My First Season. Being Extracts from the Private Correspondence of the Lady Gwendolyn Hawthorne
NOTE: This entry is in draft form; it is currently undergoing the VSFP editorial process.
Introductory Note: This short work of fiction depicts clever wit, satirizing a young girl’s first season out in society. The social season, or Season, has historically referred to the annual period when it is customary for members of the upper class to hold debutante balls, dinner parties and large charity events. It was also the appropriate time take up residence in the city rather than in the country, in order to attend such events. In this story, young Gwendolyn Hawthorne is attending her first season by attending parties, balls, and even participating in a local play. The story depicts a very lush lifestyle of frivolities and a carelessness— especially among the youth like Gwendolyn—as well as the irony associated with finding a lover.
Flourish of trumpets. Curtain rises. Enter, en grande toilette, the Lady Gwendolyn Hawthorne.1Literally meaning “a grand toilet” in French but probably meant as “être en grande toilette" which is French for “fully dressed”.For you must know that the plunge is over. I’ve done it- I mean I’ve come out- and, do you know, I like it! And what is more surprising still is that mamma likes it. You know how she talked about the sacrifice she was making for “darling Gwenda’s sake”—how she was giving up all her occupations, and leaving Hawthorne for so long at her time of life. But Maude and Gracie say she exerts herself for me much more than she ever did for them. They really seem quite annoyed about it. Well, I do think that in one’s first season one ought to do as much as ever one can; and you would never believe how many things one can get through in a day, even though one doesn’t get up at cockcrow. And, no doubt, it is very good for me, as Gracie says my colour is quite preposterous, and that I look a perfect country bumpkin. Perhaps dissipation will improve me. You never went to three parties in one night, did you, Miss Wisdom? And Monsieur voir père will disapprove of such frivolity, and will say that I had much better be riding Daisy on the common and teaching in his Sunday School than devoting myself to those amusements which, as old Mrs. Bennett says—rather profanely, I think, don’t you?— befit that station of life, &c.
But all this time I’m sure you are dying to hear about my first ball. Well, I came out at the Bürger’s last Tuesday week. Mamma was quite shocked at first to hear that any one knew them, because you know he’s a Jew moneylender; and they say Mrs. Burger’s father was a golden dustman- I’m sure I don’t know what it means- and she drops her h’s; but though you might not like that in the country, in London it doesn’t matter in the least. The Duchess of Dashshire has taken them up, too, and their dance was to be the success of the season, everyone was going; and of course you see nothing of the hostess in the big crush like that.
Gracie arranged my frock—oh, such a frock! as simple as possible, but quite, quite delicious- all white silk and tulle, with sprays of hawthorn in front and in my hair, and long trails down the skirt. Celestine did my hair divinely, and I really did think when I looked in the glass— Well, just then mamma came in (she had sent up to me three times before), and said the horses had been waiting an hour and a-half, and papa positively ordered me to come down.
So, as I was really quite ready, I came down; and I went straight up to papa and made him a little curtsey. Some people are afraid of papa because he looks so fierce, but he is not really grumpy, only poetical. So he took me by the shoulders (I believe he crushed my bows) and stared at me and said:—
“H’m! I rather think the last bud is the best of the cluster, after all. Go along, and be a good girl.”
When we got there, there was a crush, and heaps of people still arriving. Mrs. Burger was standing at the top of the stairs, looking as if the photographer had just said, “Now try and look pleasant.” She was blazing with diamonds, like a chandelier, and I heard some rude person say, “Old Lady Midas would have looked better with less illumination.” I didn’t feel a bit inclined to dance in such a crowd. But then some one came up and said, “May I have the pleash-ah?” And I said, “Yes,” because I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Then a quantity of young men were introduced to me, and they all looked just the same, and they all asked if they might have the pleash-ah. When I had danced with one or two of them once or twice, I began to sort them out a little; and of course there were differences when you came to look into them. Some of them didn’t wear eye-glasses, and some had no moustaches. But they all said, “Did you go to Barnum’s?” and “Have you had the influenza?” so that at last I nearly said, “I can’t talk about either of the two things you’re going to ask me, because I didn’t go to Barnum’s, and I’m not, I hope, going to have the influenza!”
