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called it, at Whittlemere, with only his lordship's valet and her ladyship's maid and the third and fourth footmen and the first kitchen-maid and the still-room maid and one housemaid to supply their wants, and made their state entry in the train of their establishment to Whittlemere House, Belgrave Square, where they spent May, June, and July.
But while they were in the country no distraction consequent on hunting or shooting parties diverted them from their mission in life, which was to behave like Whittlemeres. About two hundred and thirty years ago, it is true, a certain Lord Whittlemere had had "passages," so to speak, with a female who was not Lady Whittlemere, but since then the whole efforts of the family had been devoted to wiping out this deplorable lapse. Wet or fine, hunting and shooting notwithstanding, Lord Whittlemere gave audience every Thursday to his estate-manager, who laid before him accounts and submitted reports. Nothing diverted him from this duty, any more than it did from distributing the honors of his shooting lunches among the big farmer-tenants of the neighborhood. There was a regular cycle of these, and duly Lord Whittlemere and his guests lunched (the lunch in its entirety being brought out in hampers from the house) at Farmer Jones's and Farmer Smith's and Farmer Robertson's, complimented Mrs. Jones, Smith, and Robertson on the neatness of their gardens and the rosy-facedness of their children, and gave each of them a pheasant or a hare.
day morning, when Lord 'Whittlemere stood up before the service began and prayed into his hat, subsequently reading the lessons, and giving a sovereign into the plate, while Lady Whittlemere, after a choir practice on Saturday afternoon, played the organ. It was the custom for the congregation to wait in their pews till they had left the church, exactly as if it was in honor of Lord and Lady Whittlemere that they had assembled here. This impression was borne out by the fact that as the family walked down the aisle the congregation rose to their feet. Only the footman who was on duty that day preceded their exit, and he held the door of the landau open until Lady Whittlemere and three daughters had got in.
Whittlemere and such sons as were present then took off their hats to their wife, mother, sisters, and daughters and strode home across the park.
And as if this was not enough propriety for one day, every Sunday evening the vicar of the parish came to dine with the family directly after evening service. He was bidden to come straight back from even-song without dressing, and in order to make him quite comfortable, Lord Whittlemere never dressed on Sunday evening, and made a point of reading the "Guardian" and the "Church Family Newspaper" in the interval between tea and dinner, so as to be able to initiate Sabbatical subjects. This fortunate clergyman was permitted to say grace both before and after meat, and Lord Whittlemere always thanked him for "looking in on us." To crown all, he invariably sent him two pheasants and a hare during the month of November and an immense cinnamon-turkey at Christmas.
IN this way Constance Whittlemere's married life was just the flower of her maiden bud. The same sense of duty that had inspired her school-room days presided like some wooden-eyed Juggernaut over her wifehood, and all the freedom from any sort of worry or anxiety for these thirty-four years served only to give her a shell to her soul. She became rounded and water-tight, she got to be embedded in the jelly of comfort and security and curtseying lodge-keepers' wives, and "yes-mylady" Sunday-schools. Such rudiments of humanity as she might possibly have once been possessed of shriveled like a barren nutkernel, and when at the end of these thirty-four years her husband died, she was already too proper, too shell-bound,
to be human any longer. Naturally his death was an extremely satisfactory sort of
death, and there was no sudden stroke, or any catching of vulgar disease. He had a bad cold on Saturday, and, with a rising temperature, insisted on going to church on Sunday. Not content with that, in the pursuance of perfect duty, he went to the stables as usual on Sunday afternoon, and fed his hunters with lumps of sugar and carrots. It is true that he sent the second footman down to the church about the time of even-song to say that he was exceedingly unwell, and would have to forego the pleasure of having Mr. Armine to dinner, but the damage was already done. He developed pneumonia, lingered a decorous week, and then succumbed. All was extremely proper.
It is idle to pretend that his wife felt any sense of desolation, for she was impervious to everything except dignity. But she decided to call herself Constance Lady Whittlemere rather than adopt the ugly name of dowager. There was a magnificent funeral, and she was left very well off.
Le roi est mort; vive le roi: Captain Lord Whittlemere took the reins of government into his feudal grasp, and his mother, with four rows of pearls for her
Half a dozen times in the season Lady Whittlemere had a dinner-party"
life, two carriages and a pair of carriagehorses, and a jointure of six thousand pounds a year, entered into the most characteristic phase of her existence. She was fifty-six
years old, and since she purposed to live till at least eighty, she bought the lease of a great chocolate-colored house in Mayfair, with thirty years to run, for it would be very tiresome to have to turn out at the age of seventy-nine. As befitted her station, it was very large and gloomy and dignified, and had five best spare bedrooms, which were just five more than she needed, since she never asked anybody to stay with her except her children's governess, poor Miss Lyall, for whom a dressing-room was far more suitable: Miss Lyall would certainly be more used to a small room than a large one. She came originally to help Lady Whittlemere to keep her promise as set forth in the "Morning Post" to answer the letters of condolence that had poured in upon her in her bereavement; but before that gigantic task was over, Lady Whittlemere had determined to give her a permanent home here, in other words, to secure for herself some one who was duly aware of the greatness of Whittlemeres and would read to her or talk to her, drive with her, and fetch and carry for her. She did not purpose to give Miss Lyall any remuneration for her services, as is usual in the case of a companion, for it was surely remuneration enough to provide her with a comfortable home and all found, while Miss Lyall's own property of a hundred pounds a year would amply clothe her and enable her to lay something by. Lady Whittlemere thought that everybody should lay something by, even if, like herself, nothing but the total extinction of the British Empire would deprive her of the certainty of having six thousand pounds a year as long as she lived. But thrift being a duty, she found that five
thousand a year enabled her to procure every comfort and luxury that her limited imagination could suggest to her, and instead of spending the remaining thousand pounds a year on charity or things she did not want, she laid it by. Miss Lyall, in the same way, could be neat and tidy on fifty pounds a year and lay by fifty
For a year of mourning Constance Whittlemere lived in the greatest seclusion, and when that year was out she continued to do so. She spent Christmas at her son's house, where there was always a pompous family gathering, and stayed for a fortnight at Easter in a hotel at Hastings for the sake of sea breezes. She spent August in Scotland, again with her son, and September at Buxton, where, further to fortify her perfect health, she drank waters, and went for two walks a day with Miss Lyall, whose hotel bills she of course was answerable for. Miss Lyall similarly accompanied her to Hastings, but was left behind in London at Christmas and during August.
