Page images
PDF
EPUB

(

less boy from destruction. There was his brother, Lord Edward, with three thousand a-year Church preferment and high ecclesiastical honours; but he had a wife and children, and therefore he could not come' to the succour of the falling man. Lord Orlando was with his regiment in India; Lord William making his court to a city widow; and Lord Henry compromising with his creditors. Not a soul among them with a thought or a guinea to waste upon their frail brother! I had even thoughts of inditing a private word or two to the proprietresses of the pages, to implore their intervention. But by rash interference I might embroil the affairs of my young neighbour a million fold.

So passed the second year; and, now that we are entering the third, the result of my evil prognostications is fatally corroborative of their wisdom. The morning single knocks are now repeated with 'damnable iteration.' Not a family coach for the last eight months; the cabs of opulent friends or kinsmen few and far between ;-but, as infallible as the rising of the sun, the return of the prodigal at daylight, with sallow cheeks and seared eyes,-a gambler,-a losing gambler,-a gambler playing on parole, and knowing that his word of honour was once sacred!

I see how it is-I see plainly how it is.-I shall lose him.—The lad will come to a bad end. While his brother the Duke is paying thousands per annum to keep up his hunting establishment, and hundreds to his chaplain and maître d'hôtel, besides devoting a prodigious waste of prose to the harassment of government and its administrators; while Lord Edward is keeping residence at his deanery, and his noble brothers-in-law preaching in Parliament, not a word either of exhortation or reproval is addressed to the goodly creature thus gratuitously wrecked among the rocks and shoals of fashion, by a bad education, bad example, and the bad influences of conventional life.

There is a pretty little damsel leaning at this moment against the French windows of an opposite drawing-room, and apt to be on the watch there at this hour of the day,- actuated, I suspect, by the same anxieties as myself. It is Dora Colvile, only daughter of the stiff-necked, pig-tailed old General to whom the house belongs. Sir Felix is a widower, and on the committee of the United Service Club; for were there a Lady Colvile in the case, she would instruct poor Dora that it is an unbecoming thing for a pretty little face to be seen so often at the window, especially when living opposite to a handsome young man who, to speak it kindly, is a bit of a roue. But Dora would perhaps answer that she did not care. Dora is getting reckless on more subjects than one. In reply to such expostulations, she is apt to exclaim, with such an air of pettishness, 'Do let me have one agreeable moment in the course of the day!'-that it is plain she takes little pleasure in the company of young Rodenton (the only son of one of the richest landed proprietors of Yorkshire), whom Sir Felix picks up in St. James's Street, and brings home with him, at least three days in the week. Two years ago, she bore patiently enough with Rodenton and his paltry self-conceit; but Dora is now eighteen instead of sixteen; and has acquired such mighty knowledge of the world as to be aware that a Duke's younger son, if unportioned, is worse off than a commoner's younger son, from having a social position to maintain; and that her father has an especial motive for inviting Jemmy Rodenton so often to his house. For the estates of Sir Felix are entailed; the rest of his in

come is derived from his pay and pensions; and his gout, by taking a wrong direction, may at any moment leave Dora an orphan with a pittance of ten thousand pounds, the product of his savings. According to the code of fashionable morality, who can blame him, under such circumstances, for recalling frequently to mind the beauties and prosperities contained within a certain ring-fence at Rodenton Hall? Besides, it is no fault of the old General's that his opposite neighbour has seen fit to let lodgings, and a handsome young spendthrift thought proper to engage them season after season.

Dora is evidently getting almost as uneasy as myself; nay, she may perhaps entertain other cares on the subject than I do. Miss Colvile recognizes the livery of those morning pages, just as two years ago she knew the armorial bearings of the family coaches; and is consequently better versed in the histoire galante of the young scapegrace. She is getting

almost as thin as Lord John. What can be the matter with her?-She has no pecuniary anxieties. She is distracted by no single knocks. The eight thousand a-year's worth of pleasure and prosperity she is annually enjoying, seems likely to last for ever; and, as Mrs. Lumley Rodenton, her enjoyments would be still more lavishly provided. Yet I doubt whether that charming girl enjoys a happy moment! I doubt whetherbut, after all, what business is it of mine? Is it not a hard thing for a respectable old bachelor like myself to be disturbed in my Blue Chamber by the vagaries of two young people, no more connected with my sympathies than Shem, Ham, or Japhet!

