In point of fact, as Percy Beaumont would have said, Mrs. Westgate disembarked on the 18th of May on the British coast. She was accompanied by her sister, but she was not attended by any other member of her family. To the deprivation of her husband's society Mrs. Westgate was, however, habituated; she had made half a dozen journeys to Europe without him, and she now accounted for his absence, to interrogative friends on this side of the Atlantic, by allusion to the regrettable but conspicuous fact that in America there was no leisure class. The two ladies came up to London and alighted at Jones's Hotel, where Mrs. Westgate, who had made on former occasions the most agreeable impression at this establishment, received an obsequious greeting. Bessie Alden had felt much excited about coming to England; she had expected the "associations" would be very charming, that it would be an infinite pleasure to rest her eyes upon the things she had read about in the poets and historians. She was very fond of the poets and historians, of the picturesque, of the past, of retrospect, of mementos and reverberations of greatness; so that on coming into the English world, where strangeness and familiarity would go hand in hand, she was prepared for a multitude of fresh emotions. They began very promptly--these tender, fluttering sensations; they began with the sight of the beautiful English landscape, whose dark richness was quickened and brightened by the season; with the carpeted fields and flowering hedgerows, as she looked at them from the window of the train; with the spires of the rural churches peeping above the rook-haunted treetops; with the oak-studded parks, the ancient homes, the cloudy light, the speech, the manners, the thousand differences. Mrs. Westgate's impressions had, of course, much less novelty and keenness, and she gave but a wandering attention to her sister's ejaculations and rhapsodies.
"You know my enjoyment of England is not so intellectual as Bessie's," she said to several of her friends in the course of her visit to this country. "And yet if it is not intellectual, I can't say it is physical. I don't think I can quite say what it is, my enjoyment of England." When once it was settled that the two ladies should come abroad and should spend a few weeks in England on their way to the Continent, they of course exchanged a good many allusions to their London acquaintance.
"It will certainly be much nicer having friends there," Bessie Alden had said one day as she sat on the sunny deck of the steamer at her sister's feet on a large blue rug.
"Whom do you mean by friends?" Mrs. Westgate asked.
"All those English gentlemen whom you have known and entertained. Captain Littledale, for instance. And Lord Lambeth and Mr. Beaumont," added Bessie Alden.
"Do you expect them to give us a very grand reception?"
Bessie reflected a moment; she was addicted, as we know, to reflection. "Well, yes."
"My poor, sweet child," murmured her sister.
"What have I said that is so silly?" asked Bessie.
"You are a little too simple; just a little. It is very becoming, but it pleases people at your expense."
"I am certainly too simple to understand you," said Bessie.
"Shall I tell you a story?" asked her sister.
"If you would be so good. That is what they do to amuse simple people."
Mrs. Westgate consulted her memory, while her companion sat gazing at the shining sea. "Did you ever hear of the Duke of Green-Erin?"
"I think not," said Bessie.
"Well, it's no matter," her sister went on.
"It's a proof of my simplicity."
"My story is meant to illustrate that of some other people," said Mrs. Westgate. "The Duke of Green-Erin is what they call in England a great swell, and some five years ago he came to America. He spent most of his time in New York, and in New York he spent his days and his nights at the Butterworths'. You have heard, at least, of the Butterworths. Bien. They did everything in the world for him-- they turned themselves inside out. They gave him a dozen dinner parties and balls and were the means of his being invited to fifty more. At first he used to come into Mrs. Butterworth's box at the opera in a tweed traveling suit; but someone stopped that. At any rate, he had a beautiful time, and they parted the best friends in the world. Two years elapse, and the Butterworths come abroad and go to London. The first thing they see in all the papers--in England those things are in the most prominent place--is that the Duke of Green-Erin has arrived in town for the Season. They wait a little, and then Mr. Butterworth--as polite as ever--goes and leaves a card. They wait a little more; the visit is not returned; they wait three weeks--silence de mort--the Duke gives no sign. The Butterworths see a lot of other people, put down the Duke of Green-Erin as a rude, ungrateful man, and forget all about him. One fine day they go to Ascot Races, and there they meet him face to face. He stares a moment and then comes up to Mr. Butterworth, taking something from his pocketbook--something which proves to be a banknote. 'I'm glad to see you, Mr. Butterworth,' he says, 'so that I can pay you that ten pounds I lost to you in New York. I saw the other day you remembered our bet; here are the ten pounds, Mr. Butterworth. Goodbye, Mr. Butterworth.' And off he goes, and that's the last they see of the Duke of Green-Erin."
"Is that your story?" asked Bessie Alden.
"Don't you think it's interesting?" her sister replied.
"I don't believe it," said the young girl.
"Ah," cried Mrs. Westgate, "you are not so simple after all! Believe it or not, as you please; there is no smoke without fire."
"Is that the way," asked Bessie after a moment, "that you expect your friends to treat you?"
"I defy them to treat me very ill, because I shall not give them the opportunity. With the best will in the world, in that case they can't be very offensive."
Bessie Alden was silent a moment. "I don't see what makes you talk that way," she said. "The English are a great people."
"Exactly; and that is just the way they have grown great-- by dropping you when you have ceased to be useful. People say they are not clever; but I think they are very clever."
"You know you have liked them--all the Englishmen you have seen," said Bessie.
"They have liked me," her sister rejoined; "it would be more correct to say that. And, of course, one likes that."
Bessie Alden resumed for some moments her studies in sea green. "Well," she said, "whether they like me or not, I mean to like them. And happily," she added, "Lord Lambeth does not owe me ten pounds."
During the first few days after their arrival at Jones's Hotel our charming Americans were much occupied with what they would have called looking about them. They found occasion to make a large number of purchases, and their opportunities for conversation were such only as were offered by the deferential London shopmen. Bessie Alden, even in driving from the station, took an immense fancy to the British metropolis, and at the risk of exhibiting her as a young woman of vulgar tastes it must be recorded that for a considerable period she desired no higher pleasure than to drive about the crowded streets in a hansom cab. To her attentive eyes they were full of a strange picturesque life, and it is at least beneath the dignity of our historic muse to enumerate the trivial objects and incidents which this simple young lady from Boston found so entertaining. It may be freely mentioned, however, that whenever, after a round of visits in Bond Street and Regent Street, she was about to return with her sister to Jones's Hotel, she made an earnest request that they should be driven home by way of Westminster Abbey. She had begun by asking whether it would not be possible to take the Tower on the way to their lodgings; but it happened that at a more primitive stage of her culture Mrs. Westgate had paid a visit to this venerable monument, which she spoke of ever afterward vaguely as a dreadful disappointment; so that she expressed the liveliest disapproval of any attempt to combine historical researches with the purchase of hairbrushes and notepaper. The most she would consent to do in this line was to spend half an hour at Madame Tussaud's, where she saw several dusty wax effigies of members of the royal family. She told Bessie that if she wished to go to the Tower she must get someone else to take her. Bessie expressed hereupon an earnest disposition to go alone; but upon this proposal as well Mrs. Westgate sprinkled cold water.
"Remember," she said, "that you are not in your innocent little Boston. It is not a question of walking up and down Beacon Street." Then she went on to explain that there were two classes of American girls in Europe--those that walked about alone and those that did not. "You happen to belong, my dear," she said to her sister, "to the class that does not."
"It is only," answered Bessie, laughing, "because you happen to prevent me." And she devoted much private meditation to this question of effecting a visit to the Tower of London.
Suddenly it seemed as if the problem might be solved; the two ladies at Jones's Hotel received a visit from Willie Woodley. Such was the social appellation of a young American who had sailed from New York a few days after their own departure, and who, having the privilege of intimacy with them in that city, had lost no time, on his arrival in London, in coming to pay them his respects. He had, in fact, gone to see them directly after going to see his tailor, than which there can be no greater exhibition of promptitude on the part of a young American who has just alighted at the Charing Cross Hotel. He was a slim, pale youth, of the most amiable disposition, famous for the skill with which he led the "German" in New York. Indeed, by the young ladies who habitually figured in this Terpsichorean revel he was believed to be "the best dancer in the world"; it was in these terms that he was always spoken of, and that his identity was indicated. He was the gentlest, softest young man it was possible to meet; he was beautifully dressed--"in the English style"--and he knew an immense deal about London. He had been at Newport during the previous summer, at the time of our young Englishmen's visit, and he took extreme pleasure in the society of Bessie Alden, whom he always addressed as "Miss Bessie." She immediately arranged with him, in the presence of her sister, that he should conduct her to the scene of Anne Boleyn's execution.
