A High Family.
“Con-found those organs!” said the Earl of Barmouth.
“And frustrate their grinders,” cried Viscount Diphoos.
“They are such a nuisance, my boy.”
“True, oh sire,” replied the viscount, who had the heels of his patent leather shoes on the library chimney-piece of the town mansion in Portland Place. He had reached that spot with difficulty, and was smoking a cigar, to calm his nerves for what he called the operation.
“Tom, my boy.”
“If her ladyship faints—”
“If what?” cried the viscount, bringing his heels into the fender with a crash.
“If—if—don’t speak so sharply, my dear Tom; it jars my back, and sets that confounded gout jigging and tearing at me all up my leg. I say, if her ladyship faints when we come back from the church, will you be ready to catch her. I’m afraid if I tried I should let her down, and it would look so bad before the servants.”
“Be too heavy for you, eh, gov’nor?” said Tom, grinning, as he mentally conjured up the scene.
“Yes, my boy, yes. She has grown so much stouter and heavier, and I have grown thinner and lighter since—since the happy day twenty-six years ago when I married her, Tom—when I married her. Yes, much stouter since I married her. How well I remember it all. Yes: it was an easterly wind, I recollect, and your poor dear mamma—her ladyship, Tom—had the toothache very badly. It made her face swell out on one side as we went across to Paris, and I had a deal of bother to get the waiter and chamber-maid to understand what a linseed-meal poultice was. Very objectionable thing a linseed-meal poultice; I never did like the smell.”
“I should think not,” said the son, watching his father seriously, the old man having a worn look, as if he had been engaged in a severe struggle with time.
“Peculiarly faint odour about them. Seems only last night, and now one girl going to be married—her ladyship looking out for a rich husband for the other. Er—er—does my wig look all right, Tom?” he continued, patting his head as he turned towards a mirror.
The speaker, who was a very thin, highly-dilapidated old gentleman of sixty-five, heaved a deep sigh, and then bent down to softly rub his right leg.
“Spiff,” replied Viscount Diphoos, a dapper little boyish fellow of four-and-twenty, most carefully dressed, and looking as if, as really was the case, he had just been shampooned, scented, and washed by Monsieur Launay, the French barber. “I say, gov’nor, that tremendous sigh don’t sound complimentary to your son and heir.”
“My dear boy—my dear Tom,” said the old man affectionately, as he toddled up to the back of his son’s chair, and stood there patting his shoulders. “It isn’t that—it isn’t that. I’m very, very proud of my children. Bless you, my dear Tom; bless you, my dear boy! You’re a very good son to me, but I’m—I’m a bit weak this morning about Diana; and that confounded fellow with his organ playing those melancholy tunes quite upset me.”
“But he has gone now, governor,” said Tom.
“Yes, my boy, but—but he’ll come back again, he always does. Grind, grind, grind, till he seems to me to be grinding me; and I do not like to swear, Tom, it’s setting you such a bad example; but at times I feel as if I must say damn, or something inside me would go wrong.”
“Say it then, gov’nor, I’ll forgive you. There, I have granted you my indulgence.”
“Thank you, Tom; thank you, Diphoos.”
“No, no, gov’nor. Tom!—don’t Diphoos me. I wish that confounded old wet sponge of a Welsh mountain had been ‘diffoosed’ before it gave me my name.”
“Ye-es, it is ugly, Tom. But they are family names, you see, Barmouth—Diphoos. Very old family the Diphooses. And now this wedding—but there, I’m all right now.”
“To be sure you are, gov’nor.”
“Yes, yes, yes; you are very good to me, Tom. Bless you, my boy, bless you.”
The weak tears stood in the old man’s eyes, and his voice shook as he spoke.
“Nonsense, gov’nor, nonsense,” said Tom, taking one of the thin withered hands. “I’m not much good to you; I think more of cigars and billiards than anything else. Have a cigar, guv’nor?”
