Tommy & Co. (Windsor Magazine, 1903-04)/Mrs. Loveredge Receives

Windsor Magazine, vol.19 1903–04; pp. 492–504.


THE most popular member of the Autolycus Club was undoubtedly Joseph Loveredge. Small, chubby, clean-shaven, his somewhat longish, soft, brown hair parted in the middle, strangers fell into the error of assuming him to be younger than he really was. It is on record that a leading lady novelist—accepting her at her own estimate—irritated by his polite but firm refusal to allow her entrance into his own editorial office without appointment, had once boxed his ears, under the impression that he was his own office-boy. Guests to the Autolycus Club, on being introduced to him, would give to him kind messages to take home to his father, with whom they remembered having been at school together. This sort of thing might have annoyed anyone with less sense of humour. Joseph Loveredge would tell such stories himself, keenly enjoying the jest—was even suspected of inventing some of the more improbable. Another fact tending to the popularity of Joseph Loveredge among all classes, over and above his amiability, his wit, his genuine kindliness, and his never-failing fund of good stories, was that by care and inclination he had succeeded in remaining a bachelor. Many had been the attempts to capture him; nor with the passing of the years had interest in the sport shown any sign of diminution. Well over the frailties and distempers so dangerous to youth, of staid and sober habits, with an ever-increasing capital invested in sound securities, together with an ever-increasing income from his pen, with a tastefully furnished house overlooking Regent's Park, an excellent and devoted cook and house-keeper, and relatives mostly settled in the Colonies, Joseph Loveredge, though inexperienced girls might pass him by with a contemptuous sniff, was recognised by ladies of maturer judgment as a prize not too often dangled before the eyes of spinsterhood. Old foxes—so we are assured by kind-hearted country gentlemen—rather enjoy than otherwise a day with the hounds. However that may be, certain it is that Joseph Loveredge, confident of himself, one presumes, showed no particular disinclination to the chase. Perhaps on the whole he preferred the society of his own sex, with whom he could laugh and jest with more freedom, to whom he could tell his stories as they came to him without the trouble of having to turn them over first in his own mind; but, on the other hand, Joey made no attempt to avoid female company whenever it came his way; and then no cavalier could render himself more agreeable, more unobtrusively attentive. Younger men stood by in envious admiration of the ease with which in five minutes he would establish himself on terms of cosy friendship with the brilliant beauty before whose gracious coldness they had stood shivering for months; the daring with which he would tuck under his arm, so to speak, the prettiest girl in the room, smooth down as if by magic her hundred prickles, and tease her out of her overwhelming sense of her own self-importance. The secret of his success was, probably, that he was not afraid of them. Desiring nothing from them beyond companionableness, a reasonable amount of appreciation for his jokes—which without being exceptionally stupid they would have found it difficult to withhold—with just sufficient information and intelligence to make conversation interesting, there was nothing about him by which they could lay hold of him. Of course, that rendered them particularly anxious to lay hold of him. Joseph's lady friends might, roughly speaking, be divided into two groups: the unmarried, who wanted to marry him to themselves; and the married, who wanted to marry him to somebody else. It would be a social disaster, the latter had agreed among themselves, if Joseph Loveredge should never wed.

“He would make such an excellent husband for poor Bridget.”

“Or Gladys. I wonder how old Gladys really is?”

“Such a nice, kind little man.”

“And when one thinks of the sort of men that are married, it does seem such a pity!”

“I wonder why he never has married, because he's just the sort of man you'd think would have married.”

“I wonder if he ever was in love.”

“Oh, my dear, you don't mean to tell me that a man has reached the age of forty without ever being in love!”

The ladies would sigh.

“I do hope if ever he does marry, it will be somebody nice. Men are so easily deceived.”

“I shouldn't be surprised myself a bit if something came of it with Bridget. She's a dear girl, Bridget—so genuine.”

“Well, I think myself, dear, if it's anyone, it's Gladys. I should be so glad to see poor dear Gladys settled.”

The unmarried kept their thoughts more to themselves. Each one, upon reflection, saw ground for thinking that Joseph Loveredge had given proof of feeling preference for herself. The irritating thing was that, on further reflection, it was equally clear that Joseph Loveredge had shown signs of preferring most of the others.