"You may do as you please," said Mrs. Westgate. "Only--if you desire the information--it is not the custom here for young ladies to knock about London with young men."
"Miss Bessie has waltzed with me so often," observed Willie Woodley; "she can surely go out with me in a hansom."
"I consider waltzing," said Mrs. Westgate, "the most innocent pleasure of our time."
"It's a compliment to our time!" exclaimed the young man with a little laugh, in spite of himself.
"I don't see why I should regard what is done here," said Bessie Alden. "Why should I suffer the restrictions of a society of which I enjoy none of the privileges?"
"That's very good--very good," murmured Willie Woodley.
"Oh, go to the Tower, and feel the ax, if you like," said Mrs. Westgate. "I consent to your going with Mr. Woodley; but I should not let you go with an Englishman."
"Miss Bessie wouldn't care to go with an Englishman!" Mr. Woodley declared with a faint asperity that was, perhaps, not unnatural in a young man, who, dressing in the manner that I have indicated and knowing a great deal, as I have said, about London, saw no reason for drawing these sharp distinctions. He agreed upon a day with Miss Bessie--a day of that same week.
An ingenious mind might, perhaps, trace a connection between the young girl's allusion to her destitution of social privileges and a question she asked on the morrow as she sat with her sister at lunch.
"Don't you mean to write to--to anyone?" said Bessie.
"I wrote this morning to Captain Littledale," Mrs. Westgate replied.
"But Mr. Woodley said that Captain Littledale had gone to India."
"He said he thought he had heard so; he knew nothing about it."
For a moment Bessie Alden said nothing more; then, at last, "And don't you intend to write to--to Mr. Beaumont?" she inquired.
"You mean to Lord Lambeth," said her sister.
"I said Mr. Beaumont because he was so good a friend of yours."
Mrs. Westgate looked at the young girl with sisterly candor. "I don't care two straws for Mr. Beaumont."
"You were certainly very nice to him."
"I am nice to everyone," said Mrs. Westgate simply.
"To everyone but me," rejoined Bessie, smiling.
Her sister continued to look at her; then, at last, "Are you in love with Lord Lambeth?" she asked.
The young girl stared a moment, and the question was apparently too humorous even to make her blush. "Not that I know of," she answered.
"Because if you are," Mrs. Westgate went on, "I shall certainly not send for him."
"That proves what I said," declared Bessie, smiling--"that you are not nice to me."
"It would be a poor service, my dear child," said her sister.
"In what sense? There is nothing against Lord Lambeth that I know of."
Mrs. Westgate was silent a moment. "You are in love with him then?"
Bessie stared again; but this time she blushed a little. "Ah! if you won't be serious," she answered, "we will not mention him again."
For some moments Lord Lambeth was not mentioned again, and it was Mrs. Westgate who, at the end of this period, reverted to him. "Of course I will let him know we are here, because I think he would be hurt--justly enough--if we should go away without seeing him. It is fair to give him a chance to come and thank me for the kindness we showed him. But I don't want to seem eager."
"Neither do I," said Bessie with a little laugh.
"Though I confess," added her sister, "that I am curious to see how he will behave."
"He behaved very well at Newport."
"Newport is not London. At Newport he could do as he liked; but here it is another affair. He has to have an eye to consequences."
"If he had more freedom, then, at Newport," argued Bessie, "it is the more to his credit that he behaved well; and if he has to be so careful here, it is possible he will behave even better."
"Better--better," repeated her sister. "My dear child, what is your point of view?"
"How do you mean--my point of view?"
"Don't you care for Lord Lambeth--a little?"
This time Bessie Alden was displeased; she slowly got up from the table, turning her face away from her sister. "You will oblige me by not talking so," she said.
Mrs. Westgate sat watching her for some moments as she moved slowly about the room and went and stood at the window. "I will write to him this afternoon," she said at last.
"Do as you please!" Bessie answered; and presently she turned round. "I am not afraid to say that I like Lord Lambeth. I like him very much."
"He is not clever," Mrs. Westgate declared.
"Well, there have been clever people whom I have disliked," said Bessie Alden; "so that I suppose I may like a stupid one. Besides, Lord Lambeth is not stupid."
"Not so stupid as he looks!" exclaimed her sister, smiling.
"If I were in love with Lord Lambeth, as you said just now, it would be bad policy on your part to abuse him."
"My dear child, don't give me lessons in policy!" cried Mrs. Westgate. "The policy I mean to follow is very deep."
The young girl began to walk about the room again; then she stopped before her sister. "I have never heard in the course of five minutes," she said, "so many hints and innuendoes. I wish you would tell me in plain English what you mean."
"I mean that you may be much annoyed."
"That is still only a hint," said Bessie.
Her sister looked at her, hesitating an instant. "It will be said of you that you have come after Lord Lambeth-- that you followed him."
Bessie Alden threw back her pretty head like a startled hind, and a look flashed into her face that made Mrs. Westgate rise from her chair. "Who says such things as that?" she demanded.
"I don't believe it," said Bessie.
"You have a very convenient faculty of doubt. But my policy will be, as I say, very deep. I shall leave you to find out this kind of thing for yourself."
Bessie fixed her eyes upon her sister, and Mrs. Westgate thought for a moment there were tears in them. "Do they talk that way here?" she asked.
"You will see. I shall leave you alone."
"Don't leave me alone," said Bessie Alden. "Take me away."
"No; I want to see what you make of it," her sister continued.
"I don't understand."
"You will understand after Lord Lambeth has come," said Mrs. Westgate with a little laugh.
The two ladies had arranged that on this afternoon Willie Woodley should go with them to Hyde Park, where Bessie Alden expected to derive much entertainment from sitting on a little green chair, under the great trees, beside Rotten Row. The want of a suitable escort had hitherto rendered this pleasure inaccessible; but no escort now, for such an expedition, could have been more suitable than their devoted young countryman, whose mission in life, it might almost be said, was to find chairs for ladies, and who appeared on the stroke of half-past five with a white camellia in his buttonhole.
"I have written to Lord Lambeth, my dear," said Mrs. Westgate to her sister, on coming into the room where Bessie Alden, drawing on her long gray gloves, was entertaining their visitor.
Bessie said nothing, but Willie Woodley exclaimed that his lordship was in town; he had seen his name in the Morning Post.
"Do you read the Morning Post?" asked Mrs. Westgate.
"Oh, yes; it's great fun," Willie Woodley affirmed.
"I want so to see it," said Bessie; "there is so much about it in Thackeray."
"I will send it to you every morning," said Willie Woodley.
He found them what Bessie Alden thought excellent places, under the great trees, beside the famous avenue whose humors had been made familiar to the young girl's childhood by the pictures in Punch. The day was bright and warm, and the crowd of riders and spectators, and the great procession of carriages, were proportionately dense and brilliant. The scene bore the stamp of the London Season at its height, and Bessie Alden found more entertainment in it than she was able to express to her companions. She sat silent, under her parasol, and her imagination, according to its wont, let itself loose into the great changing assemblage of striking and suggestive figures. They stirred up a host of old impressions and preconceptions, and she found herself fitting a history to this person and a theory to that, and making a place for them all in her little private museum of types. But if she said little, her sister on one side and Willie Woodley on the other expressed themselves in lively alternation.
"Look at that green dress with blue flounces," said Mrs. Westgate. "Quelle toilette!"
"That's the Marquis of Blackborough," said the young man--"the one in the white coat. I heard him speak the other night in the House of Lords; it was something about ramrods; he called them 'wamwods.' He's an awful swell."
"Did you ever see anything like the way they are pinned back?" Mrs. Westgate resumed. "They never know where to stop."
"They do nothing but stop," said Willie Woodley. "It prevents them from walking. Here comes a great celebrity--Lady Beatrice Bellevue. She's awfully fast; see what little steps she takes."