One—who looked and talked rather like a big, jolly schoolboy- told me he found it just as difficult to remember the girls he was introduced to.
“Sometimes I make a note of the color of their dresses, you know,” he said; “but when it comes to white- why, half the girls in the room have got on white dresses exactly like yours!”
Poor me! But I hid my feelings, and said, “Well, what do you do then?”
“Oh, then,” said he, “I—I just put down anything I can think of,” and he got very red, and said, “Shall we have another turn now?”
But I would not be put off, and said, “I wish you would show me your programme!”
He got still redder and pretended to look for it, and said, “Pon my word, I would, you know, but I think I must have lost it!”
“Oh, no, you haven’t,” said I; “here it is!” –for I had seen him throw it under the seat, and I fished it out by the little pink pencil, and said, “Now, of course, you don’t mind my looking at it?”
And this was the list of his partners: — “1. The Cassowary. 2. Dot-and-go-one. 3. The Outsider. 4. Crock in Green. 5. Ditto in Blue. 6. Innocentia.”
“‘6. Innocentia,’” said I; “why that’s me, of course. But what makes you call me that?”
Poor fellow he made the most abject apologies; but I told him I really didn’t mind, and I gave him another dance to show there was no ill-feeling.
I don’t remember anything particular about any one else except a man I danced with nearly the last. He was less like the other young men than all the other young men were, and I‘m not sure that I liked him. He didn't pay me at single compliment, and he never mentioned Barnum. At first he talked to me exactly as if I were not grown up, but afterwards we had a most interesting conversation, for he was rather clever, though he was such a cool hand. He could not waltz a bit, so we sat in the conservatory— which was quite like Fairyland— and I was surprised to find how much I knew about books and that kind of thing, you know; but then one is never appreciated at home. I told him how much I wanted to meet some celebrated authors, and he burst out laughing, rather rudely, and said he thought that with any luck I probably should, as he understood there were a good many about just now. Then I found that he knows Maude, and he was beginning to tell me of some interesting people I should meet at her house, when a horrid little man came up, and I had to go and dance those abominable Lancers.
When we were coming home in the carriage, momma was quite brisk, though milkmen and sweeps were about.
“I need not ask whether you enjoyed yourself, dear,” she said. “ And I was so glad, Gwenda, to see you getting on so well with Lord Lakes, a most charming young man. You are sure to meet him a great deal this season, and his mother is one of my dearest friends.”
(Mamma has so many “dearest friends!”)
“Oh, was that Lord Lakes?” said I, for I did not remember their names and could not read a word on my programme.
“He will be at Maude’s dance to-morrow,” said mamma.
One does not sleep well after a ball-especially one’s first ball, because the music runs in your head, and you have so many things to think about; so I was up early, and went for a ride in Row. The first person I met was Lord Lakes.
“Ah, Lady Gwendolyn," said he, “I see you take an early ride before settling to the day’s work- so do I. There’s nothing like it for the complexion.”
“I shouldn't think you had much work to do," said I, for you know he has got about twenty castles and estates.
“Well, it’s not of course of the same serious nature as yours,” he said,. “but, frivolous as my avocations are, they serve for potboiling purposes.” (Did you ever hear such a way of talking? He's the very oddest man I ever met, and I never know whether he is joking or serious, which is so hateful, I think.) He asked me before he went if I could give him two dances at Maude’s this evening, and I said yes, as I knew mamma would be pleased.
Maude’s dance was very amusing. Maude is a much more amusing person than Grace; and her house is twice as pretty, though it’s much smaller, and not in Park Lane. Then the people were more interesting, and (except few) they were not the same as I met at Lady Midas’s and everywhere else. There were all sorts of artists and authors, and people of that king, and some of them wore velvet coats and long hair; and there were ladies with frizzy aurioles and Greek dresses, you know; though it was not fancy dress. And I danced with Lord Lakes, and Maude said, “Well, Gwen, I didn’t know you went in for lions!”
“Lord Lakes is not a lion,” I said. “He is a very sensible man.”