It used to delight my old eyes, two seasons ago, to see Dora Colvile start up from her work-table encumbered with silks and Berlin patterns, or her drawing-desk scattered with pencils, when some itinerant band came through the streets, and, by its barbarous murder of one of Strauss's or Labitzky's popular waltzes, tempt the light-hearted creature into spinning round the room, threading the maze of fancy chairs and littered tables, with a grace and agility that Ellsler might have envied! And now, I verily believe Collinet himself might pipe the Kosenden under her window by the hour together, without attracting her attention! I scarcely ever see her at her piano. The harp has not been out of its case this fortnight past. There she sits poring hour after hour over the embroidery frame; and I verily believe stitching blue roses and pea-green lilies. Sometimes I see her raise her pretty little slender white hand to her eyes, as if dashing away some obstacle that prevented her seeing very clearly,more particularly whenever she happens to hear the General's wellknown knock. At that signal, indeed, I have known her suddenly place both hands for a moment over her eyes, or press them upon her bosom, without rising from her chair. She seems on such occasions to entertain an intuitive dread that her father is not alone,-that young Rodenton is with him, in all the wearing monotony of his everlasting smiles,-his curls parted to a hair at the same spot for the last three years, and his conversation diluted down to the same standard of wishy-washy insipidity. I am certain, too, that the silly fellow torments her with idle reports concerning the follies and vices of her opposite neighbour. Rodenton has a certain manner of standing at the window and surveying the modest two-windowed lodgings of Lord John Devereux with all the insolent prosperity of the son and heir of thirty thousand a-year, a park in Yorkshire, and a mansion in St. James's Square. I can detect the

smile that curls his lip as he pursues his conversation with the General's daughter, while reporting progress of the General's opposite neighbour -the shrug, the grimace, the sneer of contempt, while Dora raises her blue eyes from her work and utters a word or two, doubtless in extenuation; for I have observed Sir Felix break out thereupon into a rage, and saw the air with his hand, in attestation of every ill-natured word uttered by his intended son-in-law.

Yet surely it is only natural that Dora should do her utmost in vindication of her opposite neighbour; for I remember that scarcely a day passed, two years ago, but the Morning Post coupled together, in describing the balls of the season, the names of Miss Colvile and Lord John Devereux, as all but one and indivisible. She was then a timid dé-` butante; and Sir Felix seemed to think that a fashionable young man—a Lord John-a capital valseur-might be available as a sort of pedestal to bring her into notice; and though he has lately issued his word of command that she is to be as cool to the ruined spendthrift as can be effected without absolute rudeness-that is, rudeness so marked as to provoke in return the imperiousness of his four fine-lady sisters, who, in spite of their deuce of a brother, are still court-cards in the pack of society-it is not so easy for a warm-hearted natural girl like Dora Colvile to fling aside her early predilections, and become as stiff and heartless as one of the heroines of Madame Tussaud.

It would be a much easier thing, and a much kinder, on the part of the old General, to exert his interest with the Admiralty-where one of his Scotch cousins rules the lady with the tin helmet and shield, who swears she rules the waves-and get the poor lad an appointment. He would be much better in the Mediterranean again, or at Fernando Po, or Bogota-no matter where-to be out of the range of Crockford's, and the blue eyes of Dora Colvile. But the General is a man of very limited perceptions. He only hears with one ear; the sight of one eye was destroyed at Waterloo; and I shrewdly suspect that he perceives only with a single organ of discernment. His one idea is to marry Dora to Rodenton Park. He does not consider the means-he contemplates the end. Sir Felix Colvile spends half his life in reading the newspapers, and the other half in talking about them; far more intent upon his duties as a committeeman at the United Service than the business of his domestic life; and evidently thinks that, having introduced James Lumley Rodenton to his daughter in the light of a suitor, the young gentleman will gradually progress into her husband: just as, having planted his saplings at Colvile Lodge, they are sure to progress into trees. He cannot be always on the spot watching whether the rain rains; any more than whether pretty little Dora smiles and blushes in due season upon the promising prig with the well-parted curls, who laughs so exultingly upon occasion of a reduplication of single knocks at the door of Lord John. With all his pretended apathy, however, the General is in general pretty well up to snuff-and his snuff, moreover, is of the right Irish quality. The dexterity with which he continues to keep out of sight a certain Reverend Olinthus Colvile, who is to succeed to his family estates, is beyond belief. Though only two years the junior of Sir Felix, this country parson is as weak in health as intellect; and Sir Felix, in his alarm lest the old gentleman should be tempted to drivel in the coffeeoom of Slaughter's or the Bedford (where, lodging at the Hummums, he

would naturally satisfy his parsonic appetite with tough steaks and tougher port, on his annual visits to the metropolis to watch the progress of a tithe-suit), insists upon affording him both board and lodging; and contrives to keep him so hermetically sealed during his sojourn in town, that nothing but tithe-proctors come within ear-shot of the heir-in-tail. As an excuse for inviting no company in his honour, the crafty General manages that himself or his confidential butler shall be suffering from the influenza; which, as the Reverend Olinthus is sure to come in March (like the influenza), for the advantage of the oratorios, is easily accomplished. It is amazing with what good faith the worthy parson has swal lowed the said influenza for the last eleven years! But if Dora should remain single another season, my mind misgives me that her father will be obliged to vary the scene next spring, with a quinsy or a fit of the gout.