"Well, my dear," Mrs. Westgate pursued, "I hope you are getting some ideas for your couturiere?"
"I am getting plenty of ideas," said Bessie, "but I don't know that my couturiere would appreciate them."
Willie Woodley presently perceived a friend on horseback, who drove up beside the barrier of the Row and beckoned to him. He went forward, and the crowd of pedestrians closed about him, so that for some ten minutes he was hidden from sight. At last he reappeared, bringing a gentleman with him--a gentleman whom Bessie at first supposed to be his friend dismounted. But at a second glance she found herself looking at Lord Lambeth, who was shaking hands with her sister.
"I found him over there," said Willie Woodley, "and I told him you were here."
And then Lord Lambeth, touching his hat a little, shook hands with Bessie. "Fancy your being here!" he said. He was blushing and smiling; he looked very handsome, and he had a kind of splendor that he had not had in America. Bessie Alden's imagination, as we know, was just then in exercise; so that the tall young Englishman, as he stood there looking down at her, had the benefit of it. "He is handsomer and more splendid than anything I have ever seen," she said to herself. And then she remembered that he was a marquis, and she thought he looked like a marquis.
"I say, you know," he cried, "you ought to have let a man know you were here!"
"I wrote to you an hour ago," said Mrs. Westgate.
"Doesn't all the world know it?" asked Bessie, smiling.
"I assure you I didn't know it!" cried Lord Lambeth. "Upon my honor I hadn't heard of it. Ask Woodley now; had I, Woodley?"
"Well, I think you are rather a humbug," said Willie Woodley.
"You don't believe that--do you, Miss Alden?" asked his lordship. "You don't believe I'm a humbug, eh?"
"No," said Bessie, "I don't."
"You are too tall to stand up, Lord Lambeth," Mrs. Westgate observed. "You are only tolerable when you sit down. Be so good as to get a chair."
He found a chair and placed it sidewise, close to the two ladies. "If I hadn't met Woodley I should never have found you," he went on. "Should I, Woodley?"
"Well, I guess not," said the young American.
"Not even with my letter?" asked Mrs. Westgate.
"Ah, well, I haven't got your letter yet; I suppose I shall get it this evening. I was awfully kind of you to write."
"So I said to Bessie," observed Mrs. Westgate.
"Did she say so, Miss Alden?" Lord Lambeth inquired. "I daresay you have been here a month."
"We have been here three," said Mrs. Westgate.
"Have you been here three months?" the young man asked again of Bessie.
"It seems a long time," Bessie answered.
"I say, after that you had better not call me a humbug!" cried Lord Lambeth. "I have only been in town three weeks; but you must have been hiding away; I haven't seen you anywhere."
"Where should you have seen us--where should we have gone?" asked Mrs. Westgate.
"You should have gone to Hurlingham," said Willie Woodley.
"No; let Lord Lambeth tell us," Mrs. Westgate insisted.
"There are plenty of places to go to," said Lord Lambeth; "each one stupider than the other. I mean people's houses; they send you cards."
"No one has sent us cards," said Bessie.
"We are very quiet," her sister declared. "We are here as travelers."
"We have been to Madame Tussaud's," Bessie pursued.
"Oh, I say!" cried Lord Lambeth.
"We thought we should find your image there," said Mrs. Westgate--"yours and Mr. Beaumont's."
"In the Chamber of Horrors?" laughed the young man.
"It did duty very well for a party," said Mrs. Westgate. "All the women were decolletes, and many of the figures looked as if they could speak if they tried."
"Upon my word," Lord Lambeth rejoined, "you see people at London parties that look as if they couldn't speak if they tried."
"Do you think Mr. Woodley could find us Mr. Beaumont?" asked Mrs. Westgate.
Lord Lambeth stared and looked round him. "I daresay he could. Beaumont often comes here. Don't you think you could find him, Woodley? Make a dive into the crowd."
"Thank you; I have had enough diving," said Willie Woodley. "I will wait till Mr. Beaumont comes to the surface."
"I will bring him to see you," said Lord Lambeth; "where are you staying?"
"You will find the address in my letter--Jones's Hotel."
"Oh, one of those places just out of Piccadilly? Beastly hole, isn't it?" Lord Lambeth inquired.
"I believe it's the best hotel in London," said Mrs. Westgate.
"But they give you awful rubbish to eat, don't they?" his lordship went on.
"Yes," said Mrs. Westgate.
"I always feel so sorry for the people that come up to town and go to live in those places," continued the young man. "They eat nothing but filth."
"Oh, I say!" cried Willie Woodley.
"Well, how do you like London, Miss Alden?" Lord Lambeth asked, unperturbed by this ejaculation.
"I think it's grand," said Bessie Alden.
"My sister likes it, in spite of the 'filth'!" Mrs. Westgate exclaimed.
"I hope you are going to stay a long time."
"As long as I can," said Bessie.
"And where is Mr. Westgate?" asked Lord Lambeth of this gentleman's wife.
"He's where he always is--in that tiresome New York."
"He must be tremendously clever," said the young man.
"I suppose he is," said Mrs. Westgate.
Lord Lambeth sat for nearly an hour with his American friends; but it is not our purpose to relate their conversation in full. He addressed a great many remarks to Bessie Alden, and finally turned toward her altogether, while Willie Woodley entertained Mrs. Westgate. Bessie herself said very little; she was on her guard, thinking of what her sister had said to her at lunch. Little by little, however, she interested herself in Lord Lambeth again, as she had done at Newport; only it seemed to her that here he might become more interesting. He would be an unconscious part of the antiquity, the impressiveness, the picturesqueness, of England; and poor Bessie Alden, like many a Yankee maiden, was terribly at the mercy of picturesqueness.
"I have often wished I were at Newport again," said the young man. "Those days I spent at your sister's were awfully jolly."
"We enjoyed them very much; I hope your father is better."
"Oh, dear, yes. When I got to England, he was out grouse shooting. It was what you call in America a gigantic fraud. My mother had got nervous. My three weeks at Newport seemed like a happy dream."
"America certainly is very different from England," said Bessie.
"I hope you like England better, eh?" Lord Lambeth rejoined almost persuasively.
"No Englishman can ask that seriously of a person of another country."
Her companion looked at her for a moment. "You mean it's a matter of course?"
"If I were English," said Bessie, "it would certainly seem to me a matter of course that everyone should be a good patriot."
"Oh, dear, yes, patriotism is everything," said Lord Lambeth, not quite following, but very contented. "Now, what are you going to do here?"
"On Thursday I am going to the Tower."
"The Tower of London. Did you never hear of it?"
"Oh, yes, I have been there," said Lord Lambeth. "I was taken there by my governess when I was six years old. It's a rum idea, your going there."
"Do give me a few more rum ideas," said Bessie. "I want to see everything of that sort. I am going to Hampton Court, and to Windsor, and to the Dulwich Gallery."
Lord Lambeth seemed greatly amused. "I wonder you don't go to the Rosherville Gardens."
"Are they interesting?" asked Bessie.
"Are they very old? That's all I care for," said Bessie.
"They are tremendously old; they are all falling to ruins."
"I think there is nothing so charming as an old ruinous garden," said the young girl. "We must certainly go there."
Lord Lambeth broke out into merriment. "I say, Woodley," he cried, "here's Miss Alden wants to go to the Rosherville Gardens!"
Willie Woodley looked a little blank; he was caught in the fact of ignorance of an apparently conspicuous feature of London life. But in a moment he turned it off. "Very well," he said, "I'll write for a permit."
Lord Lambeth's exhilaration increased. "Gad, I believe you Americans would go anywhere!" he cried.
"We wish to go to Parliament," said Bessie. "That's one of the first things."
"Oh, it would bore you to death!" cried the young man.
"We wish to hear you speak."
"I never speak--except to young ladies," said Lord Lambeth, smiling.
Bessie Alden looked at him a while, smiling, too, in the shadow of her parasol. "You are very strange," she murmured. "I don't think I approve of you."
"Ah, now, don't be severe, Miss Alden," said Lord Lambeth, smiling still more. "Please don't be severe. I want you to like me--awfully."
