nicest little girl I have met with this many a day; I wish the eighty thousand lay between her and me.'
I think the elder the prettier.'
'O dear, no!' scoffed Mr. Lassils. There is no go about her. They don't seem to care much what she does. I daresay I might have danced every other set with her and no one objected: not a patch on the little one.'
'Hit,' commented the man who had found most to say on the subject.
'Hard,' capped the other.
Mr. Lassils only laughed, as, rising and saying he was going for a turn round the garden, he
left his friends to return to the ballroom, whence they heard the strains of the 'Blue Danube.'
Mr. Lassils walked on till he came to a small summer-house, placed close by Kensington Gardens. It was quite deserted. Of late the guests had been devoting themselves more and more to the pleasures of dancing. The night was growing old, so old that, by this time, indeed, morning had taken its place; and in the air there was that strange chilliness which comes when one day lies dead, and another, not long born, is struggling into existence.
'I wonder how late they mean to keep it up, and at what time my sister will have had enough of it,' thought Mr. Lassils, as he entered the summer-house, and stretched himself full length on one of the seats. 'I wish I dare have a smoke; I wish I was in bed; I wish I was asleep;' and then he yawned portentously, and began thinking about his future and that eighty thousand pounds he should have so liked without the wife, and then of the youngest Miss Moffat, who had certainly taken his fancy by storm, and who had been torn from him ruthlessly by Miss Banks. 'A dear little girl,' he decided. I don't know when I have seen any girl I liked half so much.' And then he thought again of the eighty thousand and his poor salary in her Majesty's Civil Service, and of the mode in which Sir John Moffat would be likely to crush all aspirations after his daughter's hand from an ineligible like himself. 'No, it wouldn't do,' he decided; 'but she is the prettiest, brightest, sauciest young thing I ever met. Hullo,' he said softly, 'what's that?'
A shadow was thrown across the threshold of the summerhouse; a shadow not belonging to
any one in Sir John Moffat's grounds. Coming noiselessly over the grass, some person had taken up a position under a great elm-tree, and was standing almost behind the place where Mr. Lassils sat, listening to the sounds of the music, and looking towards the ballroom, the interior of which could be distinctly seen from that portion of Kensington Gardens.
Glancing out of the little window above his head, Mr. Lassils could see him distinctly: a tall man, with something outré and un-English in his appearance, thick beard, heavy moustache, standing there absorbed in the scene he contemplated, one hand resting on the light iron railing so often mentioned in this story, and the other removing frequently from between his lips a large cigar.
Stealthily Mr. Lassils crept from his concealment, and, placing his hand suddenly on that of the stranger, cried,
'Fairly caught,' was the answer, spoken without the least sign of confusion or alarm. 'I did not think that there was any one so near me.'
'And if not an impertinent question, what are you doing in Kensington Gardens at this time of the night, or rather this time of the morning?
'I rather fancy it is an impertinent question,' was the reply; 'but still I am happy to answer it. I am looking at a scene which seems to me exceedingly novel and pretty.'
'Granted; and yet—'
'A cat may look at a king,' said the other, as Mr. Lassils paused. 'I have been a long time absent from England, but I suppose no fresh enactment has made it penal for a man to turn spectator when merrymaking such as this is in up gress?'
'Well, no,' conceded Mr. Lassils; but still-'
Do you think I have a design. on the spoons?' asked the stranger, laughing. Fact is, I suppose I ought not to be here, and that if any of the park-keepers, supposing there are any, were to see me, they would want to know more than even you do. I live above here a little way.'
'O, do you?' said Mr. Lassils.
'Yes. As I returned late home, after dining with an old friend, I saw this house brilliantly lighted up, and understood a party was in progress; not feeling inclined for sleep, I happened to be walking round my garden a while ago, and the fancy seized me to have a look at the dancers. The music drew me,' he went on. Ah, you don't know what it is to have been away from civilisation till the strains of a galop and the soft tones of a valse seem to recall to one's memory thoughts of another world!'
'If you would care to have a nearer view of the festivities going on in this world at the moment, come along. I'll introduce you. I am just in the mood. I don't care what I do; besides, the host does not know even a quarter of his guests by sight, and I am very sure the hostess does not. Come on; I will be godfather.'
'You are exceedingly kind, I must say,' answered the other; "though it strikes me your offer is more impulsive than prudent. However, I won't avail myself of it; I would rather see fairyland from a distance than be a sojourner in it. Certainly as seen from here it is a very pretty pantomime.'
'There will be a transformation scene with some of the women when they go home in the unflattering light of morning,' returned Mr. Lassils. 'I think I will go over the fence, and see how it