“I should call him a boy if anything," said Maude coolly. “But I was talking of Gerald Humphrey.”
“I don’t know him,” said I.
“Oh, don’t you?” cried Maude wickedly.
And, before I knew where I was, she had dragged me, if you please, up to the man I had just been dancing with, and said, “ Mr. Humphrey, I want to introduce you to my sister, Lady Gwendolyn Hawthorne.
He bowed perfectly gravely, and said, “May I have the pleasure of this dance?" And I was born off in an utterly imbecile condition.
At last I gasped out “Who are you?”
“Gerald Ashworth Humphrey,” replied he solemnly, as if he was saying his catechism.
“You don’t mean to say you are the Mr. Humphrey?” I cried, terrified—and he was, of course. And here had I been calmly talking over his novels, and giving my opinion, just as if he was any ordinary man.
The next thing I said was, “Then who is the real Lord Lakes?”
“Lord Lakes is the young fellow now with the obvious gloves, talking to the lady in black over there,” said Mr. Humphrey, pointing out no less a person than my schoolboy friend of the night before! And now will you tell me who is the pretender?”
And of course I was obliged to explain the whole silly mistake, and it took so long that I’m afraid I missed a good many dances; but mamma wasn’t there, and he is such a very sensible person (except when he begins to chaff), that it didn’t matter in the least. Oh—I must tell you about Lord Lakes—the real one this time. I saw him standing pulling on his gloves with a most engaging simper among a crowd of men before a lady on a sofa, who seemed very popular. She was, in black, with masses of scarlet flowers, which suited her dark skin; and she gave a dance to this one, and waved away the other with the air of a Queen. They call her “la belle Jaide,” because there is something so fascinating about her, though she’s not a bit good-looking, really.2“la belle Jaide” is French for “the beautiful Jade”.
She is a Mrs. Calthrop Wendry, and has written a volume of poems, which every one is talking about. She and Maude are tremendous friends, and Grace told mamma she didn’t think it at all a good thing for Maude. Mamma and I were at Madame Araminte’s a few days after. We generally shop in the afternoon, before going for our drive in the Park. And though her things are always exquisite, I couldn’t get just the hat I wanted. I was trying to explain to mamma (who will not see the nuances in these things). And I said, “Mamma, dearest! Surely you remember that dear little hat that Mrs. Calthrop Wendry wore at the private view—”
When there was that tiresome Gracie standing close behind, and saying in her cold middle-aged voice (shall I be middle-aged when I’m twenty-nine, I wonder?), “I do not think it will be advisable for Gwendolyn to form herself on Mrs. Calthrop Wendry.”
And then came a lot about “darling Maude,” who, though she knew some really charming people, was not “quite in our set” (I think myself Maude is rather fast, because I’ve found out—what do you think? She smokes cigarettes!!). And that it would not be advisable for dear impressionable Gwenda to be too frequently with her.
Just then Madame Araminte-who is a Scotchwoman, by-the-by—came in with some fascinating hats, so I did not quite hear what mamma said, but it was something about unavoidable at present.” “Lord Lakes so frequently there.” “Just what could be wished,” which did not seem to me at all to the point.
Well, but I must go back to Maude’s dance. Every one there seemed to be talking about Mrs. Wendry, and in fact Lord Lakes did not seem able to talk of anything else. I asked Mr. Humphrey, who I thought would know, as he is an author himself, if her poems are so very good.
“Not a fair question to a rival author,” said he.
“Well, but tell me; are they very difficult to write? how do you do it? ” I said.
“Nothing easier,” said he. “You take a quill pen and a sheet of notepaper with a monogram, think of a few rhymes—not necessarily good ones—fit in an uncertain number of syllables, and there‘s your poem!”
“Oh! but you must have something to write about,” I said.
“Excuse me,” said he, “that is quite an exploded notion. You will never become a poet if you attempt to write about anything in particular.”
It didn’t sound very hard, really, and I felt quite poetical when I got home—rather pale, you know, and my hair a little out of curl- so I thought I might as well write a poem. The beginning was easy; I thought of some rhymes wonderfully quickly, and then just put down whatever came into my head:—
Ah, grief and despair of this weariful world!