"To like you awfully? You must not laugh at me, then, when I make mistakes. I consider it my right--as a freeborn American--to make as many mistakes as I choose."
"Upon my word, I didn't laugh at you," said Lord Lambeth.
"And not only that," Bessie went on; "but I hold that all my mistakes shall be set down to my credit. You must think the better of me for them."
"I can't think better of you than I do," the young man declared.
Bessie Alden looked at him a moment again. "You certainly speak very well to young ladies. But why don't you address the House?-- isn't that what they call it?"
"Because I have nothing to say," said Lord Lambeth.
"Haven't you a great position?" asked Bessie Alden.
He looked a moment at the back of his glove. "I'll set that down," he said, "as one of your mistakes--to your credit." And as if he disliked talking about his position, he changed the subject. "I wish you would let me go with you to the Tower, and to Hampton Court, and to all those other places."
"We shall be most happy," said Bessie.
"And of course I shall be delighted to show you the House of Lords-- some day that suits you. There are a lot of things I want to do for you. I want to make you have a good time. And I should like very much to present some of my friends to you, if it wouldn't bore you. Then it would be awfully kind of you to come down to Branches."
"We are much obliged to you, Lord Lambeth," said Bessie. "What is Branches?"
"It's a house in the country. I think you might like it."
Willie Woodley and Mrs. Westgate at this moment were sitting in silence, and the young man's ear caught these last words of Lord Lambeth's. "He's inviting Miss Bessie to one of his castles," he murmured to his companion.
Mrs. Westgate, foreseeing what she mentally called "complications," immediately got up; and the two ladies, taking leave of Lord Lambeth, returned, under Mr. Woodley's conduct, to Jones's Hotel.
Lord Lambeth came to see them on the morrow, bringing Percy Beaumont with him--the latter having instantly declared his intention of neglecting none of the usual offices of civility. This declaration, however, when his kinsman informed him of the advent of their American friends, had been preceded by another remark.
"Here they are, then, and you are in for it."
"What am I in for?" demanded Lord Lambeth.
"I will let your mother give it a name. With all respect to whom," added Percy Beaumont, "I must decline on this occasion to do any more police duty. Her Grace must look after you herself."
"I will give her a chance," said her Grace's son, a trifle grimly. "I shall make her go and see them."
"She won't do it, my boy."
"We'll see if she doesn't," said Lord Lambeth.
But if Percy Beaumont took a somber view of the arrival of the two ladies at Jones's Hotel, he was sufficiently a man of the world to offer them a smiling countenance. He fell into animated conversation--conversation, at least, that was animated on her side--with Mrs. Westgate, while his companion made himself agreeable to the younger lady. Mrs. Westgate began confessing and protesting, declaring and expounding.
"I must say London is a great deal brighter and prettier just now than it was when I was here last--in the month of November. There is evidently a great deal going on, and you seem to have a good many flowers. I have no doubt it is very charming for all you people, and that you amuse yourselves immensely. It is very good of you to let Bessie and me come and sit and look at you. I suppose you will think I am very satirical, but I must confess that that's the feeling I have in London."
"I am afraid I don't quite understand to what feeling you allude," said Percy Beaumont.
"The feeling that it's all very well for you English people. Everything is beautifully arranged for you."
"It seems to me it is very well for some Americans, sometimes," rejoined Beaumont.
"For some of them, yes--if they like to be patronized. But I must say I don't like to be patronized. I may be very eccentric, and undisciplined, and outrageous, but I confess I never was fond of patronage. I like to associate with people on the same terms as I do in my own country; that's a peculiar taste that I have. But here people seem to expect something else--Heaven knows what! I am afraid you will think I am very ungrateful, for I certainly have received a great deal of attention. The last time I was here, a lady sent me a message that I was at liberty to come and see her."
"Dear me! I hope you didn't go," observed Percy Beaumont.
"You are deliciously naive, I must say that for you!" Mrs. Westgate exclaimed. "It must be a great advantage to you here in London. I suppose that if I myself had a little more naivete, I should enjoy it more. I should be content to sit on a chair in the park, and see the people pass, and be told that this is the Duchess of Suffolk, and that is the Lord Chamberlain, and that I must be thankful for the privilege of beholding them. I daresay it is very wicked and critical of me to ask for anything else. But I was always critical, and I freely confess to the sin of being fastidious. I am told there is some remarkably superior second-rate society provided here for strangers. Merci! I don't want any superior second-rate society. I want the society that I have been accustomed to."
"I hope you don't call Lambeth and me second rate," Beaumont interposed.
"Oh, I am accustomed to you," said Mrs. Westgate. "Do you know that you English sometimes make the most wonderful speeches? The first time I came to London I went out to dine--as I told you, I have received a great deal of attention. After dinner, in the drawing room, I had some conversation with an old lady; I assure you I had. I forget what we talked about, but she presently said, in allusion to something we were discussing, 'Oh, you know, the aristocracy do so-and-so; but in one's own class of life it is very different.' In one's own class of life! What is a poor unprotected American woman to do in a country where she is liable to have that sort of thing said to her?"
"You seem to get hold of some very queer old ladies; I compliment you on your acquaintance!" Percy Beaumont exclaimed. "If you are trying to bring me to admit that London is an odious place, you'll not succeed. I'm extremely fond of it, and I think it the jolliest place in the world."
"Pour vous autres. I never said the contrary," Mrs. Westgate retorted. I make use of this expression, because both interlocutors had begun to raise their voices. Percy Beaumont naturally did not like to hear his country abused, and Mrs. Westgate, no less naturally, did not like a stubborn debater.
"Hallo!" said Lord Lambeth; "what are they up to now?" And he came away from the window, where he had been standing with Bessie Alden.
"I quite agree with a very clever countrywoman of mine," Mrs. Westgate continued with charming ardor, though with imperfect relevancy. She smiled at the two gentlemen for a moment with terrible brightness, as if to toss at their feet--upon their native heath--the gauntlet of defiance. "For me, there are only two social positions worth speaking of-- that of an American lady and that of the Emperor of Russia."
"And what do you do with the American gentlemen?" asked Lord Lambeth.
"She leaves them in America!" said Percy Beaumont.
On the departure of their visitors, Bessie Alden told her sister that Lord Lambeth would come the next day, to go with them to the Tower, and that he had kindly offered to bring his "trap" and drive them thither. Mrs. Westgate listened in silence to this communication, and for some time afterward she said nothing. But at last, "If you had not requested me the other day not to mention it," she began, "there is something I should venture to ask you." Bessie frowned a little; her dark blue eyes were more dark than blue. But her sister went on. "As it is, I will take the risk. You are not in love with Lord Lambeth: I believe it, perfectly. Very good. But is there, by chance, any danger of your becoming so? It's a very simple question; don't take offense. I have a particular reason," said Mrs. Westgate, "for wanting to know."
Bessie Alden for some moments said nothing; she only looked displeased. "No; there is no danger," she answered at last, curtly.
"Then I should like to frighten them," declared Mrs. Westgate, clasping her jeweled hands.
"To frighten whom?"
"All these people; Lord Lambeth's family and friends."
"How should you frighten them?" asked the young girl.
"It wouldn't be I--it would be you. It would frighten them to think that you should absorb his lordship's young affections."
Bessie Alden, with her clear eyes still overshadowed by her dark brows, continued to interrogate. "Why should that frighten them?"
Mrs. Westgate poised her answer with a smile before delivering it. "Because they think you are not good enough. You are a charming girl, beautiful and amiable, intelligent and clever, and as bien-elevee as it is possible to be; but you are not a fit match for Lord Lambeth."
Bessie Alden was decidedly disgusted. "Where do you get such extraordinary ideas?" she asked. "You have said some such strange things lately. My dear Kitty, where do you collect them?"
Kitty was evidently enamored of her idea. "Yes, it would put them on pins and needles, and it wouldn't hurt you. Mr. Beaumont is already most uneasy; I could soon see that."
The young girl meditated a moment. "Do you mean that they spy upon him-- that they interfere with him?"
"I don't know what power they have to interfere, but I know that a British mama may worry her son's life out."