“No, my boy, no thank you; it would make me smell so, and her ladyship might notice it. But, my boy, I see everything, though I’m getting a little old and weak, and don’t speak. You stand between her ladyship and me very often, Tom, and make matters more easy. But don’t you take any notice of me, my boy, and don’t you think I sighed because I was unhappy, for—for I’m very proud of you, Tom, I’m deuced proud of you, my boy; but it does upset me a bit about Diana going. India’s a long way off, Tom.”
“Yes, gov’nor, but old Goole isn’t a bad sort. The old lady wanted a rich husband for Di, and she has got him. Di will be quite a Begum out in India.”
“Ye-es, Tom; and I suppose all the female Diphooses marry elderly husbands and marry well. I am a bit anxious about Maude, now.”
“No good to be. The old girl will settle all that. But I say, gov’nor, what a set of studs! Come here; one of them’s unfastened. You’ll lose it.”
“I hope not, my boy—I hope not,” said the old man, anxiously as his son busied himself over the shirt-front. “Her ladyship would be so vexed. She has taken care of them these ten years, and said I had better wear them to-day.”
“Did she?” said Tom, gruffly. “There: that will do. Why, you look quite a buck this morning. That wig’s a regular fizzer. Old Launay has touched you up.”
“I’m glad I look well, Tom, deuced glad,” said the old man, brightening up with pleasure. “And you think Goole’s a nice fellow?”
“Ye-es,” said Tom, “only, hang it all, gov’nor, there’s no romance about it. They are both so confoundedly cool and matter-of-fact. Why if I were going to be married, I should feel all fire and excitement.”
“No, my boy, no—oh, no,” said the old man sadly; and he shook his head, glancing nervously at the glass the next moment to see if his wig was awry. “You read about that sort of thing in books, but it doesn’t often come off in fashionable life. I—I—I remember when—when I married her ladyship, it was all very matter-of-fact and quiet. And there was that poultice. But you will stand by and catch her if she faints, Tom?”
“Oh, she won’t faint, gov’nor,” said Tom, curling up his lip.
“I—I—I don’t know, my boy, I don’t know. She said that very likely she should. Mammas do faint, you know, when they are losing their children. I feel very faint myself, Tom: this affair upsets me. I should like just one glass of port.”
“No, no, don’t have it, gov’nor; it will go right down into your toe. Have a brandy and seltzer.”
“Thank you, Tom, my boy, I will,” said the old man, rubbing his hands, “I will—I will. Ring for it, will you, Tom, and let Robbins think it’s for you.”
“Why, gov’nor?” cried Tom, staring, as he rang the bell.
“Well, you see, my boy,” said the old man, stooping to gently rub his leg; “after that last visit of the doctor her ladyship told the servants—told the servants that they were not to let me have anything but what she ordered.”
Tom uttered an angry ejaculation, waited a few moments, leaped from his chair, and began sawing away furiously at the unanswered bell.
“He’s—he’s a fine bold young fellow, my son Tom,” muttered the old man to himself as he sat down, and began rubbing his leg; “I dare not ring the bell like that—like that.”
“Look here, gov’nor,” cried Tom, passionately, “I won’t have it. I will not stand by and see you sat upon like this. Are you the master of this house or no?”
“Well, Tom, my boy,” said the old man, feebly, and with a weak smile upon his closely shaven face, “I—I—I ought to be.”
“Then do, for goodness’ sake, take your position. It hurts me, dad, it does indeed, to see you humbled so before the servants. I’ll pay proper respect to her ladyship, and support her in everything that’s just, but when it comes to my old father being made the laughing-stock of every body in the house, I—I—there, damme, sir, I rebel against it.”
As Tom seized the bell again, and dragged at it savagely, the old man seemed deeply moved. He tried to speak, but no words would come, and rising hastily he limped to the window, and stood looking out with blurred eyes, trying to master his emotion.
“Thank you, Tom,” he said, speaking as he looked out of the window. “But after the doctor’s last visit her ladyship told all the servants—Todd’s very particular, you know.”
Tom said something about Doctor Todd that sounded condemnatory.