The result of this curious fraternal manœuvre is, that, with the uninformed, Dora Colvile passes for an heiress! Without entering into details of family estates, or thousands a-year, the fashionable world regards her as what is vulgarly called 'a catch.' Prudential mammas are enchanted to see her dancing with their younger sons; and find no fault even with their eldest for seeking her as a partner. Old Colvile's only daughter,' is a password for pretty little Dora into the bosom of even the most worldly-wise families.

(

It is a strange thing, by the way, considering the jactant vanity of modern society-the manner in which people display the knowledge and accomplishments they possess, and boast of those they do not possessthat every one is so careful to keep out of sight their remarkable proficiency in the Wisdom called Worldly-the only wisdom of which the principia are posterior to the lessons of Solomon!-for nothing can be clearer to eyes profane, than that by its code alone are regulated the associated morals and manners of May Fair.

In the year five of the railway era (for really in such matters one ought to adopt a new system of chronology,)—in the year five of the railway era, the learned pundits of modern London began to perceive that the days of Latin and Greek were gone by; and that, leaving the univer sities to their classics, and the classics to their universities, it was high time to institute a course of practical education for practical men. Up rose, accordingly, the College of Civil Engineers, or rather, up it began to rise; and already one foresees the time when our great-grandsons, instead of learning to trail their sabres along the pavement of country-towns as cornets of dragoons, or to wear out their souls and bodies in the fretfulness of compelled patience while waiting for a curacy, will become academically endowed with the powers of constructing Menai bridges from Dover to Calais, or constructing an Eddystone lighthouse in the centre of the Bay of Biscay, O! The wise projectors of this truly national institution not only descried one of the wants created by the progress of the times, but found subscribers ready to afford the means (at the rate of so much per cent.) of supplying the deficiency.

Now, if, instead of a college, some philanthropist would only afford to the colleges already extant, a professorship of Worldly Wisdom, surely it would be indescribably more respectable for the rising youth of Britain to derive their principles in the new science from some sharpwitted gentleman in spectacles, than from their parents and guardians!

For my part (but I'm a twaddling old soul!) I cannot understand how a Christian father has courage to look his son in the face, after indicating to him the process of political jobbery; first, as candidate for the suf frages of the people, and next, as candidate for the confidence of an administration. Still less can I comprehend how a Christian mother ventures to accompany her pure-minded daughter on Sunday mornings into the edifice whose steeple of Portland stone riseth into the fog within view of my Blue Chamber, after inculcating on Saturday nights at the opera, the system of policy current among the match-catchers of the season! After such lessons, it appears to me that the fifth commandment becomes the most trying of the decalogue. To Honour your father and your mother,' after your father and mother have deliberately suggested habits of moral petty larceny, such as might render filial piety a difficult virtue to Æneas or the Grecian Daughter, ought to be considered the acmé of modern virtue.

I have seen Dora Colvile's cheeks flush to a carnation tinge, after a long closeting with the General. Though a kind-hearted, excellent girl, I am convinced that his paternal admonitions have sometimes hardened her heart towards him to the consistence of Regan's and Goneril's!

'You may dance to-night with Lord Charles--the Marquis has had a paralytic stroke!' or 'I insist upon it that Clarence Hamilton is not seen in your box to-night. I find that Sir Graham Hamilton's estates are entailed on his brother,' are precepts which neither grey hair, nor the reverend lips of eld, can divest of their odiousness.

Were such a professorial chair instituted as I have described, of a certain no abler tactician could be found to fill the same, than LieutenantGeneral Sir Felix Colvile; evidence whereof might be adduced in the eagerness testified by half the mammas of his acquaintance to become chaperon to the supposititious heiress, whom they would have scouted. with her mere ten thousand pounds. Even Lady Catherine Rodenton, the stately parent of James Lumley, is almost as assiduous in her courtship of Dora, as her son; having fixed her eye upon certain additions to the Yorkshire estates of the family, which she fancies might be easily secured by exchange, were the Colvile property amalgamated with their

own.

The passion of Jemmy Rodenton for the fair daughter of Sir Felix was, in fact, originally a dove-chick of his provident mother's hatching. The rising young man fancied himself desperately in love; because the oracle from whence his ideas and opinions were derived, assured him that he was so. Lady Catherine had so gravely informed him, when a boy, that he was a staunch Tory, that he believed himself one, after he became a man. Nay more, unwilling to annoy her by denial whenever she assured her guests at Rodenton that from November to April he was never happy out of the saddle, Jemmy, without a particle of taste for fieldsports, was in a fair way to live and die the life and death of a fox-hunting squire, like his father before him; and had it become her wish for any possible reason, either as tending to secure his political interests, or his position in the coteries of fashionable life, to make him believe himself a fanatico per la musica, a connoisseur, or geologist, or sea-horse, three or four days at the utmost would have sufficed to secure his conviction! Lady Catherine Rodenton was, in short, admirably matched against Sir Felix Colvile-diamond cut diamond,-arsenic versus prussic acid. Each had to

« PreviousContinue »