It has been intimated that, as regards certain disagreeable things, Bessie Alden had a fund of skepticism. She abstained on the present occasion from expressing disbelief, for she wished not to irritate her sister. But she said to herself that Kitty had been misinformed--that this was a traveler's tale. Though she was a girl of a lively imagination, there could in the nature of things be, to her sense, no reality in the idea of her belonging to a vulgar category. What she said aloud was, "I must say that in that case I am very sorry for Lord Lambeth."
Mrs. Westgate, more and more exhilarated by her scheme, was smiling at her again. "If I could only believe it was safe!" she exclaimed. "When you begin to pity him, I, on my side, am afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"Of your pitying him too much."
Bessie Alden turned away impatiently; but at the end of a minute she turned back. "What if I should pity him too much?" she asked.
Mrs. Westgate hereupon turned away, but after a moment's reflection she also faced her sister again. "It would come, after all, to the same thing," she said.
Lord Lambeth came the next day with his trap, and the two ladies, attended by Willie Woodley, placed themselves under his guidance, and were conveyed eastward, through some of the duskier portions of the metropolis, to the great turreted donjon which overlooks the London shipping. They all descended from their vehicle and entered the famous inclosure; and they secured the services of a venerable beefeater, who, though there were many other claimants for legendary information, made a fine exclusive party of them and marched them through courts and corridors, through armories and prisons. He delivered his usual peripatetic discourse, and they stopped and stared, and peeped and stooped, according to the official admonitions. Bessie Alden asked the old man in the crimson doublet a great many questions; she thought it a most fascinating place. Lord Lambeth was in high good humor; he was constantly laughing; he enjoyed what he would have called the lark. Willie Woodley kept looking at the ceilings and tapping the walls with the knuckle of a pearl-gray glove; and Mrs. Westgate, asking at frequent intervals to be allowed to sit down and wait till they came back, was as frequently informed that they would never come back. To a great many of Bessie's questions--chiefly on collateral points of English history--the ancient warder was naturally unable to reply; whereupon she always appealed to Lord Lambeth. But his lordship was very ignorant. He declared that he knew nothing about that sort of thing, and he seemed greatly diverted at being treated as an authority.
"You can't expect everyone to know as much as you," he said.
"I should expect you to know a great deal more," declared Bessie Alden.
"Women always know more than men about names and dates and that sort of thing," Lord Lambeth rejoined. "There was Lady Jane Grey we have just been hearing about, who went in for Latin and Greek and all the learning of her age."
"You have no right to be ignorant, at all events," said Bessie.
"Why haven't I as good a right as anyone else?"
"Because you have lived in the midst of all these things."
"What things do you mean? Axes, and blocks, and thumbscrews?"
"All these historical things. You belong to a historical family."
"Bessie is really too historical," said Mrs. Westgate, catching a word of this dialogue.
"Yes, you are too historical," said Lord Lambeth, laughing, but thankful for a formula. "Upon my honor, you are too historical!"
He went with the ladies a couple of days later to Hampton Court, Willie Woodley being also of the party. The afternoon was charming, the famous horse chestnuts were in blossom, and Lord Lambeth, who quite entered into the spirit of the cockney excursionist, declared that it was a jolly old place. Bessie Alden was in ecstasies; she went about murmuring and exclaiming.
"It's too lovely," said the young girl; "it's too enchanting; it's too exactly what it ought to be!"
At Hampton Court the little flocks of visitors are not provided with an official bellwether, but are left to browse at discretion upon the local antiquities. It happened in this manner that, in default of another informant, Bessie Alden, who on doubtful questions was able to suggest a great many alternatives, found herself again applying for intellectual assistance to Lord Lambeth. But he again assured her that he was utterly helpless in such matters-- that his education had been sadly neglected.
"And I am sorry it makes you unhappy," he added in a moment.
"You are very disappointing, Lord Lambeth," she said.
"Ah, now don't say that," he cried. "That's the worst thing you could possibly say."
"No," she rejoined, "it is not so bad as to say that I had expected nothing of you."
"I don't know. Give me a notion of the sort of thing you expected."
"Well," said Bessie Alden, "that you would be more what I should like to be-- what I should try to be--in your place."
"Ah, my place!" exclaimed Lord Lambeth. "You are always talking about my place.!"
The young girl looked at him; he thought she colored a little; and for a moment she made no rejoinder.
"Does it strike you that I am always talking about your place?" she asked.
"I am sure you do it a great honor," he said, fearing he had been uncivil.
"I have often thought about it," she went on after a moment. "I have often thought about your being a hereditary legislator. A hereditary legislator ought to know a great many things."
"Not if he doesn't legislate."
"But you do legislate; it's absurd your saying you don't. You are very much looked up to here--I am assured of that."
"I don't know that I ever noticed it."
"It is because you are used to it, then. You ought to fill the place."
"How do you mean to fill it?" asked Lord Lambeth.
"You ought to be very clever and brilliant, and to know almost everything."
Lord Lambeth looked at her a moment. "Shall I tell you something?" he asked. "A young man in my position, as you call it--"
"I didn't invent the term," interposed Bessie Alden. "I have seen it in a great many books."
"Hang it! you are always at your books. A fellow in my position, then, does very well whatever he does. That's about what I mean to say."
"Well, if your own people are content with you," said Bessie Alden, laughing, "it is not for me to complain. But I shall always think that, properly, you should have been a great mind--a great character."
"Ah, that's very theoretic," Lord Lambeth declared. "Depend upon it, that's a Yankee prejudice."
"Happy the country," said Bessie Alden, "where even people's prejudices are so elevated!"
"Well, after all," observed Lord Lambeth, "I don't know that I am such a fool as you are trying to make me out."
"I said nothing so rude as that; but I must repeat that you are disappointing."
"My dear Miss Alden," exclaimed the young man, "I am the best fellow in the world!"
"Ah, if it were not for that!" said Bessie Alden with a smile.
Mrs. Westgate had a good many more friends in London than she pretended, and before long she had renewed acquaintance with most of them. Their hospitality was extreme, so that, one thing leading to another, she began, as the phrase is, to go out. Bessie Alden, in this way, saw something of what she found it a great satisfaction to call to herself English society. She went to balls and danced, she went to dinners and talked, she went to concerts and listened (at concerts Bessie always listened), she went to exhibitions and wondered. Her enjoyment was keen and her curiosity insatiable, and, grateful in general for all her opportunities, she especially prized the privilege of meeting certain celebrated persons-- authors and artists, philosophers and statesmen--of whose renown she had been a humble and distant beholder, and who now, as a part of the habitual furniture of London drawing rooms, struck her as stars fallen from the firmament and become palpable-- revealing also sometimes, on contact, qualities not to have been predicted of sidereal bodies. Bessie, who knew so many of her contemporaries by reputation, had a good many personal disappointments; but, on the other hand, she had innumerable satisfactions and enthusiasms, and she communicated the emotions of either class to a dear friend, of her own sex, in Boston, with whom she was in voluminous correspondence. Some of her reflections, indeed, she attempted to impart to Lord Lambeth, who came almost every day to Jones's Hotel, and whom Mrs. Westgate admitted to be really devoted. Captain Littledale, it appeared, had gone to India; and of several others of Mrs. Westgate's ex-pensioners--gentlemen who, as she said, had made, in New York, a clubhouse of her drawing room-- no tidings were to be obtained; but Lord Lambeth was certainly attentive enough to make up for the accidental absences, the short memories, all the other irregularities of everyone else. He drove them in the park, he took them to visit private collections of pictures, and, having a house of his own, invited them to dinner. Mrs. Westgate, following the fashion of many of her compatriots, caused herself and her sister to be presented at the English court by her diplomatic representative--for it was in this manner that she alluded to the American minister to England, inquiring what on earth he was put there for, if not to make the proper arrangements for one's going to a Drawing Room.