Oh,hurrying rushes of pain!
Oh, wings that so whitely and fain were unfurled,
And are dashed in the puddles again!
Don’t you think it’s rather pretty? and it only took me half-an-hour to do. But the worst of it is, one has to write several verses. I put down some rhymes for the next, but I was dreadfully sleepy by that time, and, besides, poor Celestine was waiting up all the time to undress me. It was very unfortunate, because I've never been inspired since. Still, it is a comfort to feel that I can write if it is necessary; and one never can tell what may happen, life is so very uncertain.
Dear me! What shall I tell you about next? So many things happen that if I told you them all it would take all day, and then you see nothing would be able to happen, so it would he no good. Oh, I know, the bazaar. Princess Mary of Teck came and opened it, with Princess Victoria, who looked quite pretty in a neat pink frock. That part of it was rather stupid, because of course there were speeches, and they can’t expect you to listen; but when we began to sell, it was the greatest fun. I must tell you that we made more money at our stall than at any of the others, which was so nice for the poor people, wasn’t it? I’m sure I don’t know what it was for, though I would have found out if I had remembered I was going to write to you. But I had a stall of my own—the flower-stall—with five other girls to help and we had vivandière dresses, and looked very nice. But the poor old dowagers! Some of the oldest and fattest of them insisted on wearing fancy dress—and never knew they were so fat before, and they got so red that I could not help feeling sorry for them. Poor old dears! they would have looked quite nice if they would have worn mob-caps and lace-mittens like Mrs. Bennett, our housekeeper at Hawthorne. That is what I mean mamma to do when she gets old.
Mrs. Calthrop Wendry had the stall next mine—the refreshments. It is extraordinary how many strawberry and vanilla ices one man can swallow. Little Lord Lakes, who spent the whole afternoon at our end of the hall, must have eaten at least twenty laying down half-a-crown on the table every time. But, after that, I noticed that he surreptitiously slipped away the ices into a flower-vase, and still went on putting down his half-crowns.
Mr. Humphrey came in late in the afternoon, and had a long talk with Mrs. Wendry. I was selling baskets of flowers to two old Generals; and when he came to my stall he only asked for a rosebud for his coat. I couldn’t find one at first, as the heat of the room had made them all blow, and he said, “Does the air of the ball-rooms and bazaars always turn buds so quickly into full-blown flowers?” And he was gone before I had time to answer. What an odd man he is! I wonder if he was offended at anything? People were saying that he is evidently very much taken with Mrs. Wendry to have condescended to come to a charity bazaar. By the by, I must be careful about little Lord Lakes, for of course I never could care at all about a boy like that, and I should be extremely sorry if he allowed his feelings to carry him too far.
One good thing is, that as we always lived so quietly at Hawthorne, I think I enjoy “coming out” twice as much as most girls. It’s not in the least conventional to enjoy things so very much for I have found out that it is the proper thing for men not to care about anything in the world, and for girls only to like a few things a little. But I suppose they begin very early, for though I practised the expression—a sort of lofty bored look—before the glass for half an hour, I found it impossible to keep it up, and when I tried the manner, mamma wanted to know whether I was in pain, and Lord Lakes asked how he had offended me.
At the theatre, especially one must be very conventional. People go there chiefly to talk. But I think it would be so nice if one could go and sit in the pit, where they are constantly eating oranges and shedding tears, without any pretence about it. lt is so annoying, just when you want dreadfully to cry at a very pathetic part, to hear some one say in an audible voice. “Clever bit of business—always manages to drag it into his part.” “Must be fifty if she‘s a day-but how well the old lady makes up!” And that, you know, quite spoils your interest in Ophelia or Angelina. It is not quite so bad, but it is very aggravating, when you are thoroughly enjoying the fun of The Gondoliers or The Red Hussar (by the by, all the actresses are turning into boys now-I wonder why?), and a young masher with four distinct lisps yawns, and asks how long “the Bwititch public are goin’ to thtand Punch wetherwected?”