Meanwhile Joseph Loveredge went undisturbed upon his way. At eight o'clock in the morning Joseph's housekeeper entered the room with a cup of tea and a dry biscuit. At eight-fifteen Joseph Loveredge arose and performed complicated exercises on an indiarubber pulley, warranted, if persevered in, to bestow grace upon the figure and elasticity upon the limbs. Joseph Loveredge persevered steadily, and had done so for years, and was himself contented with the result, which, seeing it concerned nobody else, was all that could be desired. At half-past eight on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Joseph Loveredge breakfasted on one cup of tea, brewed by himself; one egg, boiled by himself; and two pieces of toast, the first one spread with marmalade, the second with butter. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays Joseph Loveredge discarded eggs and ate a rasher of bacon. On Sundays Joseph Loveredge had both eggs and bacon, but then allowed himself half-an-hour longer for reading the paper. At nine-thirty Joseph Loveredge left the house for the office of the old-established journal of which he was the incorruptible and honoured City editor. At one-forty-five, having left his office at one-thirty, Joseph Loveredge entered the Autolycus Club and sat down to lunch. Everything else in Joseph's life was arranged with similar preciseness, so far as was possible with the duties of a City editor. Monday evening Joseph spent with musical friends at Brixton. Friday was Joseph's theatre night. On Tuesdays and Thursdays he was open to receive invitations out to dinner; on Wednesdays and Saturdays he invited four friends to dine with him at Regent's Park. On Sundays, whatever the season, Joseph Loveredge took an excursion into the country. He had his regular hours for reading, his regular hours for thinking. Whether in Fleet Street, or the Tyrol, on the Thames, or in the Vatican, you might recognise him from afar by his grey frock-coat, his patent-leather boots, his brown felt hat, his lavender tie. The man was a born bachelor. When the news of his engagement crept through the smoky portals of the Autolycus Club nobody believed it.

“Impossible!” asserted Jack Herring. “I've known Joey's life for fifteen years. Every five minutes is arranged for. He could never have found the time to do it.”

“He doesn't like women, not in that way; I've heard him say so,” explained Alexander the Poet. “His opinion is that women are the artists of Society—delightful as entertainers, but troublesome to live with.”

“I call to mind,” said the Wee Laddie, “a story he told me in this verra room, barely three months agone: Some half-a-dozen of them were gong home together from the Devonshire. They had had a joyous evening, and one of them—Joey did not notice which—suggested their dropping in at his place just for a final whisky. They were laughing and talking in the dining-room, when their hostess suddenly appeared upon the scene in a costume—so Joey described it—the charm of which was its variety. She was a nice-looking woman, Joey said, but talked too much; and when the first lull occurred, Joey turned to the man sitting nighest to him, and who looked bored, and suggested in a whisper that it was about time they went.

“'Perhaps you had better go,' assented the bored-looking man. 'Wish I could come with you; but, you see, I live here.'”

“I don't believe it,” said Somerville the Briefless. “He's been cracking his jokes, and some silly woman has taken him seriously.”

But the rumour grew into report, developed detail, lost all charm, expanded into plain recital of fact. Joey had not been seen within the Club for more than a week—in itself a deadly confirmation. The question became: Who was she—what was she like?

“It's none of our set, or we should have heard something from her side before now,” argued acutely Somerville the Briefless.

“Some beastly kid who will invite us to dances and forget the supper,” feared Johnny Bulstrode, commonly called the Babe. “Old men always fall in love with young girls.”

“Forty,” explained severely Peter Hope, editor and part proprietor of Good Humour, “is not old.”

“Well, it isn't young,” persisted Johnny.

“Good thing for you, Johnny, if it is a girl,” thought Jack Herring. “Somebody for you to play with. I often feel sorry for you, having nobody but grown-up people to talk to.”

“They do get a bit stodgy after a certain age,” agreed the Babe.

“I am hoping,” said Peter, “it will be some sensible, pleasant woman, a little over thirty. He is a dear fellow, Loveredge; and forty is a very good age for a man to marry.”

“Well, if I'm not married before I'm forty——” said the Babe.

“Oh, don't you fret,” Jack Herring interrupted him—“a pretty boy like you! We will give a ball next season, and bring you out, if you're good—get you off our hands in no time.”

It was August. Joey went away for his holiday without again entering the Club. The lady's name was Henrietta Elizabeth Doone. It was said by the Morning Post that she was connected with the Doones of Gloucestershire.

Doones of Gloucestershire—Doones of Gloucestershire mused Miss Ramsbotham, Society journalist, who wrote the weekly Letter to Clorinda, discussing the matter with Peter Hope in the editorial office of Good Humour. “Knew a Doon who kept a big second-hand store in Euston Road and called himself an auctioneer. He bought a small place in Gloucestershire and added an 'e' to his name. Wonder if it's the same?”

“I had a cat called Elizabeth once,” said Peter Hope.

“I don't see what that's got to do with it.”

“No, of course not,” agreed Peter. “But I was rather fond of it. It was a quaint sort of animal, considered as a cat—would never speak to another cat, and hated being out after ten o'clock at night.”