“Yes, my dear boy,” said the earl, “but—”
Just then the door opened, and a ponderous-looking butler, carefully dressed, with his hair brushed up into a brutus on the top of his head, and every bristle closely scraped from a fat double-chin which reposed in folds over his stiff white cravat, slowly entered the room.
“Why the devil isn’t this bell answered, Robbins?” cried Tom.
“Very sorry, my lord, but I thought—”
“Confound you! how dare you think? You thought my father rang, and that you might be as long as you liked.”
“Ye-yes, my lord. I thought his lordship rang.”
“Yes, you thought right,” cried Tom. “His lordship rang for some brandy and seltzer. Look sharp and get it.”
“Yes, my lord, but—”
“Only a very little of the pale brandy in it, Robbins—about a dessert-spoonful,” said the earl, apologetically.
“Fetch the spirit-stand and two bottles of seltzer, Robbins,” roared the young man. “And look sharp,” he added in a tone of voice which sent the butler off in post-haste.
“That’s a flea in his fat old ear,” cried the young man, laying his hand on his father’s shoulder. “And now look here, gov’nor, you would please me very much if you would stand up for your rights. You know I’d back you up.”
“Would it please you, Tom?” said the old man, gazing in his son’s face, and patting his shoulder, “Well, I’ll—I’ll try, Tom, I’ll try; but—but—I’m afraid it’s too late.”
“Nonsense, gov’nor. Come, it will make things more comfortable. Keep an eye, too, on Maude. I don’t want her to be married off to a millionaire whether she likes him or no.”
“I’ll try, my boy, I’ll try,” said the old man, in a hopeless tone of voice. “Her ladyship said—”
“Who’s that for, Robbins?” cried a deep masculine-feminine voice outside the door, just as the jingle of glasses on a silver waiter was heard.
“For Lord Diphoos, my lady,” was the reply, in a voice that seemed to come through a layer of eider down, and the door was thrown open; there was a tremendous rustling of silk, and Lady Barmouth, a stout, florid, well-preserved woman of forty-eight, swept into the room.
“Ah, my dear child,” she exclaimed in a pensive, theatrical tone of voice, as she spread her skirts carefully around her, and exhaled a peculiarly strong scent of eau-de-cologne, “this is a terribly trying time.”
“Awfully,” said Tom, shortly. “That will do, Robbins; I’ll open the seltzer.” Then, as the butler left the room—“Awfully trying—quite a martyrdom for you, mamma. Have a brandy and seltzer?”
“My dear child!” exclaimed her ladyship, in a tone of remonstrance, and leaning one hand upon a chair so as not to disarrange the folds of her costly moiré antique, she tenderly applied the corner of her lace handkerchief to her lips, and after gazing at it furtively to note a soft pink stain, she watched her son as he poured a liberal allowance of pale brandy into a tall engraved glass, skilfully sent the cork flying from a seltzer bottle, filled up the glass with the sparkling mineral water, before handing it to his father.
“There, gov’nor,” he exclaimed; “try that.”
“Tom, my dear child, no, no,” cried her ladyship. “Anthony! No! Certainly not.”
“Yes, there is too much brandy, my dear boy,” said the old gentleman, hesitating.
“Nonsense! Rubbish! You drink that up, gov’nor, like medicine. You’re unstrung and ready to break down. Come: have one, mamma.”
“My dear child!” began her ladyship, as she darted a severe look at her husband—“Ah, my darling.”
This last was in the most pathetic of tones, for the library door once more opened, and a very sweet-faced fair-haired girl, in her bridesmaid’s robe of palest blue, and looking flushed of cheek and red of eye with weeping, led in the bride in her diaphanous veil, just as she had issued from the hands of Justine Framboise, her ladyship’s Parisian maid, through which veil, and beneath the traditional wreath of orange-blossoms, shone as charming a face as bridegroom need wish to see.
“There,” exclaimed the bridesmaid in a tone of forced gaiety, “as Justine says, ne touches pas. You are only to have a peep.”
“Maude, you ridiculous child,” cried her ladyship, “you have been crying, and look dreadful, and—there, I declare it is too bad. You have been making your sister weep too.”