A box is certainly nice, and I suppose the pit has drawbacks, but I think I would even suck oranges if I could be where it is not equally unusual to cry or to be amused, and where the people haven’t got opera glasses, and still believe, as I used, the actresses to be the most beautiful creatures in the world. You'll think from all this that I am beginning to realise the “hollowness of life,” as your father says, but it is only because I am rather cross just now, and I am not quite sure if the way Célestine has done my hair suits me. And sometimes Maude makes up delightful parties for the theatre, and supper somewhere afterwards in a Bohemian kind of way, which is great fun.
By the by, I must tell you about a conquest I have made, and which I am proud of. Captain Lamarque is past seventy, and wears stays and a yellow wig. He has had a paralytic stroke, and falls in love once at least every season; but, my dear, they say he has very good taste. It’s a sort of cachet of—well, never mind what to have lot an admirer; and so, you see, I don't mind, —especially as he is charming in the way of bringing bouquets. And although he is sometimes a bore, he is not conventional, or, at least, only in an original sort of way. He is enormously rich and hugely susceptible, but he has never been married; perhaps because he has only lately come into his money. Before that he had haunted the clubs for years, with only just enough to keep him comfortably in glove and button-holes, making love to the new beauties every year.
Now that he is well off he is dreadfully puzzled to know now to spend his money. He began to complain of it the first time I met him, which was at the theatre—the Prince of Wales’s, I think.
“On my honour as a gentleman." he said, “I wish some one would advise me. It is a very hard case.”
“Well, although it’s rather an unusual one." said I, “I believe there are several prescriptions. I think it‘s curable.
“The ready wit of the Lady Gwendolyn is always to be relied on.” said he, with a low bow. “May I ask you to proceed?”
“Well, you might entertain on a large scale. One may spend a good deal on that.”
“Oh!—dinner-parties,” murmured he, with a disappointed air.
“And turn your thoughts to balls and private concerts- professionals are very expensive, I believe- or amateur theatricals. Or keep a yacht—or a stud of racehorses-or take a theatre—or—”
“Excuse me,” said he. “ Did you say ‘private theatricals?’”
I said, “Yes.”
“Doubtless you are a finished actress?”
I said, No; I hadn’t begun yet.
“With such beauty and grace,” said he (he always emphasizes his compliments with a bow), “you would shine as a Juliet—as—a—hem—Dorothy. I myself have achieved a modest success in the róles of Romeo and Captain Absolute. l consider your suggestion as most valuable one, and amongst us we should certainly be able to furnish a dramatic corps to rival that in which, under the auspices of the Duchess of Blackburn, I was, if I may use the expression, something of a star. And I need not tell you that if my poor house can be of any service—”
And so on, for I found that when Captain Lamarque got upon the subject of the stage there was no stopping him. But I considered him an amiable, grandfatherly old gentleman, and I encouraged him, and talked to him very kindly, so that presently he offered to take me over some parts of the theatre to which, he said, the public were not a generally admitted.
“But l have interest,” said he, with an air.
So mamma and I and several others were trundled off down various passages, and peered into various rooms, but it was not very interesting. And then, at the end of a little passage, we heard voices; the others had dropped behind, and he whispered,
“Come quietly, and you may peep through the screen into the smoking-room, but sub rock always, remember, sub rock.”
The poor old Captain is rather deaf, and was chuckling away and whispering, so that he did not hear a scrap of conversation which was very audible to me. A loud laugh was just dying away, and then another voice said, very firmly and distinctly,
“I do not approve of this way of making free with ladies’ names.”
“No more do I, Humphrey,” said Lord Lakes lazily, from the corner of a sofa—I saw him sitting there, watching the rings of smoke from his cigarette— “but if you ask me, I think Lady Gwen is the prettiest girl that has come out this season, and the jolliest too, by a long chalk.”
“I should not think of disputing your verdict,” said Mr. Humphrey, in a sneering way, I thought.
“They’ll be coming out directly,” whispered Captain Lamarque, laying a shaky hand on my arm.
After that I had a head-ache, and in the rush after the play was over, I escaped quietly with papa, instead of going to Maude’s supper-party, as I had promised.
