Miss Dulane and My Lord Page 01
MISS DULANE AND MY LORD
ONE afternoon old Miss Dulane entered her drawing-room; ready to receive visitors, dressed in splendor, and exhibiting every outward appearance of a defiant frame of mind.
Just as a saucy bronze nymph on the mantelpiece struck the quarter to three on an elegant clock under her arm, a visitor was announced--"Mrs. Newsham."
Miss Dulane wore her own undisguised gray hair, dressed in perfect harmony with her time of life. Without an attempt at concealment, she submitted to be too short and too stout. Her appearance (if it had only been made to speak) would have said, in effect: "I am an old woman, and I scorn to disguise it."
Mrs. Newsham, tall and elegant, painted and dyed, acted on the opposite principle in dressing, which confesses nothing. On exhibition before the world, this lady's disguise asserted that she had reached her thirtieth year on her last birthday. Her husband was discreetly silent, and Father Time was discreetly silent: they both knew that her last birthday had happened thirty years since.
"Shall we talk of the weather and the news, my dear? Or shall we come to the object of your visit at once?" So Miss Dulane opened the interview.
"Your tone and manner, my good friend, are no doubt provoked by the report in the newspaper of this morning. In justice to you, I refuse to believe the report." So Mrs. Newsham adopted her friend's suggestion.
"You kindness is thrown away, Elizabeth. The report is true."
"Matilda, you shock me!"
"At your age!"
"If he doesn't object to my age, what does it matter to you?"
"Don't speak of that man!"
"He is young enough to be your son; and he is marrying you--impudently, undisguisedly marrying you--for your money!"
"And I am marrying him--impudently, undisguisedly marrying him--for his rank."
"You needn't remind me, Matilda, that you are the daughter of a tailor."
"In a week or two more, Elizabeth, I shall remind you that I am the wife of a nobleman's son."
"A younger son; don't forget that."
"A younger son, as you say. He finds the social position, and I find the money--half a million at my own sole disposal. My future husband is a good fellow in his way, and his future wife is anot her good fellow in her way. To look at your grim face, one would suppose there were no such things in the world as marriages of convenience."
"Not at your time of life. I tell you plainly, your marriage will be a public scandal."
"That doesn't frighten us," Miss Dulane remarked. "We are resigned to every ill-natured thing that our friends can say of us. In course of time, the next nine days' wonder will claim public attention, and we shall be forgotten. I shall be none the less on that account Lady Howel Beaucourt. And my husband will be happy in the enjoyment of every expensive taste which a poor man call gratify, for the first time in his life. Have you any more objections to make? Don't hesitate to speak plainly."
"I have a question to ask, my dear."
"Charmed, I am sure, to answer it--if I can."
"Am I right in supposing that Lord Howel Beaucourt is about half your age?"
"Yes, dear; my future husband is as nearly as possible half as old as I am."
Mrs. Newsham's uneasy virtue shuddered. "What a profanation of marriage!" she exclaimed.
"Nothing of the sort," her friend pronounced positively. "Marriage, by the law of England (as my lawyer tells me), is nothing but a contract. Who ever heard of profaning a contract?"
"Call it what you please, Matilda. Do you expect to live a happy life, at your age, with a young man for your husband?"
"A happy life," Miss Dulane repeated, "because it will be an innocent life." She laid a certain emphasis on the last word but one.
Mrs. Newsham resented the emphasis, and rose to go. Her last words were the bitterest words that she had spoken yet.
"You have secured such a truly remarkable husband, my dear, that I am emboldened to ask a great favor. Will you give me his lordship's photograph?"
"No," said Miss Dulane, "I won't give you his lordship's photograph."
"What is your objection, Matilda?"
"A very serious objection, Elizabeth. You are not pure enough in mind to be worthy of my husband's photograph."
With that reply the first of the remonstrances assumed hostile proportions, and came to an untimely end.
THE second remonstrance was reserved for a happier fate. It took its rise in a conversation between two men who were old and true friends. In other words, it led to no quarreling.
The elder man was one of those admirable human beings who are cordial, gentle, and good-tempered, without any conscious exercise of their own virtues. He was generally known in the world about him by a fond and familiar use of his Christian name. To call him "Sir Richard" in these pages (except in the character of one of his servants) would be simply ridiculous. When he lent his money, his horses, his house, and (sometimes, after unlucky friends had dropped to the lowest social depths) even his clothes, this general benefactor was known, in the best society and the worst society alike, as "Dick." He filled the hundred mouths of Rumor with his nickname, in the days when there was an opera in London, as the proprietor of the "Beauty-box." The ladies who occupied the box were all invited under the same circumstances. They enjoyed operatic music; but their husbands and fathers were not rich enough to be able to gratify that expensive taste. Dick's carriage called for them, and took them home again; and the beauties all agreed (if he ever married) that Mrs. Dick would be the most enviable woman on the face of the civilized earth. Even the false reports, which declared that he was privately married already, and on bad terms with his wife, slandered him cordially under the popular name. And his intimate companions, when they alluded among each other to a romance in his life which would remain a hidden romance to the end of his days, forgot that the occasion justified a serious and severe use of his surname, and blamed him affectionately as "poor dear Dick."
The hour was midnight; and the friends, whom the most hospitable of men delighted to assemble round his dinner-table, had taken their leave with the exception of one guest specially detained by the host, who led him back to the dining-room.