“I couldn’t help it, mamma,” cried the girl, passionately; and the tears that had been waiting ready burst out afresh.
“This is too absurd,” exclaimed her ladyship, impatiently. “Maude, you ridiculous girl: you are destroying that costly dress, and the flowers will be all rags.”
“Yes, why don’t you leave off—you two,” cried the brother, cynically, “playing at being fond of one another,” while the old man looked piteously on.
“Oh, Diana, Diana,” continued her ladyship, “here have I made for you the most brilliant match of the season—an enormously wealthy husband, who literally worships you—”
“I don’t believe he cares for her a bit,” cried Maude, flushing up, speaking passionately, and giving a stamp with her little white kid boot. “And if I were Di, I wouldn’t marry a snuffy old man like that for anybody. I’d sooner die.”
“Die game, eh?” cried Tom. “Do you hear, Di?”
“Silence!” exclaimed her ladyship in a tone of authority that seemed to quell the girl’s burst of passion. “How dare you!”
“Pray don’t be cross, mamma,” said the bride, quietly. “She could not help crying. The marks will soon pass away.”
“They will not,” cried her ladyship, angrily. “Sir Grantley Wilters is coming, and her nose is as red as a servant girl’s, while your eyes are half swollen up. After all my pains—after all my anxiety—never was mother troubled with such thankless children.”
“Poor old girl!” said Tom, taking a good sip of brandy-and-seltzer.
“Anthony!” cried her ladyship, “you must not touch her. You are crushing her veil and those flowers. Oh, this is madness.”
Madness or not, before she could check the natural action, the earl had taken his elder daughter in his arms, and kissed her lovingly, patting and stroking her sweet face, as, regardless of wreath and veil, she flung her arms round his neck and nestled closely to him.
“Bless you, my darling. I hope you will like India,” he said, “Rather warm, but they make delicious curries there. I hope you will be very very happy;” and the tears trickled down his furrowed countenance as he spoke.
“I’ll try to be, papa dear,” she whispered, making an effort to speak firmly.
“That’s right, my dear. The trains are very comfortable to Brindisi, and Tom says that Goole isn’t such a very bad fellow.”
“Anthony, are you quite mad!” cried her ladyship, wringing her hands till her diamonds crackled. “Are you all engaged in a conspiracy against me? Such a display is perfectly absurd. The child will not be fit to be seen at the church.”
“Yes, yes, mamma dear,” said the girl cheerfully. “There, there, Maude will put me straight in a few moments. Kiss me, dear, and I’ll go upstairs again; it must be nearly time.”
For the sake of the dresses of herself and daughter, her ladyship did not let the bride come too close, but brushed the cheek lightly with her lips; and then the girl turned to her brother, holding out her hands.
He took them, gazing at her at arm’s length with mingled pride and sorrow. Then the bridal dress was once more forgotten, and brother and sister were tightly locked in each other’s arms.
Her ladyship uttered a wail of dismay, but it was not heeded, as Tom said in a low tone—
“Keep up your pecker, Di, old girl. It’s all nonsense about love and that sort of thing. It’s duty toward your mother, catechism fashion, and you’ve done it. You’re sold into bondage, eh?”
“Yes, Tom dear,” she said, cheerfully. “I shall not mind.”
“With all Goole’s money to play with I should think not.”
“I did not mean that, dear,” said the girl, gravely. “I seem to be going right away from you, but there is Maude; don’t let her be married like I am, Tom.”
“What can I do?”
“I don’t know; only try to help her and papa. Be more at home for both their sakes—and Tryphie’s.”
Tom started, and looked sharply in his sister’s face.
“I will, Di, I will,” he said, earnestly. “I know I’ve been a reckless sort of beast, but I will try now.”
She smiled her thanks and kissed him again. Then Lady Maude of the red eyes and nose, took her sister’s hand, coming up like a pretty tug to tow off some beautiful craft that had been shattered by a storm in her upper rigging, and bore her off into port for repairs.
Categories: English Literature