I wasn't quite sure at first whether to be angry with Lord Lakes or Mr. Humphrey, but I decided it was Mr. Humphrey. And his manner is so very odd. Sometimes he is delightful. On Wednesday he went all round the Stanley Exhibition with me, and explained everything, for he has travelled in Africa, amongst other places; at the next time I met him he would scarcely speak to me, and was as disagreeable as possible.
Mrs. Wendry laughed when I told her how rude her admirer was, and said of course he is a genius and they ought to be labelled “irritable.”
“When I go to the reading-room at the Museum, and see the readers working away so silent and grim, I always want to have a notice up like the one they have at the Zoo— ‘Please do not irritate the beasts.’”
You would never imagine Mrs. Wendry was a poet, she is so nice. I said to her one day, in chaff, of course, that I didn't like her poems, and the said, “I don’t care a scrap, my dear, as long as you admire my gowns!”
She is one of those people that you must either love or hate; and I adore her. Even Grace likes her now—she made Grace some woolly thing for a North-Sea fisherman, or something of that kind.
Last week Sir Guy Dashington drove her and Grace and me, with some other people, on his drag to lunch at Hurlingham. I had the box-seat by Sir Guy, who is very proud of his bays—they are the only thing he can talk about— and he thinks they are going to make a sensation at the meet of the Coaching Club in May. Lord Lakes, who was there too (of course, I'm beginning to say), came up to me while we were looking at the sports, but he seemed so shy and awkward that I could not think what was the matter. Presently he blurted out,
“I hear your sister, Lady Grace Ambleton, has a dinner party tonight.”
“Yes,” I said, “and poor Grace is in great straits, though she would never let you think so. She got telegram just as she was starting to-day, bringing an excuse from her pet young man; and it’s next to impossible to get any one at the eleventh hour to fill his place-every one is engaged two or three weeks deep already, and at all event: no one likes being asked as a stop-gap.”
“But surely—to go to your sister‘s house” —stammered he, “I would—any one would—throw up any engagement,” and then he got perfectly bright scarlet.
“Would you really care to go?” said I. “I’m sure Grace would jump at it.” But I couldn’t help thinking it was rather off that he should fish for an invitation to one of Grace’s heavy, slow entertainments.
Grace said, “But he can’t take you in, you know, Gwendolyn.”
And something in the way she said it made me suddenly see the whole thing, and I really felt quite frightened. Don’t you see that he must be dreadfully in love with me— much more than you would guess from his manner—to scheme like that just to be in the room with me for a few hours? But I was determined not to give him a chance of speaking to me alone. Still, I can’t help rather liking the boy—and it would please mamma and all of them very much—and if he were only a little older—But, after all, my ideal is a very different sort of person to Lord Lakes.
He took in Mrs.Wendry, and they sat at the same side of the table as I, so that he could not even see me. A middle-aged M.P. took me in, and thought me a great bore; and on the other side was Captain Lamarque, but the old gentleman found so much of interest in the menu that he could only give me a bad half of his attention. At Grace’s you get the prettiest table decorations, the dullest conversation, and (I’m told) the best dinners in London. It was rather a pretty idea to have Neapolitan violates, floating in all the finger-glasses. Several people got quite brisk as they picked them out and made them into little bouquets.
Directly the men came out after dinner Mrs. Wendry was surrounded. She has a fascination for all men, young or old, “society,” scientific, or artistic. Lord Lakes wandered up to me, and said, “Did you see Humphrey this afternoon?”
“No,” I said, “Where?”
“I saw him while I was talking to you at the sports, but he disappeared suddenly, and old Lamarque says he wanted to speak to you about the play they are getting up—Humphrey is writing it, you know, and he wanted to arrange about your part.”
He did not pay the least attention to my answer, but suddenly burst out, “I say, I never thanked you for getting me asked here, but I am most awfully grateful—I can’t tell you how kind I thought it was of you. Of course you have guessed my secret, but I don’t mind—you are not like all the rest of the girls one meets. But do tell me, Lady Gwen—I’m sure you can—is there the ghost of a chance for me?”
That was a very open way of doing things, wasn’t it? And so absurdly boyish! I was quite relieved to be able to say, “Here is Captain Lamarque,” who was shuffling up to us. Lord Lakes gave me a reproachful look, and did not come near me again that evening.