"They then had the tea, with the cakes and the scones, from the still-room"
A large establishment was of course necessary in order to maintain the Whittlemere tradition. Half a dozen times in the season Lady Whittlemere had a dinner-party, which assembled at eight, and broke up with the utmost punctuality at half-past ten, but otherwise the two ladies were almost invariably alone at breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner. But a cook, a kitchen-maid, and a scullery maid were indispensable to prepare those meals; a still-room maid to provide cakes and rolls for tea and breakfast; a butler and two footmen to serve them; lady's maid to look after Lady Whittlemere; a steward's room-boy to wait on the cook, the butler, and the lady's maid; two housemaids to dust and tidy; a coachman to drive Lady Whittlemere; and a groom and a stableboy to look after the horses and carriages. It was impossible to do with less, and thus fourteen lives were spent in maintaining the Whittlemere dignity down-stairs, and Miss Lyall did the same up-stairs.
With such an establishment Lady Whittlemere felt that she was enabled to do her duty to herself and keep the flag of tradition flying. But the merest tyro in dignity could see that this could not be done with fewer upholders, and sometimes
Lady Whittlemere had grave doubts whether she ought not to have a hall-boy as well. One of the footmen or the butler of course opened the front door as she went in and out, and the hall-boy, with a quantity of buttons, would stand up as she
passed him with fixed set face, and then presumably sit down again.
The hours of the day were mapped out with a regularity borrowed from the orbits of the stars. At half-past nine precisely Lady Whittlemere entered the dining-room, where Miss Lyall was waiting for her, and extended to her companion the tips of four cool fingers. Breakfast was eaten mostly in silence, and if there were any letters for her (there usually were not), Lady Whittlemere read them, and as soon as breakfast was over answered them. After these literary labors were accomplished, Miss Lyall read items from the "Morning Post" aloud, omitting the leading articles, but going conscientiously through the smaller paragraphs. Often Lady Whittlemere would stop her.
"Lady Cammerham is back in town, is she?" she would say. "She was a Miss Pulton, a distant cousin of my husband's. Yes, Miss Lyall?"
This reading of the paper lasted till eleven, at which hour, if fine, the two ladies walked in the Green Park till halfpast. If wet, they looked out of the window to see if it was going to clear. At half-past eleven the landau was announced (shut if wet, open if fine) and they drove round and round and round and round the park till one. At one they returned and retired till half-past, when the butler and two footmen gave them lunch.
"Any orders for the carriage, my lady?" the butler would ask. And every day Lady Whittlemere said:
"The brougham at half-past two. Is there anywhere particular you would like to go, Miss Lyall?"
Miss Lyall always tried to summon up her courage at this and say that she would like to go to the Zoological Gardens. She had done so once, but that had not been a great success, for Lady Whittlemere had thought the animals very strange and rude. So since then she always replied: "No, I think not, thank you, Lady Whittlemere."
They invariably drove for two hours in the summer and for an hour and a half in the winter, and this change of hours began when Lady Whittlemere came back from Harrogate at the end of September, and from Hastings after Easter. Little was said during the drive, it being enough for Lady Whittlemere to sit very straight up in her seat and look loftily about her, so that any chance passer-by who knew her by sight would be aware that she was behaving as befitted Constance Lady Whittlemere. Opposite her, not by her side, sat poor Miss Lyall, ready with a parasol or a fur boa or a cape or something in case her patroness felt cold, while on the box beside Brendon, the coachman, sat the other footman who had not been out round and round and round the park in the morning, and so in the afternoon went down Piccadilly and up Regent Street and through Portland Place and round and round Regent's Park, and looked on to the back of the two fat, lolloping horses, which also had not been out that morning. There they all went, the horses and Brendon and William and Miss Lyall, in attendance on Constance Lady Whittlemere, as dreary and pompous and expensive and joyless a carriage-load as could be seen in all London with the exception perhaps of the Black Maria.
They returned home in time for Miss Lyall to skim through the evening paper aloud, and then had the tea, with the cakes and the scones, from the stillroom. After tea Miss Lyall read for two hours some book from the circulatinglibrary, while Lady Whittlemere did wool-work. These gloomy tapestries were
made into screens and chair-seats and cushions, and annually one (the one begun in the middle of November) was solemnly presented to Miss Lyall on the day that Lady Whittlemere went out of town for Christmas. And annually she said:
"Oh, thank you, Lady Whittlemere. Is it really for me?"
It was; and she was permitted to have it mounted as she chose at her own expense.
At 7:15 P.M. a sonorous gong echoed through the house; Miss Lyall finished the sentence she was reading, and Lady Whittlemere put her needle into her work, and said it was time to dress. At dinner, though both were teetotalers, wine was offered them by the butler, and both refused it, and course after course was presented to them by the two footmen in white stockings and Whittlemere livery
"And there she played Patience till 10:30"