“What happened to it?” demanded Miss Ramsbotham.

“Fell off a roof,” sighed Peter Hope. “Wasn't used to them.”

The marriage took place abroad, at the English Church at Montreux. Mr. and Mrs. Loveredge returned at the end of September. The Autolycus Club subscribed to send a present of a punch-bowl, left cards, and waited with curiosity to see the bride. But no invitation arrived. Nor for a month was Joey himself seen within the Club. Then, one foggy afternoon, waking after a doze, with a cold cigar in his mouth, Jack Herring noticed he was not the only occupant of the smoking-room. In a far corner, near a window, sat Joseph Loveredge reading a magazine. Jack Herring rubbed his eyes, then rose and crossed the room.

“I thought at first,” explained Jack Herring, recounting the incident later in the evening, “that I must be dreaming. There he sat, drinking his five o'clock whisky-and-soda, the same Joey Loveredge I had known for fifteen years; yet not the same. Not a feature altered, not a hair on his head changed, yet the whole face was different; the same body, the same clothes, but another man. We talked for half an hour; he remembered everything that Joey Loveredge had known. I couldn't understand it. Then, as the clock struck, and he rose, saying he must be home at half-past five, the explanation suddenly occurred to me: Joey Loveredge was dead; this was a married man.”

“We don't want your feeble efforts at psychological romance,” told him Somerville the Briefless. “We want to know what you talked about. Dead or married, the man who can drink whisky-and-soda must be held responsible for his actions. What's the little beggar mean by cutting us all in this way? Did he ask after any of us? Did he leave any message for any of us? Did he invite any of us to come an see him?”

“Yes, he did ask after nearly everybody; I was coming to that. But he didn't leave any message. I didn't gather that he was pining for old relationships with any of us.”

“Well, I shall go round to the office to-morrow morning,” said Somerville the Briefless, “and force my way in if necessary. This is getting mysterious.”

But Somerville returned only to puzzle the Autolycus Club still further. Joey had talked about the weather, the state of political parties, had received with unfeigned interest all gossip concerning his old friends; but about himself, his wife, nothing had been gleaned. Mrs. Loveredge was well; Mrs. Loveredge's relations were also well. But at present Mrs. Loveredge was not receiving.

Members of the Autolycus Club with time upon their hands took up the business of private detectives. Mrs. Loveredge turned out to be a handsome, well-dressed lady of about thirty, as Peter Hope had desired. At eleven in the morning, Mrs. Loveredge shopped in the neighbourhood of the Hampstead Road. In the afternoon, Mrs. Loveredge, in a hired carriage, would slowly promenade the Park, looking, it was noticed, with intense interest at the occupants of other carriages as they passed, but evidently having no acquaintances among them. The carriage, as a general rule, would call at Joey's office at five, and Mr. and Mrs. Loveredge would drive home. Jack Herring, as the oldest friend, urged by the other members, took the bull by the horns and called boldly. On neither occasion was Mrs. Loveredge at home.

“I'm damned if I go again!” said Jack. “She was in the second time, I know. I watched her into the house. Confound the stuck-up pair of them!”

Bewilderment gave place to indignation. Now and again Joey would creep, a mental shadow of his former self, into the Club where once every member would have risen with a smile to greet him. They gave him curt answers and turned away from him. Peter Hope one afternoon found him there alone, standing with his hands in his pockets looking out of window. Peter was fifty, so he said, maybe a little older; men of forty were to him mere boys. So Peter, who hated mysteries, stepped forward with a determined air and clapped Joey on the shoulder.

“I want to know, Joey,” said Peter, “I want to know whether I am to go on liking you, or whether I've got to think poorly of you. Out with it.”

Joey turned to him a face so full of misery that Peter's heart was touched. “You can't tell how wretched it makes me,” said Joey. “I didn't know it was possible to feel so uncomfortable as I have felt during these last three months.”

“It's the wife, I suppose?” suggested Peter.

“She's a dear girl. She only has one fault.”

“It's a pretty big one,” returned Peter. “I should try and break her of it if I were you.”

“Break her of it!” cried the little man. “You might as well advise me to break a brick wall with my head. I had no idea what they were like. I never dreamt it.”

“But what is her objection to us? We are clean, we are fairly intelligent——

“My dear Peter, do you think I haven't said all that, and a hundred things more? A woman! she gets an idea into her head, and every argument against it hammers it in further. She has gained her notion of what she calls Bohemia from the comic journals. It's our own fault, we have done it ourselves. There's no persuading her that it's a libel.”

