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After dinner Mr. Hardman came more to the front, helped by the young Lord Robert, who now asked about Bidgood, the financial gentleman.
“I suspect you know him, Mr. Hardman, through and through? I am sure you do."
Instantly Mr. Hardman became, as it were, seated in his study chair, his hand rested under his waistcoat, and he sipped his claret with importance.
“ You could not have come to anyone who knows more about Bidgood. I have known him since he began, when he sat at a desk, great a man as he is now."
“ More power to him, as the Irish say,” said Old Dick Lumley, cheerfully.
“ See here, Lord Robert, I may know this thing and that, or I may not A man in my position, and with my opportunities, is bound to be careful in what he says. We must be guarded ; you understand. But I can put it this way. If I had ten thousand pounds to invest in a strictly sound though not showy security, Bidgood is not the man I would go to, or even consult.”
“ Neither would Bidgood be the man to whom you would write, enclosing cheque to that amount, leaving it to his discretion?" said the young man, with a loud laugh.
“Uncommonly good-0, very good. You put it, Lord Robert, far more forcibly than I should dream of doing. Yes. I must own, as to the cheque, I think I should prefer my broker."
When the gentlemen came up, Lord Robert and Mr. Hardman were seen, in a corner close to the door, busy in council. The latter, in a flush of intimacy, was, with slow gesticulation, impressing some information on his companion-warning, hinting something with excessive knowingness; the other, listening with coyness, and yet with wariness. Mr. Hardman was, no doubt, "putting him up to a thing or two " in his own department, with a familiar
“ Now, my dear Lord Robert! See here, Lord Robert; just take a hint from me. Don't trust Bidgood an inch farther than you can see-not an inch !"
Mrs. Talbot sat back in the empress-like attitude of her picture, and with much scorn was talking to Old Dick Lumley, standing before her in a young man's attitude, of one of the few subjects that could rouse her into excitement. "You saw her," she was saying, and she spoke to Old Dick Lumley as confidentially as she might to a favourite maid ; "and what she was, a forward, selfsufficient person in the worst style and manner-with that hard tone
Vol. IV., N. S. 1869.
" Don't you
of mind which women of her class take for well-bred repose. Her style, she must have picked up from the accountants in her father's offices—a sort of pertness and flippancy. She was good enough to honour me with a sort of challenge, in her own house, which I reluctantly accepted, and gave her a setting down the which I believe she will remember. I saw some time ago that she was a drawback to our neighbourhood, and that she must leave it, and she has left it.”
“A fine girl, though," said Mr. Lumley, “and, I should say, would suit Labouchere well."
“Suit him well !” she repeated, with infinite scorn. know that he is a gentleman! I confess I enjoyed it all. It brought back
my old days, when I could use my patte de velours." “I think,” said Old Dick, with a knowing look, “she was even trying to keep her hand in with our friend, the Beauty. I give you my honour, I heard her praising his singing, fixing her big eyes on him in a searching way.”
Mrs. Talbot changed her position with a noisy start. “ It is really amusing,” she said ; " but I have no doubt you are right. I should not have been surprised, she would have ventured on something of the kind; just her vulgar conception of something that might annoy. It was not worth rousing oneself; but I did so, and she has taken a lesson with her to the colonies which she did not much like, and will not soon forget.”
"Hallo, what's this?" said Old Dick Lumley, growing a little fatigued with this talk, which had little interest for him. “See, is not that like our friend? You remember the doctor in the novel who paid a man to call him out of church ? "
A servant had come in and handed Mr. Hardman a telegram. That gentleman made it into a sort of ministerial dispatch, as though it came from some cabinet, at the same time surveying it leisurely, taking his gold glasses out, as though these irregular communications were ordinary enough in his case. But before he had read a line or two he gave a genuine start, with a “God bless me !" which drew the attention of all in the little room. “Very awful! very sudden !” he murmured; then putting the paper into his new friend's hand, left the room. The eager Dick Lumley was looking over his shoulder in a moment, and reading the following:
“ Colonel Labouchere died this morning, suddenly. Mrs. Labouchere sails by the next packet. I will do all that is necessary. If you have any directions, telegraph at once."
It was from the major of the regiment, the fortunate officer who now succeeded “ without purchase.” Dick Lumley, with great presence of mind, said aloud, “O ah ! a business thing!” not from any compassion for the wife; but simply in homage to the decencies of the little party, and the fuss and discomfort it would cause him personally. Mrs. Talbot alone was disquieted, and it was with something like malice, but of which he was unconscious, that he told her. “It seems that poor Labouchere is dead, and the widow coming over by the next packet."
“Coming over !” she repeated, starting up. “Coming back here !"
Mr. Hardman re-entered; he had been himself to see about the duke's coachman, and also the messenger. He returned with a mysterious importance. He was, at all events, now the centre figure. Telegrams, dispatches, brought in, always import a factitious dignity, or, at least, an air of fuss. He bade his wife come away, wrung Lord Robert by the hand affectionately. "I shall not forget," he said, “depend on me, and if you want advice on any point, command me. This blow will interfere for a time, and, indeed, I was hoping we would have had you over for a few days at 'The Towers.' But by-and-bye, by-and-bye.” Mr. Hardman threw a plaintiveness into his voice, as though he were now crushed, and the wind might be tempered to such a shorn lamb as he was. Then they drove away.
