Tancred/Chapter XII


The Dreamer Enters Society

AFTER this consultation with Lord Eskdale, the duchess became easier in her mind. She was of a sanguine temper, and with facility believed what she wished. Affairs stood thus: it was agreed by all that Tancred should go to the Holy Land, but he was to go in his own yacht; which yacht was to be of a firstrate burthen, and to be commanded by an officer in H.M.S.; and he was to be accompanied by Colonel Brace, Mr. Bernard, and Mr. Roby; and the servants were to be placed entirely under the control of some trusty foreigner accustomed to the East, and who was to be chosen by Lord Eskdale. In the meantime, Tancred had acceded to the wish of his parents, that until his departure he should mix much in society. The duchess calculated that, under any circumstances, three months must elapse before all the arrangements were concluded; and she felt persuaded that, during that period, Tancred must become enamoured of his cousin Katherine, and that the only use of the yacht would be to take them all to Ireland. The duke was resolved only on two points: that his son should do exactly as his son liked, and that he himself would never take the advice, on any subject, of any other person than Lord Eskdale.

In the meantime Tancred was launched, almost unconsciously, into the great world. The name of the Marquess of Montacute was foremost in those delicate lists by which an eager and admiring public is apprised who, among their aristocracy, eat, drink, dance, and sometimes pray. From the saloons of Bel-grave and Grosvenor Square to the sacred recesses of the Chapel Royal, the movements of Lord Montacute were tracked and registered, and were devoured every morning, oftener with a keener relish than the matin meal of which they formed a regular portion. England is the only country which enjoys the unspeakable advantage of being thus regularly, promptly, and accurately furnished with catalogues of those favoured beings who are deemed qualified to enter the houses of the great. What condescension in those who impart the information! What indubitable evidence of true nobility! What superiority to all petty vanity! And in those who receive it, what freedom from all little feelings! No arrogance on one side; on the other, no envy. It is only countries blessed with a free press that can be thus favoured. Even a free press is not alone sufficient. Besides a free press, you must have a servile public.

After all, let us be just. The uninitiated world is apt to believe that there is sometimes, in the outskirts of fashion, an eagerness, scarcely consistent with self-respect, to enter the mansions of the great. Not at all: few people really want to go to their grand parties. It is not the charms of conversation, the flash of wit or the blaze of beauty, the influential presence of the powerful and celebrated, all the splendour and refinement, which, combined, offer in a polished saloon so much to charm the taste and satisfy the intellect, that the mass of social partisans care anything about. What they want is, not so much to be in her ladyship's house as in her ladyship's list. After the party at Coningsby Castle, our friend, Mrs. Guy Flouncey, at length succeeded in being asked to one of Lady St. Julians' assemblies. It was a great triumph, and Mrs. Guy Flouncey determined to make the most of it. She was worthy of the occasion. But alas! next morning, though admitted to the rout, Mrs. Guy Flouncey was left out of the list! It was a severe blow! But Mrs. Guy Flouncey is in every list now, and even strikes out names herself. But there never was a woman who advanced with such dexterity.

Lord Montacute was much shocked, when, one morning, taking up a journal, he first saw his name in print. He was alone, and he blushed; felt, indeed, extremely distressed, when he found that the English people were formally made acquainted with the fact that he had dined on the previous Saturday with the Earl and Countess of St. Julians; 'a grand banquet,' of which he was quite unconscious until he read it; and that he was afterwards 'observed' at the Opera.

He found that he had become a public character, and he was not by any means conscious of meriting celebrity. To be pointed at as he walked the streets, were he a hero, or had done, said, or written anything that anybody remembered, though at first painful and embarrassing, for he was shy, he could conceive ultimately becoming endurable, and not without a degree of excitement, for he was ambitious; but to be looked at because he was a young lord, and that this should be the only reason why the public should be informed where he dined, or where he amused himself, seemed to him not only vexatious but degrading. When he arrived, however, at a bulletin of his devotions, he posted off immediately to the Surrey Canal to look at a yacht there, and resolved not to lose unnecessarily one moment in setting off for Jerusalem.

He had from the first busied himself about the preparations for his voyage with all the ardour of youth; that is, with all the energy of inexperience, and all the vigour of simplicity. As everything seemed to depend upon his obtaining a suitable vessel, he trusted to no third person; had visited Cowes several times; advertised in every paper; and had already met with more than one yacht which at least deserved consideration. The duchess was quite frightened at his progress. 'I am afraid he has found one,' she said to Lord Eskdale; 'he will be off directly.'

Lord Eskdale shook his head. 'There are always things of this sort in the market. He will inquire before he purchases, and he will find that he has got hold of a slow coach.'

'A slow coach!' said the duchess, looking inquiringly. 'What is that?'

'A tub that sails like a collier, and which, instead of taking him to Jerusalem, will hardly take him to Newcastle.'

Lord Eskdale was right. Notwithstanding all his ardour, all his inquiries, visits to Cowes and the Surrey Canal, advertisements and answers to advertisements, time flew on, and Tancred was still without a yacht.

In this unsettled state, Tancred found himself one evening at Deloraine House. It was not a ball, it was only a dance, brilliant and select; but, all the same, it seemed to Tancred that the rooms could not be much more crowded. The name of the Marquess of Montacute, as it was sent along by the servants, attracted attention. Tancred had scarcely entered the world, his appearance had made a sensation, everybody talked of him, many had not yet seen him.

'Oh! that is Lord Montacute,' said a great lady, looking through her glass; 'very distinguished!'