“Won't she see a few of us—judge for herself? There's Porson—why Porson might have been a bishop. Or Somerville—Somerville's Oxford accent is wasted here. It has no chance.”

“It isn't only that,” explained Joey; “she has ambitions, social ambitions. She thinks that if we begin with the wrong set, we'll never get into the right. We have three friends at present, and, so far as I can see, are never likely to have any more. My dear boy, you'd never believe there could exist such bores. There's a man and his wife named Holyoake. They dine with us on Thursdays, and we dine with them on Tuesdays. Their only title to existence consists in their having a cousin in the House of Lords; they claim no other right themselves. He is a widower, getting on for eighty. Apparently he's the only relative they have, and when he dies, they talk of retiring into the country. There's a fellow named Cutler, who visited once at Marlborough House in connection with a charity. You'd think to listen to him that he had designs upon the throne. The most tiresome of them all is a noisy woman who, as far as I can make out, hasn't any name at all. 'Miss Montgomery' is on her cards, but that is only what she calls herself. Who she really is! It would shake the foundations of European society if known. We sit and talk about the aristocracy; we don't seem to know anybody else. I tried on one occasion a little sarcasm as a corrective—recounted conversations between myself and the Prince of Wales, in which I invariably addressed him as 'Teddy.' It sounds tall, I know, but those people took it in. I was too astonished to undeceive them at the time, the consequence is I am a sort of little god to them. They come round me and ask for more. What am I to do? I am helpless among them. I've never had anything to do before with the really first-prize idiot; the usual type, of course, one knows, but these, if you haven't met them, are inconceivable. I try insulting them; they don't even know I am insulting them. Short of dragging them out of their chairs and kicking them round the room, I don't see how to make them understand it.”

“And Mrs. Loveredge?” asked the sympathetic Peter, “is she——

“Between ourselves,” said Joey, sinking his voice to a needless whisper, seeing he and Peter were the sole occupants of the smoking-room—“I couldn't, of course, say it to a younger man—but between ourselves, my wife is a charming woman. You don't know her.”

“Doesn't seem much chance of my ever doing so,” laughed Peter.

“So graceful, so dignified, so—so queenly,” continued the little man, with rising enthusiasm. “She has only one fault—she has no sense of humour.”

To Peter, as it has been said, men of forty were mere boys. “My dear fellow, whatever could have induced you——

“I know—I know all that,” interrupted the mere boy. “Nature arranges it on purpose. Tall and solemn prigs marry little women with turned-up noses. Cheerful little fellows like myself—we marry serious, stately women. If it were otherwise, the human race would be split up into species.”

“Of course, if you were actuated by a sense of public duty——

“Don't be a fool, Peter Hope,” returned the little man. “I'm in love with my wife just as she is, and always shall be. I know the woman with a sense of humour, and of the two I prefer the one without. The Juno type is my ideal. I must take the rough with the smooth. One can't have a jolly, chirpy Juno, and wouldn't care for her if one could.”

“Then are you going to give up all your old friends?”

“Don't suggest it,” pleaded the little man. “You don't know how miserable it makes me—the mere idea. Tell them to be patient. The secret of dealing with women, I have found, is to do nothing rashly.” The clock struck five. “I must go now,” said Joey. “Don't misjudge her, Peter, and don't let the others. She's a dear girl. You'll like her, all of you, when you know her. A dear girl! She only has that one fault.”

Joey went out.

Peter did his best that evening to explain the true position of affairs without imputing snobbery to Mrs. Loveredge. It was a difficult task, and Peter cannot be said to have accomplished it successfully. Anger and indignation against Joey gave place to pity. The members of the Autolycus Club also experienced a little irritation on their own account.

“What does the woman take us for?” demanded Somerville the Briefless. “Doesn't she know that we lunch with real actors and actresses, that once a year we are invited to dine at the Mansion House?”

“Has she never heard of the aristocracy of genius?” demanded Alexander the Poet.

“The explanation may be that possibly she has seen it,” feared the Wee Laddie.

“One of us ought to waylay the woman,” argued the Babe—“insist upon her talking to him for ten minutes. I've half a mind to do it myself.”

Jack Herring said nothing—seemed thoughtful.

The next morning Jack Herring, still thoughtful, called at the editorial offices of Good Humour, in Crane Court, and borrowed Miss Ramsbotham's “Debrett.” Three days later Jack Herring informed the Club casually that he had dined the night before with Mr. and Mrs. Loveredge. The Club gave Jack Herring politely to understand that they regarded him as a liar, and proceeded to demand particulars.

“If I wasn't there,” explained Jack Herring, with unanswerable logic, “how can I tell you anything about it?”