Lord Lambeth declared that he hated Drawing Rooms, but he participated in the ceremony on the day on which the two ladies at Jones's Hotel repaired to Buckingham Palace in a remarkable coach which his lordship had sent to fetch them. He had on a gorgeous uniform, and Bessie Alden was particularly struck with his appearance--especially when on her asking him, rather foolishly as she felt, if he were a loyal subject, he replied that he was a loyal subject to her. This declaration was emphasized by his dancing with her at a royal ball to which the two ladies afterward went, and was not impaired by the fact that she thought he danced very ill. He seemed to her wonderfully kind; she asked herself, with growing vivacity, why he should be so kind. It was his disposition--that seemed the natural answer. She had told her sister that she liked him very much, and now that she liked him more she wondered why. She liked him for his disposition; to this question as well that seemed the natural answer. When once the impressions of London life began to crowd thickly upon her, she completely forgot her sister's warning about the cynicism of public opinion. It had given her great pain at the moment, but there was no particular reason why she should remember it; it corresponded too little with any sensible reality; and it was disagreeable to Bessie to remember disagreeable things. So she was not haunted with the sense of a vulgar imputation. She was not in love with Lord Lambeth--she assured herself of that. It will immediately be observed that when such assurances become necessary the state of a young lady's affections is already ambiguous; and, indeed, Bessie Alden made no attempt to dissimulate--to herself, of course--a certain tenderness that she felt for the young nobleman. She said to herself that she liked the type to which he belonged-- the simple, candid, manly, healthy English temperament. She spoke to herself of him as women speak of young men they like-- alluded to his bravery (which she had never in the least seen tested), to his honesty and gentlemanliness, and was not silent upon the subject of his good looks. She was perfectly conscious, moreover, that she liked to think of his more adventitious merits; that her imagination was excited and gratified by the sight of a handsome young man endowed with such large opportunities-- opportunities she hardly knew for what, but, as she supposed, for doing great things--for setting an example, for exerting an influence, for conferring happiness, for encouraging the arts. She had a kind of ideal of conduct for a young man who should find himself in this magnificent position, and she tried to adapt it to Lord Lambeth's deportment as you might attempt to fit a silhouette in cut paper upon a shadow projected upon a wall. But Bessie Alden's silhouette refused to coincide with his lordship's image, and this want of harmony sometimes vexed her more than she thought reasonable. When he was absent it was, of course, less striking; then he seemed to her a sufficiently graceful combination of high responsibilities and amiable qualities. But when he sat there within sight, laughing and talking with his customary good humor and simplicity, she measured it more accurately, and she felt acutely that if Lord Lambeth's position was heroic, there was but little of the hero in the young man himself. Then her imagination wandered away from him--very far away; for it was an incontestable fact that at such moments he seemed distinctly dull. I am afraid that while Bessie's imagination was thus invidiously roaming, she cannot have been herself a very lively companion; but it may well have been that these occasional fits of indifference seemed to Lord Lambeth a part of the young girl's personal charm. It had been a part of this charm from the first that he felt that she judged him and measured him more freely and irresponsibly-- more at her ease and her leisure, as it were--than several young ladies with whom he had been on the whole about as intimate. To feel this, and yet to feel that she also liked him, was very agreeable to Lord Lambeth. He fancied he had compassed that gratification so desirable to young men of title and fortune--being liked for himself. It is true that a cynical counselor might have whispered to him, "Liked for yourself? Yes; but not so very much!" He had, at any rate, the constant hope of being liked more.
It may seem, perhaps, a trifle singular--but it is nevertheless true-- that Bessie Alden, when he struck her as dull, devoted some time, on grounds of conscience, to trying to like him more. I say on grounds of conscience because she felt that he had been extremely "nice" to her sister, and because she reflected that it was no more than fair that she should think as well of him as he thought of her. This effort was possibly sometimes not so successful as it might have been, for the result of it was occasionally a vague irritation, which expressed itself in hostile criticism of several British institutions. Bessie Alden went to some entertainments at which she met Lord Lambeth; but she went to others at which his lordship was neither actually nor potentially present; and it was chiefly on these latter occasions that she encountered those literary and artistic celebrities of whom mention has been made. After a while she reduced the matter to a principle. If Lord Lambeth should appear anywhere, it was a symbol that there would be no poets and philosophers; and in consequence-- for it was almost a strict consequence--she used to enumerate to the young man these objects of her admiration.
"You seem to be awfully fond of those sort of people," said Lord Lambeth one day, as if the idea had just occurred to him.
"They are the people in England I am most curious to see," Bessie Alden replied.
"I suppose that's because you have read so much," said Lord Lambeth gallantly.
"I have not read so much. It is because we think so much of them at home."
"Oh, I see," observed the young nobleman. "In Boston."
"Not only in Boston; everywhere," said Bessie. "We hold them in great honor; they go to the best dinner parties."
"I daresay you are right. I can't say I know many of them."
"It's a pity you don't," Bessie Alden declared. "It would do you good."
"I daresay it would," said Lord Lambeth very humbly. "But I must say I don't like the looks of some of them."
"Neither do I--of some of them. But there are all kinds, and many of them are charming."
"I have talked with two or three of them," the young man went on, "and I thought they had a kind of fawning manner."
"Why should they fawn?" Bessie Alden demanded.
"I'm sure I don't know. Why, indeed?"
"Perhaps you only thought so," said Bessie.
"Well, of course," rejoined her companion, "that's a kind of thing that can't be proved."
"In America they don't fawn," said Bessie.
"Ah, well, then, they must be better company."
Bessie was silent a moment. "That is one of the things I don't like about England," she said; "your keeping the distinguished people apart."
"How do you mean apart?"
"Why, letting them come only to certain places. You never see them."
Lord Lambeth looked at her a moment. "What people do you mean?"
"The eminent people--the authors and artists--the clever people."
"Oh, there are other eminent people besides those," said Lord Lambeth.
"Well, you certainly keep them apart," repeated the young girl.
"And there are other clever people," added Lord Lambeth simply.
Bessie Alden looked at him, and she gave a light laugh. "Not many," she said.
On another occasion--just after a dinner party--she told him that there was something else in England she did not like.
"Oh, I say!" he cried, "haven't you abused us enough?"
"I have never abused you at all," said Bessie; "but I don't like your precedence."
"It isn't my precedence!" Lord Lambeth declared, laughing.
"Yes, it is yours--just exactly yours; and I think it's odious," said Bessie.
"I never saw such a young lady for discussing things! Has someone had the impudence to go before you?" asked his lordship.
"It is not the going before me that I object to," said Bessie; "it is their thinking that they have a right to do it-- a right that I recognize."
"I never saw such a young lady as you are for not 'recognizing.' I have no doubt the thing is beastly, but it saves a lot of trouble."
"It makes a lot of trouble. It's horrid," said Bessie.
"But how would you have the first people go?" asked Lord Lambeth. "They can't go last."
"Whom do you mean by the first people?"
"Ah, if you mean to question first principles!" said Lord Lambeth.
"If those are your first principles, no wonder some of your arrangements are horrid," observed Bessie Alden with a very pretty ferocity. "I am a young girl, so of course I go last; but imagine what Kitty must feel on being informed that she is not at liberty to budge until certain other ladies have passed out."
"Oh, I say, she is not 'informed!'" cried Lord Lambeth. "No one would do such a thing as that."
"She is made to feel it," the young girl insisted--"as if they were afraid she would make a rush for the door. No; you have a lovely country," said Bessie Alden, "but your precedence is horrid."
"I certainly shouldn't think your sister would like it," rejoined Lord Lambeth with even exaggerated gravity. But Bessie Alden could induce him to enter no formal protest against this repulsive custom, which he seemed to think an extreme convenience.
Percy Beaumont all this time had been a very much less frequent visitor at Jones's Hotel than his noble kinsman; he had, in fact, called but twice upon the two American ladies. Lord Lambeth, who often saw him, reproached him with his neglect and declared that, although Mrs. Westgate had said nothing about it, he was sure that she was secretly wounded by it. "She suffers too much to speak," said Lord Lambeth.
"That's all gammon," said Percy Beaumont; "there's a limit to what people can suffer!" And, though sending no apologies to Jones's Hotel, he undertook in a manner to explain his absence. "You are always there," he said, "and that's reason enough for my not going."
"I don't see why. There is enough for both of us."
"I don't care to be a witness of your--your reckless passion," said Percy Beaumont.
