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some here can testify,” remarked an elderly beau, dress d in a lavender-coloured silk coat, and distinguished by a profusion of lace ruffles.
“I plead guilty to having been no worshipper of woman's faults or follies," replied Colonel Seymour.
“Oh, you wretch! stop till I am out of hearing; you are going to utter some atrocity, I know,” exclaimed the pretty little Lady Fulton, holding up her fan deprecatingly, as she hastened away.
Colonel Seymour was silenced; he folded his arms, and for an instant smiled disagreeably. Some one touched his shoulder-it was the Duchess of Bolton.
“I should like to punish you,” she whispered, "for the unmeasured contempt expressed in that smile."
“I shall indeed be punished, if you can assure me that I stand convicted of error at the bar of your better judgment," he answered.
“ Nay, a truce to your compliments,” said the duchess; “lend me your ear for a moment. You have allowed yourself to be unjustifiably biassed against this young girl ; you have heard
"I have heard her story."
“Yes, with additions and exaggerations. Witness the tenacity with which people cling to the first accounts of Sir Thomas Greystock himself, in which he figured as a common housebreaker. This infamous falsehood has been contradicted, in a fit of remorse, by the very person who invented it. Yet people affect to believe the first story—they have not heard the second, or it has not been authenticated. Oh, we live in a charitable world! He that sets himself up for a judge, should never form an opinion from one side of a question. He should act deliberately, and above all things, dispassionately."
“ You are severe.”
“Doubtless. I am only conscious of being perfectly indifferent."
“And that is just what I wish you not to be,” answered the duchess. “It is asserted of Alice Greystock, that she has already played deeply at the game of hearts; that she is a practised political schemer, an adept at deception. These amiable traits, in addition to her youth and beauty, have ensured for a time the attention of the great world. Now, I have it from unquestionable authority, that none of these assertions are true. Lieutenant Breck was no more her lover than you are; his death was brought about by circumstances over which she had no control. I declare, of my own knowledge, that the other
reputed lover never received any encouragement from her; and that long previous to his joining the rebel forces, he had abandoned all hope of her favouring his suit. Further, I dare pledge my life, that if by forfeiting her own, Alice Greystock could have avoided the public exhibition of this night, she would not have been here to meet either approval or condemnation.”
“But why here at all ?”
The Colonel shrugged his shoulders. “She has, at least, been brought up in a bad school, and betwixt the differing political and religious creeds of the two, will most probably degenerate into a nonentity or a hypocrite: anything more?”
“Yes, this much,” said the duchess, energetically; "that had I not been accustomed to consider you as being something superior to the heartless herd around us, I should not have attempted to place before you, in proper light, this really noble girl, against whose future well-being, every circumstance of her present fortune is, I am persuaded, conspiring."
“Stop one moment !” exclaimed the colonel, placing his band on the arm of the duchess, who was passing on; “ do not think me so devoid of good taste or good feeling, as to believe that one whom you have so nobly defended, could be unworthy. You have beguiled me into a feeling of interest, and must not leave me thus : will you introduce me?"
“No: pay your devoirs to Lady Shirley, and leave the matter in her hands. See, she sits yonder, and her niece is standing at her side.”
Colonel Seymour gazed with something of interest, if not of admiration, on the beautiful face and figure to which his attention was thus drawn. Alice was very simply attired, in a grey silk gown, a white lutestring petticoat, and a black satin stomacher, embroidered with small pearls. This was the gayest dress Lady Shirley could induce her to adopt, after putting off the deep mourning which she had worn for Mrs. Dorothy, and after the death of Lord Derwentwater, wished to retain. Her face, although pale with suppressed emotion, and from the same cause deficient in variety of expression, was too delicately lovely to be seen and lightly forgotten; and its touching repose and its pallor were alike heightened by the undimmed lustre of her eyes, and by her unadorned, luxuriant black hair.
“One word more,” said her Grace of Bolton, “ The first time I saw Mrs. Greystock, was at Dilston, above a year before these troubles broke out. I then beheld her in her natural character, full of the joyousness and the enthusiasm of youth, with the glow of health upon her cheek, and the elastic grace of opening
life in all her movements. If she be now playing a part, remember, it is not one of her own choosing."
Thus admonished, the colonel approached the group collected round Lady Shirley, who hailed him in her peculiar manner.
“Ah, you truant ! I am inclined not to speak to you; therefore, it is hardly worth your while to come nearer. Positively, I did not send you an invitation for to-night, as I had not forgotten your defection on former occasions."
“ Then is my voluntary appearance an acknowledgment on my part, that for the future I wish to be better remembered,” said the colonel.
“ Ah, weil : I believe there's little faith in you.-My niece, colonel, whom I think you have not before seen.-Alice, you will look with some interest upon Colonel Seymour, when I tell you, that he is a relative of the great Duke of Marlborough, and that he has just lived long enough out of his native country to feel any thing but at home with at least the female part of its population."
Alice had lifted her eyes to the face of the new comer, as she returned bis salutation.
“ I trust the young lady will not judge me according to your report,” said the colonel, earnestly; “ I have ever acknowledged that the better portion of my countrywomen came nearest to my own ideas of female excellence.”
“How like you is that qualified praise !-you show the cloven foot at every turn :-prithee be quiet.”
“We were just talking over the affair of Mrs. Jane Gostick, the niece of the rich city merchant, who has run off with one of her uncle's clerks.-Have you heard of it ?” asked Lady Peterborough, by way of changing the discourse.