This annoyed the Club, whose curiosity had been whetted. Three members, acting in the interests of the whole, solemnly undertook to believe whatever he might tell them. But Jack Herring's feelings had been wounded.

“When gentlemen cast a doubt upon another gentleman's veracity——

“We didn't cast a doubt,” explained Somerville the Briefless. “We merely said that we personally did not believe you. We didn't say we couldn't believe you; it is a case for individual effort. If you give us particulars bearing the impress of reality, supported by details that do not unduly contradict each other, we are prepared to put aside our natural suspicions and face the possibility of your statement being correct.”

“It was foolish of me,” said Jack Herring. “I thought perhaps it would amuse you to hear what sort of a woman Mrs. Loveredge was like—some description of Mrs. Loveredge's uncle. Miss Montgomery, friend of Mrs. Loveredge, is certainly one of the most remarkable women I have ever met. Of course, that isn't her real name. But, as I have said, it was foolish of me. These people—you will never meet them, you will never see them; of what interest can they be to you?”

“They had forgotten to draw down the blinds, and he climbed up a lamp-post and looked through the window,” was the solution of the problem put forward by the Wee Laddie.

“I'm dining there again on Saturday,” volunteered Jack Herring. “If any of you will promise not to make a disturbance, you can hang about on the Park side, underneath the shadow of the fence, and watch me go in. My hansom will draw up at the door within a few minutes of eight.”

The Babe and the Poet agreed to undertake the test.

“You won't mind our hanging round a little while, in case you're thrown out again?” asked the Babe.

“Not in the least, so far as I am concerned,” replied Jack Herring. “Don't leave it too late and make your mother anxious.”

“It's true enough,” the Babe recounted afterwards. “The door was opened by a manservant and he went straight in. We walked up and down for half an hour, and unless they put him out the back way, he's telling the truth.”

“Did you hear him give his name?” asked Somerville, who was stroking his moustache.

“No, we were too far off,” explained the Babe. “But—I'll swear it was Jack—there couldn't be any mistake about that.”

“Perhaps not,” agreed Somerville the Briefless.

Somerville the Briefless called at the offices of Good Humour, in Crane Court, the following morning, and he also borrowed Miss Ramsbotham's “Debrett.”

“What's the meaning of it?” demanded the sub-editor.

“Meaning of what?”

“This sudden interest of all you fellows in the British Peerage.”

“All of us?”

“Well, Herring was here last week, poring over that book for half an hour, with the Morning Post spread out before him. Now you're doing the same thing.”

“Ah! Jack Herring, was he? I thought as much. Don't talk about it, Tommy. I'll tell you later on.”

On the following Monday, the Briefless one announced to the Club that he had received an invitation to dine at the Loveredges' on the following Wednesday. On Tuesday, the Briefless one entered the Club with a slow and stately step. Halting opposite old Goslin the porter, who had emerged from his box with the idea of discussing the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, Somerville, removing his hat with a sweep of the arm, held it out in silence. Old Goslin, much astonished, took it mechanically, whereupon the Briefless one, shaking himself free from his Inverness cape, flung it lightly after the hat, and strolled on, not noticing that old Goslin, unaccustomed to coats lightly and elegantly thrown at him, dropping the hat, had caught it on his head, and had been, in the language of the prompt-book, “left struggling.” The Briefless one, entering the smoking-room, lifted a chair and let it fall again with a crash, and sitting down upon it, crossed his legs and rang the bell.

“Ye're doing it verra weel,” remarked approvingly the Wee Laddie. “Ye're just fitted for it by nature.”

“Fitted for what?” demanded the Briefless one, waking up apparently from a dream.

“For an Adelphi guest at eighteenpence the night,” assured him the Wee Laddie. “Ye're just splendid at it.”

The Briefless one, muttering that the worst of mixing with journalists was that if you did not watch yourself, you fell into their ways, drank his whisky in silence. Later, the Babe swore on a copy of Sell's Advertising Guide that, crossing the Park, he had seen the Briefless one leaning over the railings of Rotten Row, clad in a pair of new kid gloves, swinging a silver-headed cane.

One morning towards the end of the week, Joseph Loveredge, looking twenty years younger than when Peter had last seen him, dropped in at the editorial office of Good Humour and demanded of Peter Hope how he felt and what he thought of the present price of Emma Mines. Peter Hope's expressed his determination not to be surprised should it even turn to rain.

“I want you to dine with us on Sunday,” said Joseph Loveredge. “Jack Herring will be there. You might bring Tommy with you.”

Peter Hope gulped down his astonishment and said he should be delighted; he thought that Tommy also was disengaged. “Mrs. Loveredge out of town, I presume?” questioned Peter Hope.