Lord Lambeth looked at him with a cold eye and for a moment said nothing. "It's not so obvious as you might suppose," he rejoined dryly, "considering what a demonstrative beggar I am."
"I don't want to know anything about it--nothing whatever," said Beaumont. "Your mother asks me everytime she sees me whether I believe you are really lost--and Lady Pimlico does the same. I prefer to be able to answer that I know nothing about it-- that I never go there. I stay away for consistency's sake. As I said the other day, they must look after you themselves."
"You are devilish considerate," said Lord Lambeth. "They never question me."
"They are afraid of you. They are afraid of irritating you and making you worse. So they go to work very cautiously, and, somewhere or other, they get their information. They know a great deal about you. They know that you have been with those ladies to the dome of St. Paul's and-- where was the other place?--to the Thames Tunnel."
"If all their knowledge is as accurate as that, it must be very valuable," said Lord Lambeth.
"Well, at any rate, they know that you have been visiting the 'sights of the metropolis.' They think--very naturally, as it seems to me--that when you take to visiting the sights of the metropolis with a little American girl, there is serious cause for alarm." Lord Lambeth responded to this intimation by scornful laughter, and his companion continued, after a pause: "I said just now I didn't want to know anything about the affair; but I will confess that I am curious to learn whether you propose to marry Miss Bessie Alden."
On this point Lord Lambeth gave his interlocutor no immediate satisfaction; he was musing, with a frown. "By Jove," he said, "they go rather too far. They shall find me dangerous--I promise them."
Percy Beaumont began to laugh. "You don't redeem your promises. You said the other day you would make your mother call."
Lord Lambeth continued to meditate. "I asked her to call," he said simply.
"And she declined?"
"Yes; but she shall do it yet."
"Upon my word," said Percy Beaumont, "if she gets much more frightened I believe she will." Lord Lambeth looked at him, and he went on. "She will go to the girl herself."
"How do you mean she will go to her?"
"She will beg her off, or she will bribe her. She will take strong measures."
Lord Lambeth turned away in silence, and his companion watched him take twenty steps and then slowly return. "I have invited Mrs. Westgate and Miss Alden to Branches," he said, "and this evening I shall name a day."
"And shall you invite your mother and your sisters to meet them?"
"That will set the duchess off," said Percy Beaumont. "I suspect she will come."
"She may do as she pleases."
Beaumont looked at Lord Lambeth. "You do really propose to marry the little sister, then?"
"I like the way you talk about it!" cried the young man. "She won't gobble me down; don't be afraid."
"She won't leave you on your knees," said Percy Beaumont. "What is the inducement?"
"You talk about proposing: wait till I have proposed," Lord Lambeth went on.
"That's right, my dear fellow; think about it," said Percy Beaumont.
"She's a charming girl," pursued his lordship.
"Of course she's a charming girl. I don't know a girl more charming, intrinsically. But there are other charming girls nearer home."
"I like her spirit," observed Lord Lambeth, almost as if he were trying to torment his cousin.
"What's the peculiarity of her spirit?"
"She's not afraid, and she says things out, and she thinks herself as good as anyone. She is the only girl I have ever seen that was not dying to marry me."
"How do you know that, if you haven't asked her?"
"I don't know how; but I know it."
"I am sure she asked me questions enough about your property and your titles," said Beaumont.
"She has asked me questions, too; no end of them," Lord Lambeth admitted. "But she asked for information, don't you know."
"Information? Aye, I'll warrant she wanted it. Depend upon it that she is dying to marry you just as much and just as little as all the rest of them."
"I shouldn't like her to refuse me--I shouldn't like that."
"If the thing would be so disagreeable, then, both to you and to her, in Heaven's name leave it alone," said Percy Beaumont.
Mrs. Westgate, on her side, had plenty to say to her sister about the rarity of Mr. Beaumont's visits and the nonappearance of the Duchess of Bayswater. She professed, however, to derive more satisfaction from this latter circumstance than she could have done from the most lavish attentions on the part of this great lady. "It is most marked," she said--"most marked. It is a delicious proof that we have made them miserable. The day we dined with Lord Lambeth I was really sorry for the poor fellow." It will have been gathered that the entertainment offered by Lord Lambeth to his American friends had not been graced by the presence of his anxious mother. He had invited several choice spirits to meet them; but the ladies of his immediate family were to Mrs. Westgate's sense-- a sense possibly morbidly acute--conspicuous by their absence.
"I don't want to express myself in a manner that you dislike," said Bessie Alden; "but I don't know why you should have so many theories about Lord Lambeth's poor mother. You know a great many young men in New York without knowing their mothers."
Mrs. Westgate looked at her sister and then turned away. "My dear Bessie, you are superb!" she said.
"One thing is certain," the young girl continued. "If I believed I were a cause of annoyance--however unwitting-- to Lord Lambeth's family, I should insist--"
"Insist upon my leaving England," said Mrs. Westgate.
"No, not that. I want to go to the National Gallery again; I want to see Stratford-on-Avon and Canterbury Cathedral. But I should insist upon his coming to see us no more."
"That would be very modest and very pretty of you; but you wouldn't do it now."
"Why do you say 'now'?" asked Bessie Alden. "Have I ceased to be modest?"
"You care for him too much. A month ago, when you said you didn't, I believe it was quite true. But at present, my dear child," said Mrs. Westgate, "you wouldn't find it quite so simple a matter never to see Lord Lambeth again. I have seen it coming on."
"You are mistaken," said Bessie. "You don't understand."
"My dear child, don't be perverse," rejoined her sister.
"I know him better, certainly, if you mean that," said Bessie. "And I like him very much. But I don't like him enough to make trouble for him with his family. However, I don't believe in that."
"I like the way you say 'however,'" Mrs. Westgate exclaimed. "Come; you would not marry him?"
"Oh, no," said the young girl.
Mrs. Westgate for a moment seemed vexed. "Why not, pray?" she demanded.
"Because I don't care to," said Bessie Alden.
The morning after Lord Lambeth had had, with Percy Beaumont, that exchange of ideas which has just been narrated, the ladies at Jones's Hotel received from his lordship a written invitation to pay their projected visit to Branches Castle on the following Tuesday. "I think I have made up a very pleasant party," the young nobleman said. "Several people whom you know, and my mother and sisters, who have so long been regrettably prevented from making your acquaintance." Bessie Alden lost no time in calling her sister's attention to the injustice she had done the Duchess of Bayswater, whose hostility was now proved to be a vain illusion.
"Wait till you see if she comes," said Mrs. Westgate. "And if she is to meet us at her son's house the obligation was all the greater for her to call upon us."
Bessie had not to wait long, and it appeared that Lord Lambeth's mother now accepted Mrs. Westgate's view of her duties. On the morrow, early in the afternoon, two cards were brought to the apartment of the American ladies--one of them bearing the name of the Duchess of Bayswater and the other that of the Countess of Pimlico. Mrs. Westgate glanced at the clock. "It is not yet four," she said; "they have come early; they wish to see us. We will receive them." And she gave orders that her visitors should be admitted. A few moments later they were introduced, and there was a solemn exchange of amenities. The duchess was a large lady, with a fine fresh color; the Countess of Pimlico was very pretty and elegant.
The duchess looked about her as she sat down--looked not especially at Mrs. Westgate. "I daresay my son has told you that I have been wanting to come and see you," she observed.
"You are very kind," said Mrs. Westgate, vaguely--her conscience not allowing her to assent to this proposition--and, indeed, not permitting her to enunciate her own with any appreciable emphasis.
"He says you were so kind to him in America," said the duchess.
"We are very glad," Mrs. Westgate replied, "to have been able to make him a little more--a little less--a little more comfortable."
"I think he stayed at your house," remarked the Duchess of Bayswater, looking at Bessie Alden.
"A very short time," said Mrs. Westgate.
"Oh!" said the duchess; and she continued to look at Bessie, who was engaged in conversation with her daughter.
"Do you like London?" Lady Pimlico had asked of Bessie, after looking at her a good deal--at her face and her hands, her dress and her hair.
"Very much indeed," said Bessie.
"Do you like this hotel?"
"It is very comfortable," said Bessie.
