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“O they are famous,” he said. They are both at home. I have promised to be back there on Saturday, to keep her birthday.”
“ Her whose ?"
“Mrs. Talbot's. Livy always likes to make a sort of festival of the business. Last year I composed a song specially. A very pretty girl, a neighbour of ours, wrote the words for me. Cramer published it. It was called 'Her Natal Day ;' and the Band said it was flowing and melodious.”
“ If it be flowing and melodious, I should give the world to hear it.”
“O dear, I'd sing it for you with pleasure; they'll be asking me again presently. And you really like my songs? They are not ambitious, you know; and I don't pretend to be a regular master, and all that; but they are fairly good, you know, in their way; and Challope, a man that sings in the royal choir, told me he had seen things of the regular fellows far worse."
“Ah, that was praise indeed. But you leave here to be home on Saturday?
“O yes; I have promised solemnly. I suppose the best part of the affair here will be over by then ? “No; beginning, they told me.
- that amiable girl is anxious for this —"
“O, I suppose so," he said, impatiently. “ Both of 'em have settled it. You know they look on it as something sacred, and all that. We've never missed it once."
“Oh, I am sorry; the real amusement will begin here by then. The best people will be dropping in by that time; but Master Talbot must go home to school.”
He looked “put out” at this speech.
Mrs. Wood here caracoled up, as it were throwing her horse upon his haunches.
“Another song, Mr. Talbot ; his lordship is most anxious. Any little thing you may have off by heart.”
“O," said Mrs. Labouchere, "you will, I know. That thing you told me of—'The Natal Day.'”
The Beauty got through his little melody, the marked attention and interest of the newly arrived securing him the best audience he had had as yet. She explained to his lordship that she felt Mr. Talbot was quite an old friend, or rather, he was associated with some very happy days. People, at the end, cried, so influenced is the herd, “Well done, Talbot, you gave that out well.” The Woods,
feeling how matters were going, were spurring wildly about the field, and casting about for a new venture. The Beauty took all this as so much homage to himself; already he felt the bands of the late bondage slipping slowly down to his feet. His voice rose into a louder key, “O, I have written a quantity of things. I have volumes by me. I have always something on the stocks, just to take up when I have a moment. That thing I sang first, 'One last and lingering smile' has always been a hit.”
Mr. Bolton, selfish in his generation, had hitherto rather "poohpoohed" the Beauty; but had tact enough to see that his glass was rising, and would rise faster under patronage. He now struck in.
" I saw a copy of that song on the pianoforte at Mantower when I was staying there."
"O yes, Lady Jane sings it." (She ought to have paid it that courtesy, as the Beauty had sent it to her.)
“And how the deuce do you do it, Talbot ?" another asked. “How does the idea strike you first ? "
The Beauty smiled with compassion. “These things a man can't teach. It comes by nature. Now that 'Lingering smile' I could no more tell how, or when, it came into my head, than I could that, that candlestick," added the Beauty, getting rather confused in his illustration. “It comes to you, and there it is."
" And you catch him and keep him."
" You must explain all this to me, Mr. Talbot," said Mrs. Labouchere, who had come up and listened. “It is very interesting; other composers will not condescend to let us know how they work. They think they are betraying secrets."
Other composers! Her tone was so firm and bold and genuine, that this compliment produced no smile; the public standing round and confirming it. That night went on very pleasantly. The Beauty went to his room with a feeling that he had taken one huge stride backwards some ten or fifteen years, and was enjoying his old life once more.
The breakfast table at Bindley was an enlivening scene, a pleasant and gay expectation of an enjoyable day, shooting, driving, what not, eddying down the table. The Beauty came in late, an Adonis of the morning, in the old mauve stockings-sweet-scented and curled. He had on a sort of velvet jacket, which made the effect rich and “ Titianesque." His irreverent friends nudged each other, and complimented him ironically; but there was a quiet self-sufficiency about the Beauty which was nearly as defensive as real dignity. Mrs. Labouchere heard these remarks;
Vol. IV., N. S. 1869.
“Well, Talbot, what time is the flower show? When does the ball begin?" and goodnaturedly, as it seemed to the host, sheltered him.
“Mr. Talbot has an artist's eye for colour.” She was now quite at home, the centre of a sort of curiosity and attraction; and the Woods, like managers, congratulated themselves on having engaged “such a star."
“I tell you what we have been planning,"—said his lordship, "and Wood here says he will arrange it all without any trouble-give a little concert and reception on Saturday night in the new hall. We are so strong in musical talent, that really it would be a shame not to avail ourselves of the opportunity. What do you think, Mrs. Labouchere?”
She had come down cold and abstracted once more. The chatter of voices about her seemed to annoy her. “I suppose so," she said abstractedly, “one must amuse the herd.”
“Yes, so we must. You hear, Talbot, Wood will be offering you an engagement, and you must sing that song of yours—this,'Give us another smile.?"
“ « The last and lingering smile' is the proper name, I think," said Mrs. Labouchere, smiling. “Mr. Talbot will set me right.”