“Lady Gwendolyn,” said Captain Lamarque, “you know my—you know Mr. Humphrey, do you not? He tells me he has cast you for the part of Angelica in the little play in which you condescend to say you would take a part at my house. You will allow me to say that nothing could be more appropriate. (A bow.) And I have nothing to say against Mrs. Wendry as Lady Belinda- quite the contrary. But Gerald has made a mistake, undoubtedly. He has cast me for the ‘Ancient Servitor,’ a part absolutely unsuited to me. Now the character of Arthur Danvers suits me down to the ground—might have been written expressly with a view to my acting. It is, in fact, precisely the róle which I have been accustomed to take; and you will not believe it— you positively will not credit it—when I tell you that the only words given to the ‘Ancient Servitor’ so far as I can discover, are ‘No, my lady; anchovy toast.’ ‘Anchovy toast!’ Gerald must certainly have been dreaming when he assigned me such a part! But Danvers has some really fine speeches- extremely passionate. I should much enjoy acting it to your Angelica.”
Horrors! Arthur Danvers is my stage-lover! The dreadful old man! But I thought I would get some one else to argue with him, so I only said, “Who has Mr. Humphrey given the part to, then?”
“He has not thought it necessary to tell me,” replied Captain Lamarque; “and I very shrewdly suspect that he is reserving it for himself. A cold-blooded cynic, whom it is absolutely impossible to imagine, under any circumstances, as an impassioned lover. I know that young Lakes has accepted the part of Tom Manners, in love with Lady Belinda.”
I was rather surprised at Mr. Humphrey giving up that part; but he never does anything you expect him to do. My part came the next morning; but I find it rather difficult to study it, as I am busier than ever. I have been to lots of private views; but I can’t tell you much about the pictures or exhibitions, because one doesn’t go for that. I am to be presented in May. Mamma would not go to either of the early Drawing-Rooms, because she was afraid of catching cold. And now, good-bye. I’ll tell you some more about the theatricals next time.
Captain Lamarque has fitted up a regular stage in his house for the play, and has behaved altogether in the most energetic and praiseworthy manner. We succeeded, fortunately, in talking him out of his desire to enact the gay young lover, chiefly by telling him that in case he would have to play the banjo and dance a sort of mitigated hornpipe. The part with which he has consoled himself is one which no one would have dared to propose to him—an elderly millionaire “also in love with Angelica.” Of course she accepts the penniless young man, but Mr. Humphrey has written a cynical little epilogue, in which he informs us that the whole thing is a mere freak of the imagination, and that in real life it would have ended quite differently. The scene is supposed to be laid in the last century, which is an advantage in point of costume, but the dialogue is quite modern, and full of hints and allusions. The dresses, too, in which, to test our lovers’ faithfulness, we disguise ourselves as strolling gypsies, are very becoming.
Mamma was not sure at first if the whole thing was quite correct, but we pointed out that the play was written with special view to propriety and that it would hurt poor Mr. Humphrey’s feelings dreadfully if we suggested such a thing. Mamma is very tender-hearted, so she gave way at once. And Grace drew down the corners of her mouth at the idea of a bachelor venturing to five such an entertainment—a bachelor at seventy-five! But we paid no attention to her.
We all thought we were getting on splendidly in our parts, so Mrs. Wendry suggested that we should have a full-dress rehearsal. Well, we did—at least the girls got into their costumes, but most of the men refused at the last moment, and said they should derive double inspiration from wearing them for the first time on the evening itself, or some nonsense of that kind. Perhaps it was seeing them in their ordinary evening-dress, looking so incongruous, that put us out; but somehow none of us seemed to be able to say or do anything. At least, Mrs. Wendry was fluent enough; and very amusing, but it was rather puzzling for the others, because she invented as she went on, and they did not know where their speeches came in. But we got through somehow—I mean, we came to the end of the piece.
And when the day came it really went off very well. Some people said Mr. Humphrey’s acting was too quiet, but I rather liked it myself. And no one could say that of Captain Lamarque, who ranted and roared, poor old fellow, till he looked nearly the colour of that lisping young Gusby, when he appeared on the stage as a Red Indian, and said. “Boo,” in a mild tone of voice.