“On the contrary,” replied Joseph Loveredge, “I want you to meet her.”

Joseph Loveredge removed a pile of books from one chair and placed them carefully upon another, after which he went and stood before the fire.

“Don't if you don't like,” said Joseph Loveredge; “but if you don't mind, you might call yourself, just for the evening—say, the Duke of Warrington.”

“Say the what?” demanded Peter Hope.

“The Duke of Warrington,” repeated Joey. “We are rather short of dukes. Tommy can be the Lady Adelaide, your daughter.”

“Don't be an ass!” said Peter Hope.

“I'm not an ass,” assured him Joseph Loveredge. “He is wintering in Egypt. You have run back for a week to attend to business. There is no Lady Adelaide, so that's quite simple.”

“But what in the name of——” began Peter Hope.

“Don't you see what I'm driving at?” persisted Joey. “It was Jack's idea at the beginning. I was frightened myself at first, but it is working to perfection. She sees you, and sees that you are a gentleman. When the truth comes out—as, of course, it must later on—the laugh will be against her.”

“You think—you think that'll comfort her?” suggested Peter Hope.

“It's the only way, and it is really wonderfully simple. We never mention the aristocracy now—it would be like talking shop. We just enjoy ourselves. You, by the way, I met in connection with the movement for rational dress. You are a bit of a crank, fond of frequenting Bohemian circles.”

“I am risking something, I know,” continued Joey; “but it's worth it. I couldn't have existed much longer. We go slowly, and are very careful. Jack is Lord Mount-Primrose, who has taken up with anti-vaccination and who never goes out into Society. Somerville is Sir Francis Baldwin, the great authority on centipedes. The Wee Laddie is coming next week as Lord Garrick, who married that dancing-girl, Prissy Something, and started a furniture shop in Bond Street. I had some difficulty at first. She wanted to send out paragraphs, but I explained that was only done by vulgar persons—that when the nobility came to you as friends, it was considered bad taste. She is a dear girl, as I have always told you, with only one fault. A woman easier to deceive one could not wish for. I don't myself see why the truth ever need come out—provided we keep our heads.”

“Well, it's your murder,” commented Peter; “If you're willing to take the chances——

“That's all right,” explained Joey; “Then you'll come? He's about your age—just fifty-six”

“Fifty what?”

“Well, forty-nine is near enough. he is a young-looking man for his years. Eight o'clock, plain evening dress. If you like to wear a bit of red ribbon in your buttonhole, why, do so. You can get it at Evans', in Covent Garden.”

“And Tommy is the Lady——

“Adelaide. Let her have a taste for literature, then she needn't wear gloves. I know she hates them.” Joey turned to go.

“Am I married?” asked Peter.

Joey paused. “I should avoid all reference to your matrimonial affairs if I were you,” was Joey's advice. “You didn't come out of that business too well.”

“Oh! as bad as that, was I? You don't think Mrs. Loveredge will object to me?”

“I have asked her that. She's a dear, broad-minded girl. I've promised not to leave you alone with Miss Montgomery, and Willis has had instructions not to let you mix your drinks.”

“I'd have liked to have been someone a trifle more respectable,” grumbled Peter.

“We rather wanted a duke,” explained Joey, “and he was the only one that fitted in all round.”

The dinner a was a complete success. Tommy, entering into the spirit of the thing, bought a new pair of open-work stockings and assumed a languid drawl. Peter, who was growing forgetful, introduced her as the Lady Alexandra; it did not seem to matter, both beginning with an A. She greeted Lord Mount-Primrose as “Billy,” and asked affectionately after his mother. Joey told his raciest stories. The Duke of Warrington called everybody by their Christian names, and seemed well acquainted with Bohemian society—a more amiable nobleman it would have been impossible to discover. The lady whose real name was not Miss Montgomery sat in speechless admiration. The hostess was the personification of gracious devotion.

Other little dinners, equally successful, followed. Joey's acquaintanceship appeared to be confined exclusively to the higher circles of the British aristocracy—with one exception: that of a German baron, a short, stout gentleman, who talked English well, but with an accent, and who, when he desired to be impressive, laid his right forefinger on the right side of his nose and thrust his whole face forward. Mrs. Loveredge wondered why her husband had not introduced them sooner, but was too blissful to be suspicious. The Autolycus Club was gradually changing its tone. Friends could no longer recognise one another by the voice. Every corner had its solitary student practising high-class intonation. Members dropped into the habit of addressing one another as “dear chappie,” and, discarding pipes, took to cheap cigars. Many of the older habitués resigned.