The party remained laughing and chatting, and Old Dick Lumley quite excelled in his cheerful touchings and recollections of the pompous bereaved gentleman. Lord Robert was specially merry on "my son-in-law Labouchere," and with a social disloyalty which is not at all uncommon, presented a series of comic etchings of the absent guest, more creditable to his memory than to his gratitude. This, indeed, is always the most tempting and irresistible season for another renewed party, the sense of relief from stiffness, with a joyous laissez faire sets in, and a guest with some gifts must be of more than early Christian asceticism who can resist such a tempting opportunity. Every one stretches his arms and breathes freely; the buckram has passed away, there are a few precious minutes, we are all happy, and so—a live animal is sacrificed. So it was with Mr. Hardman; and while the duke's coachman was driving his great horses homewards at a pace that suited himself, the little cheerful circle was laughing in intense enjoyment at the competing histrionics of Old Dick Lumley and young Lord Robert_all, save Mrs. Talbot, who sat in her Chalon attitude, reflecting, and with a distrustful and disquieted face.
For the miniature household there was still the same tranquil existence. It might have been almost called domestic,--the very essence of domestic. And yet this effect might seem strange, with such mundane elements as a veteran Beauty, (veteran in the sense of one who has served her ten years), and an Exquisite who has sold out of that regiment prematurely, and thinks he has made a mistake. But there was in the household one binding and purifying element, the watchful, loving daughter, whose very labour and energy and application that never tired or slept, performed miraculous prodigies, as it always will do. The strange charm of that earnestness and affection, seen to be so utterly unselfish, never failed, or, rather, it was increasing in power every day. The fragile soul of Beauty Talbot would have been helpless before even a weaker mind : and he was, in truth, being kept like some of those youths, brought up in fairy valleys, jealously guarded from the knowledge of men and women and the world, an attempt which even in the fairy tales, alas ! invariably broke down !
Even had the mind of her father been nourishing any thoughts of enfranchisement, any longing looks backwards towards the fairy gardens he had been taken from, he was soon to see what difficulties there were in the way of his emancipation. He was kept in by a succession of barriers of soft wood and moss, endless in number, and likely to take up too much time and trouble to break through. Thus the task of education went on, a drive three times a week, and the greater expedition to town from Pengley Station, and the solemn dinner-party at distant gorgeous palaces, whither the whole party set out in grand tenue, and returned more or less prostrated--but still having done their duty, as the country expects every man and woman to do. Then there was the working together, and the lighting of the lamp, with the applause for the Beauty's last composition, and the reading out by Livy of novel or poem, the former carefully selected, as illustrating him and his wife,-this was in the hands of this gentle schoolmistress, their daughter. They had their round of duties and little pleasures. She read to them, him rather, and amused him, was ever watchful and ready at a moment to dart in to the place when any of his squad of entertainers flagged or dropped down in the ranks. The round of life became as regular as that of an institution. There was the little box of a place and its green garden
and flowers, there was the walk after breakfast, and the walk after lunch, there was the village and the town, with the young happy husbands and happy circles, men who ambled round the domestic circus with a contented monotony. Sometimes she read out even such a work as one of Mr. Froude's romances, and her voice was so steady and musical that she imparted to the rather dry proceedings of King Harry and Queen Mary, glimpses of interest, though at times the Beauty flagged, and yawned, and wandered to the piano to embody “a thought " by way of relief. He became rather proud of his historical knowledge thus refreshed, and thus administered-he could never have tackled the volumes themselves,—and rather bewildered some of his friends whom he favoured with scraps, and made them ask what on earth was Beauty putting such things into his well oiled head for. The effect of all was discipline, and the Beauty felt that in this little house, and in these little tranquil pursuits life would go on always, and he would grow full, and stout, and heavy, and old, while the old charms and attractions were to become smaller and dimmer, and more uninteresting, as their little waggonette rolled easily down the hill. Livy, the genius of the household, might now halt. Her work was done.
The people about Pengley naturally fancied that the news of the death of his son-in-law would take down Mr. Hardman's airs a little. But, in truth, he was not at all displeased “at the turn matters had taken," his own phrase. In the first place, he missed—and woefully missed—the invaluable aid of his daughter, though not for a moment would he acknowledge such a thing, even to himself. In his social advances he found himself of a sudden as powerless as the boy from whom Sir Walter Scott cut off the button. She had taken herself off, as he put it, and had thrown all the duties of the place on his poor back. How could he find time to be going to see ladies ? As for her-Mrs. Hardman—as well might he put one of the sirloins hanging in Stubber's shop in the carriage, and tell it to go paying visits. Selfishly she had taken care of herself, and left him there to manage as he could. The relations, too, of the deceased Colonel had behaved in execrable taste. They had been cold and “stand-off.” It had been conveyed to him that they did not approve or disapprove the connection. This he laid entirely to the account of his daughter, who “had no knowledge of the world," and, at her age, was still as helpless as a child. Indeed, when he came calmly to consider the alliance-the brilliant smoke having cleared away with the petards of the wedding, &c.-- he found it was a poor and profitless business enough. “He took nothing by it but expense."