The only misfortune was that the man who was to have come to rouge us never appeared so we had to do it for each other at the last moment. But it was rather fun, too; and Lord Lakes was so much pleased with his corked moustache that he did not wash his face for the rest of the evening.
In the last act, after an interview with my elderly lover, Mr. Humphrey and I had a half-comic, half-sentimental scene, at the close of which we retired, for he had delicately arranged, out of consideration for the chaperons, that the proposal should be imagined, instead of taking place on the stage. As we went off I heard some one say,
“To be continued behind the scenes, I suppose,” and there was a laugh.
Mr. Humphrey looked at me, and, like an idiot, I blushed.
“Oh, Lady Gwen,” he said very sadly, and almost as if he were speaking himself, “you don’t know what you are doing!”
“What do you mean?” said I.
“Don’t you know?” said he, “Haven’t you a guess?”
“Not the smallest,” I said, “Please explain.”
“That makes it harder than I expected,” he said. “But I am only an unconventional, and, what is more, a middle-aged Philistine, and you are a sensible girl, I hope we shan’t quarrel, though I know most girls would be insulted at my venturing to allude to such a delicate matter” —
“Oh, if it’s anything to do with marrying,” I cried, and then stopped and got hot all over.
“Yes, it is,” he replied gravely. “And I entreat you very earnestly, Lady Gwendolyn, not to do anything rash—to be guided by your own heart, whatever other people may say. Surely his age is enough—”
“Lots of men his age are very sensible,” said I, argumentatively. “I shouldn’t mind that a bit if I liked him; but sometimes he is absolutely childish.”
“I am delighted to hear you say so,” cried he. “But is it possible that you haven’t any conscientious objection to false teeth?”
“You don’t mean to say he wears false teeth?” I cried. “I should never have thought it!”
“Perhaps,” said Mr. Humphrey, drily, “you were not aware either that he wears a wig? Or that he brags at the club about a bunch of violets you gave him at your sister’s last dinner-party?”
“I never gave him a bunch of violets in my life!” I cried, indignantly. “Old Captain Lamarque sat next to me, and insisted on exchanging bunches, as every one else was doing, but I scarcely spoke to Lord Lakes—”
“Lord Lakes!” exclaimed he, in a tone of extreme astonishment. “Is it possible that you did not know that I was speaking of my cousin, Captain Lamarque? I am quite aware that Lakes is—otherwise engaged.”
As he spoke he looked up, and I saw, through the curtains which screened the room we were in from a smaller one next it, Lord Lakes and Mrs. Wendry. He was bending over her, and the light was on his face (still ornamented with the corked moustache); and all of a sudden I saw how perfectly blind and idiotic I have been all this time. He is madly in love with Mrs. Wendry—he has never been in love with me at all! I saw it at a glance, and seemed to remember in that moment that I had never met him at any party where she had not been too.
Well, I had a quarrel with Mr. Humphrey for daring to suppose that I could think of marrying that old man; but before I left that room he had proposed to me, and I had accepted him.
“Have another glass,” said Lord Lakes, when the play was over. So we drank healths.
P.S. (two days later).—Mr. Humphrey is not really middle-aged, you know, dear. And Captain Lamarque was furious when he heard of it, and declared he meant to marry me himself (Merci, Monsieur!), and that that ungrateful dog, Gerald ought to have stood aside for his betters. And in his rage he let out what, for some whim, he has insisted on having most carefully concealed—that Gerald Humphrey is his heir-at-law—isn’t that what you call it? I am sure I don’t care, but mamma does. So it’s all right; though they are rather disappointed about Lord Lakes.
P.S. (2)- Lord Lakes has proposed to Mrs. Wendry, and she has refused him. But they say it’s not hopeless. —M.A.B.
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13 July 2020
26 July 2020
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Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Literally meaning “a grand toilet” in French but probably meant as “être en grande toilette" which is French for “fully dressed”.|
|2.||↑||“la belle Jaide” is French for “the beautiful Jade”.|