“ Yes :" answered the colonel; “ that she has wisely chosen as a partner for life a person in her own sphere, instead of the needy young scion of nobility, for whom her uncle had destined her and his wealth. I admire her disinterested attachment, and wish it may meet with a proper return; to a sense of right she has voluntarily sacrificed the certain possession of rank and riches."
“ To a sense of right! fiddle dee dee !” exclaimed Lady Shirley ; “to a foolish fancy, rather, of which she will shortly repent. I am sure I don't wonder at Mr. Gostick disinheriting her. It is said that he has made another will, and has left all his money to Bedlam and the Charter-House. Lord Leighton will miss the property, sadly.”
“ So will his creditors,” remarked Colonel Seymour.
“ True: so will his creditors. I cannot upon principle approve of our nobility allying themselves with persons of no
February, 1849.- VOL. LIV.—NO. cclIV.
blood, however rich, although we have a good precedent in the case of my Lord Northampton, who married the Lord Mayor of London's daughter, with a mine of wealth.”
“ By which, and by his wife's fancies, my Lord Northampton was driven mad,” said Colonel Seymour.
“ You monster!—you are always inclined to dwell on the worst features of a case, The wealth remains, at all events, to this day. Now I should not be surprised, if old Gostick was to burn his will, and marry." The idea was hailed with a general laugh. “You may laugh,” persevered Lady Shirley, “but let me tell you, the woman would not do badly, that should get him.”
“ Not according to worldly wisdom, perhaps,” remarked the colonel.
“ And what kind of wisdom do you patronise ?—but, positively, I won't exchange another word with you.—Hush ! here comes the very person we were talking about. Mr. Gostick, I am delighted to see you.”
Mr. Gostick, who was admitted into the first circles by virtue of his immense wealth, was a small-made, wizened man of seventy. His chief characteristic was a sort of nervous twitching, under whose influence his little body appeared to suffer grievously. Whilst returning the salutation of the mistress of the house, he wriggled from side to side, peering into the circle with his small grey eyes, and speaking rapidly, as he recognised each person there :
“Her Grace of Cleveland, I think; how d'ye do? havn't seen you for an age. Mr. Arthur Boyle, I want to have a word with you in a corne:, by and bye” (Mr. Arthur Boyle winced). “My Lord Duke of Richmond, the horses you purchased for me are superb; but the price! the price! Ah, Mrs. Howard, don't move, pray: I am seeing by the light of your eyes. This young lady-your niece, I am sure, Lady Shirley, and you know I am dying to be introduced.”
He was introduced accordingly, and succeeded in attracting more of the notice of Alice than had any other individual, so much more fit for a coffin or a charnel-house than for that brilliant assembly did he look. The Babel of tongues went on, and Alice experienced all the weariness attendant on listening to the smooth nothingnesses of ordinary gossip, with a mind worn by anxious thoughts, unconscious that eyes were gazing upon her whose glance was directed by hearts throbbing with deep and strange interest in her fate.
Repulsed by Lady Shirley, Colonel Seymour had fallen back and with folded arms stood leaning beside an Indian screen, that partly shielded him from observation. At the end of the
saloon near which the principal group of persons was gathered were four glass doors, opening upon a balustraded terrace, from which a flight of steps led into the park. The velvet drapery by which these outlets were covered, was partially withdrawn, and behind it and the glass were two piercing black eyes, whose sole business there appeared to be noting how that those of Colonel Seymour never wandered from the figure of Alice Greystock.
Fresh arrivals occasioned new introductions; and in an interval of the confusion, Alice was seized upon by Mrs. Howard, a pretty young lady in her teens, and the daughter of a lord.
“Do come this way, dear,” she whispered; "those horrid women will talk you to death. I have promised to introduce to you Lady Di Rance, positively one of the best natured creatures you ever met with, for an old maid; and so odd !—I don't mean in being good-natured, you know-ha! ha! though Colonel Seymour does say that most women are deficient in that quality. What a brute it is! How do you like him ? Would you believe it,” she continued, without waiting an answer to her question, "half the women are dying to obtain his notice; but he treats them all alike. For my part, I hate the sight of him."
“Oh, ma chère Howard, adorable creature, I am beholden to you for ever after this ! ” exclaimed one of the party to which they advanced, a very young, very short, and very slender man,
, who seemed made up of wig and ruffles.
“Sir Hildebrand Boyer," said Mrs. Howard, “Lord Royston, the Ladies de Vere, Mrs. Greystock-there, that'll do, Mrs. Greystock; Lady Dinah Rance.”
“Sit down by me, my dear,” said Lady Dinah, a largefeatured, masculine woman, of about fifty, but the possessor of a sweet, gentle voice, and a most pleasing countenance, and Alice obeyed her instinctively. This second group was within the range of the eyes looking from the glass door, and from the
“I can only just hope, Mrs. Greystock," continued Lady Dinah, “that you have not already seen enough of what is called the great world, to be conscious of its frivolity and hollowness.'
“That's downright treason from you, Lady Di,” exclaimed Sir Hildebrand Boyer, who was sitting cross-legged, in order that he might more readily comb out the long curls of his wig.*
“I have hitherto met only with kindness,” said Alice, “and beyond that I am unwilling to judge."
* Picking the teeth, and combing out the curls of the wig in public, was the height of fashion, in the reign of George the First. Doubtless, the greatest fools adhered most pertinaciously to the custom.