'I tell you what,' whispered Mr. Ormsby to Lord Valentine, 'you young men had better look sharp; Lord Montacute will cut you all out!'

'Oh! he is going to Jerusalem,' said Lord Valentine.

'Jerusalem!' said Mr. Ormsby, shrugging his shoulders. 'What can he find to do at Jerusalem?'

'What, indeed,' said Lord Milford. 'My brother was there in '39; he got leave after the bombardment of Acre, and he says there is absolutely no sport of any kind.'

'There used to be partridges in the time of Jeremiah,' said Mr. Ormsby; 'at least they told us so at the Chapel Royal last Sunday, where, by-the-bye, I saw Lord Montacute for the first time; and a deuced good-looking fellow he is,' he added, musingly.

'Well, there is not a bird in the whole country now,' said Lord Milford.

'Montacute does not care for sport,' said Lord Valentine.

'What does he care for?' asked Lord Milford. 'Because, if he wants any horses, I can let him have some.'

'He wants to buy a yacht,' said Lord Valentine; 'and that reminds me that I heard to-day Exmouth wanted to get rid of "The Flower of Yarrow," and I think it would suit my cousin. I'll tell him of it.' And he followed Tancred.

'You and Valentine must rub up your harness, Milford,'said Mr. Ormsby; 'there is a new champion in the field. We are talking of Lord Montacute,' continued Mr. Ormsby, addressing himself to Mr. Melton, who joined them; 'I tell Milford he will cut you all out.'

'Well,' said Mr. Melton, 'for my part I have had so much success, that I have no objection, by way of change, to be for once eclipsed.'

'Well done, Jemmy,' said Lord Milford.

'I see, Melton,' said Mr. Ormsby, 'you are reconciled to your fate like a philosopher.'

'Well, Montacute,' said Lord St. Patrick, a good-tempered, witty Milesian, with a laughing eye, 'when are you going to Jericho?'

'Tell me,' said Tancred, in reply, and rather earnestly, 'who is that?' And he directed the attention of Lord St. Patrick to a young lady, rather tall, a brilliant complexion, classic features, a profusion of light brown hair, a face of intelligence, and a figure rich and yet graceful.

'That is Lady Constance Rawleigh; if you like, I will introduce you to her. She is my cousin, and deuced clever. Come along!'

In the meantime, in the room leading to the sculpture gallery where they are dancing, the throng is even excessive. As the two great divisions, those who would enter the gallery and those who are quitting it, encounter each other, they exchange flying phrases as they pass.

'They told me you had gone to Paris! I have just returned. Dear me, how time flies! Pretty dance, is it not? Very. Do you know whether the Madlethorpes mean to come up this year? I hardly know; their little girl is very ill. Ah! so I hear; what a pity, and such a fortune! Such a pity with such a fortune! How d'ye do? Mr. Coningsby here? No; he's at the House. They say he is a very close attendant. It interests him. Well, Lady Florentina, you never sent me the dances. Pardon, but you will find them when you return. I lent them to Augusta, and she would copy them. Is it true that I am to congratulate you? Why? Lady Blanche? Oh! that is a romance of Easter week. Well, I am really delighted; I think such an excellent match for both; exactly suited to each other. They think so. Well, that is one point. How well Lady Everingham is looking! She is quite herself again. Quite. Tell me, have you seen M. de Talleyrand here? I spoke to him but this moment. Shall you be at Lady Blair's to-morrow? No; I have promised to go to Mrs. Guy Flouncey's. She has taken Craven Cottage, and is to be at home every Saturday. Well, if you are going, I think I shall. I would; everybody will be there.'

Lord Montacute had conversed some time with Lady Constance; then he had danced with her; he had hovered about her during the evening. It was observed, particularly by some of the most experienced mothers. Lady Constance was a distinguished beauty of two seasons; fresh, but adroit. It was understood that she had refused offers of a high calibre; but the rejected still sighed about her, and it was therefore supposed that, though decided, she had the art of not rendering them desperate. One at least of them was of a rank equal to that of Tancred. She had the reputation of being very clever, and of being able, if it pleased her, to breathe scorpions as well as brilliants and roses. It had got about that she admired intellect, and, though she claimed the highest social position, that a booby would not content her, even if his ears were covered with strawberry leaves.

In the cloak-room, Tancred was still at her side, and was presented to her mother, Lady Charmouth.

'I am sorry to separate,' said Tancred.

'And so am I,' said Lady Constance, smiling; 'but one advantage of this life is, we meet our friends every day.'

'I am not going anywhere to-morrow, where I shall meet you,' said Tancred, 'unless you chance to dine at the Archbishop of York's.'

'I am not going to dine with the Archbishop of York,' said Lady Constance, 'but I am going, where everybody else is going, to breakfast with Mrs. Guy Flouncey, at Craven Cottage. Why, will not you be there?'

'I have not the honour of knowing her,' said Tancred.

'That is not of the slightest consequence; she will be very happy to have the honour of knowing you. I saw her in the dancing-room, but it is not worth while waiting to speak to her now. You shall receive an invitation the moment you are awake.'

'But to-morrow I have an engagement. I have to look at a yacht.'

'But that you can look at on Monday; besides, if you wish to know anything about yachts, you had better speak to my brother, Fitz-Heron, who has built more than any man alive.'

'Perhaps he has one that he wishes to part with?' said Tancred.

'I have no doubt of it. You can ask him tomorrow at Mrs. Guy Flouncey's.'

'I will. Lady Charmouth's carriage is called. May I have the honour?' said Tancred, offering his arm.