All might have gone well to the end of time if only Mrs. Loveredge had left all social arrangements in the hands of her husband—had not sought to aid his efforts. To a certain political garden-party, one day in the height of the Season, were invited Joseph Loveredge and Mrs. Joseph Loveredge, his wife. Mr. Joseph Loveredge at the last moment found himself unable to attend. Mrs. Joseph Loveredge went alone, met there various members of the British aristocracy. Mrs. Joseph Loveredge, accustomed to friendship with the aristocracy, felt at her ease and was natural and agreeable. The wife of an eminent peer talked to her and liked her. It occurred to Mrs. Joseph Loveredge that this lady might be induced to visit her house in Regent's Park, there to mingle with those of her own class.

“Lord Mount-Primrose, the Duke of Warrington, and a few others will be dining with us on Sunday next,” suggested Mrs. Loveredge. “Will not you do us the honour of coming? We are, of course, only simple folk ourselves, but somehow people seem to like us.”

The wife of the eminent peer looked at Mrs. Loveredge, looked round the grounds, looked at Mrs. Loveredge again, and said she would like to come. Mrs. Joseph Loveredge intended at first to tell her husband of her success, but a little devil entering into her head and whispering to her that it would be amusing, she resolved to keep it as a surprise, to be sprung upon him at eight o'clock on Sunday. The surprise proved all she could have hoped for.

The Duke of Warrington, having journalistic matters to discuss with Joseph Loveredge, arrived at half-past seven, wearing on his shirt-front a silver star, purchased in Eagle Street the day before for eight-and-six. There accompanied him the Lady Alexandra, wearing the identical ruby necklace that every night for the past six months, and twice on Saturdays, “John Strongheart” had been falsely accused of stealing. Lord Garrick, having picked up his wife (Miss Bragshot) outside the “Mother Redcap,” arrived with her on foot at a quarter to eight. Lord Mount-Primrose, together with Sir Francis Baldwin, dashed up in a hansom at 7.50. His Lordship, having lost the toss, paid the fare. The Hon. Harry Sykes (commonly called “the Babe”) was ushered in five minutes later. The noble company assembled in the drawing-room chatted blithely while waiting for dinner to be announced. The Duke of Warrington was telling an anecdote about a cat, which nobody appeared to believe. Lord Mount-Primrose desired to know whether by any chance it might be the same animal that every night at half-past nine had been in the habit of climbing up his Grace's railings and knocking at his Grace's door. The Honourable Harry was saying that, speaking of cats, he once had a sort of terrier—when the door was thrown open and Willis announced the Lady Mary Sutton.

Mr. Joseph Loveredge, who was sitting near the fire, rose up. Lord Mount-Primrose, who was standing near the piano, sat down. The Lady Mary Sutton paused in the doorway. Mrs. Loveredge crossed the room to greet her.

“Let me introduce you to my husband,” said Mrs. Loveredge. “Joey, my dear, the Lady Mary Sutton. I met the Lady Mary at the O'Meyers' the other day, and she was good enough to accept my invitation. I forgot to tell you.”

Mr. Loveredge said he was delighted; after which, although as a rule a chatty man, he seemed to have nothing else to say. And a silence fell.

Somerville the Briefless—till then. That evening has always been reckoned the starting-point of his career. Up till then nobody thought he had much in him—walked up and held out his hand.

“You don't remember me, Lady Mary,” said the Briefless one. “I met you some years ago; we had a most interesting conversation—Sir Francis Baldwin.”

The Lady Mary stood for a moment trying apparently to recollect. She was a handsome, fresh-complexioned woman of about forty, with frank, agreeable eyes. The Lady Mary glanced at Lord Garrick, who was talking rapidly to Lord Mount-Primrose, who was not listening, and who could not have understood even if he had been, Lord Garrick, without being aware of it, having dropped into broad Scotch. From him the Lady Mary glanced at her hostess, and from her hostess to her host.

The Lady Mary took the hand held out to her. “Of course,” said the Lady Mary; “how stupid of me! It was the day of my own wedding, too. You really must forgive me. We talked of quite a lot of things. I remember now.”

Mrs. Loveredge, who prided herself upon maintaining old-fashioned courtesies, proceeded to introduce the Lady Mary to her fellow-guests, a little surprised that her ladyship appeared to know so few of them. Her ladyship's greeting of the Duke of Warrington was accompanied, it was remarked, by a somewhat curious smile. To the Duke of Warrington's daughter alone did the Lady Mary address remark.

“My dear,” said the Lady Mary, “how you have grown since last we met!”

The announcement of dinner, as everybody felt, came none too soon.