"Do you like stopping at hotels?" inquired Lady Pimlico after a pause.
"I am very fond of traveling," Bessie answered, "and I suppose hotels are a necessary part of it. But they are not the part I am fondest of."
"Oh, I hate traveling," said the Countess of Pimlico and transferred her attention to Mrs. Westgate.
"My son tells me you are going to Branches," the duchess presently resumed.
"Lord Lambeth has been so good as to ask us," said Mrs. Westgate, who perceived that her visitor had now begun to look at her, and who had her customary happy consciousness of a distinguished appearance. The only mitigation of her felicity on this point was that, having inspected her visitor's own costume, she said to herself, "She won't know how well I am dressed!"
"He has asked me to go, but I am not sure I shall be able," murmured the duchess.
"He had offered us the p--prospect of meeting you," said Mrs. Westgate.
"I hate the country at this season," responded the duchess.
Mrs. Westgate gave a little shrug. "I think it is pleasanter than London."
But the duchess's eyes were absent again; she was looking very fixedly at Bessie. In a moment she slowly rose, walked to a chair that stood empty at the young girl's right hand, and silently seated herself. As she was a majestic, voluminous woman, this little transaction had, inevitably, an air of somewhat impressive intention. It diffused a certain awkwardness, which Lady Pimlico, as a sympathetic daughter, perhaps desired to rectify in turning to Mrs. Westgate.
"I daresay you go out a great deal," she observed.
"No, very little. We are strangers, and we didn't come here for society."
"I see," said Lady Pimlico. "It's rather nice in town just now."
"It's charming," said Mrs. Westgate. "But we only go to see a few people-- whom we like."
"Of course one can't like everyone," said Lady Pimlico.
"It depends upon one's society," Mrs. Westgate rejoined.
The Duchess meanwhile had addressed herself to Bessie. "My son tells me the young ladies in America are so clever."
"I am glad they made so good an impression on him," said Bessie, smiling.
The Duchess was not smiling; her large fresh face was very tranquil. "He is very susceptible," she said. "He thinks everyone clever, and sometimes they are."
"Sometimes," Bessie assented, smiling still.
The duchess looked at her a little and then went on; "Lambeth is very susceptible, but he is very volatile, too."
"Volatile?" asked Bessie.
"He is very inconstant. It won't do to depend on him."
"Ah," said Bessie, "I don't recognize that description. We have depended on him greatly--my sister and I--and he has never disappointed us."
"He will disappoint you yet," said the duchess.
Bessie gave a little laugh, as if she were amused at the duchess's persistency. "I suppose it will depend on what we expect of him."
"The less you expect, the better," Lord Lambeth's mother declared.
"Well," said Bessie, "we expect nothing unreasonable."
The duchess for a moment was silent, though she appeared to have more to say. "Lambeth says he has seen so much of you," she presently began.
"He has been to see us very often; he has been very kind," said Bessie Alden.
"I daresay you are used to that. I am told there is a great deal of that in America."
"A great deal of kindness?" the young girl inquired, smiling.
"Is that what you call it? I know you have different expressions."
"We certainly don't always understand each other," said Mrs. Westgate, the termination of whose interview with Lady Pimlico allowed her to give her attention to their elder visitor.
"I am speaking of the young men calling so much upon the young ladies," the duchess explained.
"But surely in England," said Mrs. Westgate, "the young ladies don't call upon the young men?"
"Some of them do--almost!" Lady Pimlico declared. "What the young men are a great parti."
"Bessie, you must make a note of that," said Mrs. Westgate. "My sister," she added, "is a model traveler. She writes down all the curious facts she hears in a little book she keeps for the purpose."
The duchess was a little flushed; she looked all about the room, while her daughter turned to Bessie. "My brother told us you were wonderfully clever," said Lady Pimlico.
"He should have said my sister," Bessie answered--"when she says such things as that."
"Shall you be long at Branches?" the duchess asked, abruptly, of the young girl.
"Lord Lambeth has asked us for three days," said Bessie.
"I shall go," the duchess declared, "and my daughter, too."
"That will be charming!" Bessie rejoined.
"Delightful!" murmured Mrs. Westgate.
"I shall expect to see a great deal of you," the duchess continued. "When I go to Branches I monopolize my son's guests."
"They must be most happy," said Mrs. Westgate very graciously.
"I want immensely to see it--to see the castle," said Bessie to the duchess. "I have never seen one--in England, at least; and you know we have none in America."
"Ah, you are fond of castles?" inquired her Grace.
"Immensely!" replied the young girl. "It has been the dream of my life to live in one."
The duchess looked at her a moment, as if she hardly knew how to take this assurance, which, from her Grace's point of view, was either very artless or very audacious. "Well," she said, rising, "I will show you Branches myself." And upon this the two great ladies took their departure.
"What did they mean by it?" asked Mrs. Westgate, when they were gone.
"They meant to be polite," said Bessie, "because we are going to meet them."
"It is too late to be polite," Mrs. Westgate replied almost grimly. "They meant to overawe us by their fine manners and their grandeur, and to make you lacher prise."
"Lacher prise? What strange things you say!" murmured Bessie Alden.
"They meant to snub us, so that we shouldn't dare to go to Branches," Mrs. Westgate continued.
"On the contrary," said Bessie, "the duchess offered to show me the place herself."
"Yes, you may depend upon it she won't let you out of her sight. She will show you the place from morning till night."
"You have a theory for everything," said Bessie.
"And you apparently have none for anything."
"I saw no attempt to 'overawe' us," said the young girl. "Their manners were not fine."
"They were not even good!" Mrs. Westgate declared.
Bessie was silent a while, but in a few moments she observed that she had a very good theory. "They came to look at me," she said, as if this had been a very ingenious hypothesis. Mrs. Westgate did it justice; she greeted it with a smile and pronounced it most brilliant, while, in reality, she felt that the young girl's skepticism, or her charity, or, as she had sometimes called it appropriately, her idealism, was proof against irony. Bessie, however, remained meditative all the rest of that day and well on into the morrow.
On the morrow, before lunch, Mrs. Westgate had occasion to go out for an hour, and left her sister writing a letter. When she came back she met Lord Lambeth at the door of the hotel, coming away. She thought he looked slightly embarrassed; he was certainly very grave. "I am sorry to have missed you. Won't you come back?" she asked.
"No," said the young man, "I can't. I have seen your sister. I can never come back." Then he looked at her a moment and took her hand. "Goodbye, Mrs. Westgate," he said. "You have been very kind to me." And with what she thought a strange, sad look in his handsome young face, he turned away.
She went in, and she found Bessie still writing her letter; that is, Mrs. Westgate perceived she was sitting at the table with the pen in her hand and not writing. "Lord Lambeth has been here," said the elder lady at last.
Then Bessie got up and showed her a pale, serious face. She bent this face upon her sister for some time, confessing silently and a little pleading. "I told him," she said at last, "that we could not go to Branches."
Mrs. Westgate displayed just a spark of irritation. "He might have waited," she said with a smile, "till one had seen the castle." Later, an hour afterward, she said, "Dear Bessie, I wish you might have accepted him."
"I couldn't," said Bessie gently.
"He is an excellent fellow," said Mrs. Westgate.
"I couldn't," Bessie repeated.
"If it is only," her sister added, "because those women will think that they succeeded--that they paralyzed us!"
Bessie Alden turned away; but presently she added, "They were interesting; I should have liked to see them again."
"So should I!" cried Mrs. Westgate significantly.
"And I should have liked to see the castle," said Bessie. "But now we must leave England," she added.
Her sister looked at her. "You will not wait to go to the National Gallery?"
"Nor to Canterbury Cathedral?"
Bessie reflected a moment. "We can stop there on our way to Paris," she said.
Lord Lambeth did not tell Percy Beaumont that the contingency he was not prepared at all to like had occurred; but Percy Beaumont, on hearing that the two ladies had left London, wondered with some intensity what had happened; wondered, that is, until the Duchess of Bayswater came a little to his assistance. The two ladies went to Paris, and Mrs. Westgate beguiled the journey to that city by repeating several times-- "That's what I regret; they will think they petrified us." But Bessie Alden seemed to regret nothing.