" The eminent tenor, Mr. Talbot. For one night only! Great attraction !” said one of the clowns of that little social circus; and did produce a laugh.
Mr. Talbot here—Talbot there ! It was wonderful. His song, his voice, to make such an effect! His cheek literally glowed as the lady recalled the correct name of his song. Surely, this was a change. The glow of old times came back into his cheeks.
“I should be delighted,” he said, “ to do what I could. It is an excellent idea—a regular concert. O, but, unfortunately-"
He stopped ; he recalled the festival at home, to which he was bound to present himself.
This roused Mrs. Labouchere.
“O nonsense,” said Lord Bindley ; we are not to lose our tenor. You must write and tell them that I and Mrs. Labouchere, and the company here, cannot spare you. We want to bring down the house with your 'lingering smile.' Ha! ha!”
Wonderful again ! A delicious feeling at his heart-one unknown to him for years, during this state of cipherhood.
Mrs. Labouchere was now alive-all eager.
“Mr. Talbot must tell us of this prior claim. Is it another country house?”
"Well-no," he said, confusedly.
“What, a home one! 0, I see; we must respect that—a promise to Mrs. Talbot !”
“Why, yes; exactly," the Beauty said, hardly knowing what he was saying. “Her birthday is on Saturday, you know.”
His eye appealed to Mrs. Labouchere, for he was a little confused -unaccustomed to this publicity.
"I know !" said that lady, in her hard manner. "I! Not at all, I assure you.
What could I know about Mrs. Talbot? I met her. once or twice."
Everyone looked at her : there was something so hard ånd pointed in the way she spoke these words. Her face seemed to change as they looked.
(After breakfast, several, talking together, agreed there was "something odd about that woman.")
Mr. Hardman, up to this quite overlooked and smothered by his neighbour, conceived that his daughter was adding to his unpopularity.
“I have had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Talbot, my lord. She has been at our house ; a most-charming person to meet; of the er-highest-er fashion-and connection."
“O, indeed !” said the host, with a polite stare.
Mr. Hardman felt that, with the best intentions, he had said too much. His daughter came to the rescue.
“And it is the more generous in my father to praise this lady so handsomely, as we did not get on so well, you will recollect, Mr. Talbot. Our families did not exactly coalesce.”
“O, nonsense,” said her father, colouring. “Really this is absurd !"
"No," she said, firmly, and at the same time smiling ; "she did not like us. She looked down on us—a foolish thing now-a-days. On that account she and I are sworn foes. You will forgive me, Mr. Talbot ?"
Every one again said, after breakfast, that there was something “curious" about that Mrs. Labouchere.
“You must talk to our friend Talbot, Mrs. Labouchere," the host said. “We can't have our concert all spoiled by the absence of the tenor. You will find him an excuse. If it is properly put before the lady, it will be all right.-0, you must stay, Talbot.” The Beauty thought of the solemn obligations—the sweet face of
Livy-the expectant women. He felt it was impossible--about as impossible as that the sun should not rise.
“O, they expect me," he said. “I'm so sorry. And "--he added, wistfully—"I should like it so. You see, it's her birthday; and I'm to give her presents, and she's to have one for me ; and it's never been omitted since we were married. O,” added the Beauty, with a wistful air of doubt, that was almost comic, “I know it would be quite out of the question.”
The men looked one to the other.
back to the minute? Come, don't be selfish, Talbot.”
“We must not make a rebel of him," said Mrs. Labouchere, excitedly. “No, Mr. Talbot ; you shall go back to your school a good boy.”
The Beauty had an instinct that the company was laughing at him, but was not quite sure.
The breakfast party then broke up.
Mr. Hardman was not reaping all the glory and distinction he had counted on. His lordship was by no means as attentive as he had expected. He had counted on a certain homage to his “longheadedness ”—not intimacy, which might come later. But he would have liked consolation-2.8., “Here is Mr. Hardman, who knows more than any of us; Mr. Bolton here was asking about the gold question, Mr. Hardman ; just give me your opinion on this point. We are putting out some moneys at interest.”— This he would have liked, though it rather pointed at “the shop." But Lord Bindley seemed to pass him by, and “not to have time” to consult him. He was, indeed, utterly out of place in the great house, among the great people, and roamed about shy and purposeless. Ladies in the little scattered morning rooms, as he prowled in and faded out, said, “Here's this dreadful manufacturing man again!” However, he had one satisfaction, a long morning in the library, where he wrote many letters to people to whom he would not otherwise have written, all for the sake of the glorified heading, “ Bindley, near Chester," and also for the postscript—"Be good enough to direct to me here, where I shall be for a few days — under cover to Lord Bindley." Most pleasant of all was it to write in this strain to some of his business friends; after which, as he could not shoot nor walk far, and as his host did not think fit to devote himself to showing the grounds, gardens, &c., he became a sort of wanderer, finally establishing himself, in his gold glasses, in the library, over a great and statesmanlike work. Somehow it did