It was not a merry feast. Joey told but one story; he told it three times, and twice left out the point. Lord Mount-Primrose took sifted sugar with pâtè de foie gras and ate it with a spoon. Lord Garrick, talking a mixture of Scotch and English, urged his wife to give up housekeeping and take a flat in Gower Street, which, as he pointed out, was central. She could have her meals sent in to her and so avoid all trouble. The Lady Alexandra's behaviour appeared to Mrs. Loveredge not altogether well-bred. An eccentric young noblewoman Mrs. Loveredge had always found her, but wished on this occasion that she had been a little less eccentric. Every few minutes the Lady Alexandra buried her face in her serviette, and shook and rocked, emitting stifled sounds, apparently those of acute physical pain. Mrs. Loveredge hoped she was not feeling ill, but the Lady Alexandra appeared incapable of coherent reply. Twice during the meal the Duke of Warrington rose from the table and began wandering round the room; on each occasion, asked what he wanted, had replied meekly that he was merely looking for his snuff-box, and had sat down again. The only person who seemed to enjoy the dinner was the Lady Mary Sutton.

The ladies retired upstairs into the drawing-room. Mrs. Loveredge, breaking a long silence, remarked it as unusual that no sound of merriment reached them from the dining-room. The explanation was that the entire male portion of the party, on being left to themselves, had immediately and in a body crept on tiptoe into Joey's study, which, fortunately, happened to be on the ground floor. Joey, unlocking the bookcase, had taken out his “Debrett,” but appeared incapable of understanding it. Sir Francis Baldwin had taken it from his unresisting hands; the remaining aristocracy huddled themselves into a corner and waited in silence.

“I think I've got it all clearly,” announced Sir Francis Baldwin, after five minutes, which to the others had been an hour. “Yes, I don't think I'm making any mistake. She's the daughter of the Duke of Truro, married in '53 the Duke of Warrington, at St. Peter's, Eaton Square; gave birth in '55 to a daughter, the Lady Grace Alexandra Warberton Sutton, which makes the child just thirteen. In '63 divorced the Duke of Warrington. Lord Mount-Primrose, so far as I can make out, must be her second cousin. I appear to have married her in '66 at Hastings. It doesn't seem to me that we could have got together a homelier little party to meet her even if we had wanted to.”

Nobody spoke; nobody had anything particularly worth saying. The door opened, and the Lady Alexandra (otherwise Tommy) entered the room.

“Isn't it time,” suggested the Lady Alexandra, “that some of you came upstairs?”

“I was thinking myself,” explained Joey, the host, with a grim smile, “it was about time that I went out and drowned myself. The canal is handy.”

“Put it off till to-morrow,” Tommy advised him. “I have asked her ladyship to give me a lift home, and she has promised to do so. She is evidently a woman with a sense of humour. Wait till after I have had a talk with her.”

Six men, whispering at the same time, were prepared with advice; but Tommy was not taking advice.

“Come upstairs, all of you,” insisted Tommy, “and make yourselves agreeable. She's going in a quarter of an hour.”

Six silent men, the host leading, the two husbands bringing up the rear, ascended the stairs, each with the sensation of being twice his usual weight. Six silent men entered the drawing-room and sat down on chairs. Six silent men tried to think of something interesting to say.

Miss Bragshot—it was that or hysterics, as she afterwards explained—stifling a sob, opened the piano. Miss Bragshot was a poor performer at the the best of times, and the only thing she could remember was “Champagne Charlie is my Name,” a song then popular in the halls. Five men, when she had finished, begged her to go on. Miss Bragshot played it a second time with involuntary variations.

The Lady Mary's carriage was announced by the imperturbable Willis. The party, with the exception of the Lady Mary and the hostess, suppressed with difficulty an inclination to burst into a cheer. The Lady Mary thanked Mrs. Loveredge for a most interesting evening, and beckoned Tommy to accompany her. With her disappearance, a wild hilarity, uncanny in its suddenness, took possession of the remaining guests.

A few days later, the Lady Mary's carriage again drew up before the little house in Regent's Park. Mrs. Loveredge, fortunately, was at home. The carriage remained waiting for quite a long time. Mrs. Loveredge, after it was gone, locked herself in her own room. The under-housemaid reported to the kitchen that, passing the door, she had detected sounds indicative of strong emotion.

Through what ordeal Joseph Loveredge passed was never known. For a few weeks the Autolycus Club missed him. Then gradually, as aided by Time they have a habit of doing, things righted themselves. Joseph Loveredge received his old friends; his friends received Joseph Loveredge. Mrs. Loveredge, as a hostess, came to have only one failing—a marked coldness of demeanour towards all people with titles, whenever introduced to her.