chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
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THE Honourable Mr. Arthur Chichester had not exaggerated his description of the
beauty of the Enchantress - for so she was called by the male portion of her
admirers. Indeed, she was of exquisite loveliness. Her dark-brown hair was
arranged en bandeaux, and parted over a forehead polished as marble. Her
eyes were large, and of that soft dark melting blue which seems to form a heaven
of promises and bliss to gladden the beholder.
She was not above the middle height of woman; but her form was modelled to the
most exquisite and voluptuous symmetry. Her figure reminded the spectator of the
body of the wasp, so taper was the waist, and so exuberant was the swell of the
Her mouth was small and pouting; but, when she smiled, the
parting roses of the lips displayed a set of teeth white as the pearls of the
Her hand would have made the envy of a queen. And yet, above
all these charms, a certain something which could not be exactly denominated
boldness nor effrontery, but which was the very reverse of extreme reserve,
immediately struck Richard Markham.
He could not define the fault he had to find with this
beautiful woman; and still there was something in her manners which seemed to
proclaim that she did not possess the tranquillity and ease of a wife. She
appeared to be constantly aiming at the display of the accomplishments of her
mind, or the graces of her attitudes. She seemed to court admiration by every
word and every motion; and to keep alive in the mind of the baronet the passion
with which she had inspired him. She possessed not that confidence and contented
reliance upon the idea of unalienable affections which characterise the wife.
She seemed to be well aware that no legal nor religious ties connected the
baronet to her; and she, therefore, kept her imagination perpetually upon the
rack to weave new artificial bonds to cast around him. And, as if each action or
each word of the baronet severed those bonds of silk and wreathed flowers, she
found, Penelope-like, that at short intervals her labours were to be achieved
This constant state of mental anxiety and excitement imparted
a corresponding restlessness to her body; and those frequent changes of
attitude, which were originally intended to develop the graces of her person, or
allow her lover's eye to catch short glimpses of her heaving bosom of snow,
became now a settled habit.
Nevertheless, she was a lovely and fascinating woman, and one
for whom a young heart would undertake a thousand sacrifices.
By accident Richard was seated next to Mrs. Arlington
upon the sofa. He soon perceived that she was, indeed, as accomplished as the
baronet had represented her to be; and her critical opinions upon the current
literature, dramatic novelties, and new music of the day were delivered with
judgment and good taste.
Richard could not help glancing from time to time in
admiration at her beautiful countenance, animated as it now was with the
excitement of the topics of discourse; and whenever her large blue eyes met his,
a deep blush suffused his countenance, and he knew not what he said or did.
"Well, what shall we do to amuse ourselves?" said
Chichester, at the expiration of about an hour, during which coffee had been
"Upon my honour," exclaimed the baronet, "I am
perfectly indifferent. What say you to a game of whist or écarté?"
"Just as you choose," said Chichester carelessly.
At this moment the door opened, and a roguish-looking little
tiger - a lad of about fourteen, in a chocolate-coloured livery, with three rows
of bright-crested buttons down his Prussian jacket - entered to announce another
A short, stout, vulgar-looking man, about forty years of age,
with a blue coat and brass buttons, buff waistcoat, and grey trousers, entered
"Holloa, old chap, how are you?" he exclaimed m a
tone of most ineffable vulgarity. "Harborough, how are you? Chichester, my
tulip, how goes it?"
The baronet hastened to receive this extraordinary visitor,
and, as he shook hands with him, whispered something in his ear. The stranger
immediately turned towards Richard, to whom he was introduced by the name of Mr.
This gentleman and the baronet then conversed together for a
few moments; and Chichester, drawing near Markham, seized the opportunity of
observing, "Talbot is an excellent fellow - a regular John Bull - not over
polished, but enormously rich and well connected. You will see that he is not
more cultivated in mind than in manners; but he would go to the devil to do any
one a service; and, somehow or another, you can't help liking the fellow when
once you know him."
"Any friend of yours or of the baronet's will be
agreeable to me," said Richard; "and, provided he is a man of honour,
a little roughness of manner should be readily overlooked."
"You speak like a man of the world, and as a man of
honour yourself," said Mr. Chichester.
Meantime the baronet and Mr. Talbot had seated themselves,
and the Honourable Mr. Chichester returned to his own chair.
The conversation then became general. "I didn't know
that you were in town, Talbot," said Mr. Chichester.
"And I forgot to mention it," observed the baronet.
"Or rather," said the lady, "you meditated a
little surprise for your friend Mr. Chichester."
"I hope you've been well, ma'am, since I saw you last -
that is the day before yesterday," said Mr. Talbot. "You was
complaining then of a slight cold, and I recommended a treacle-posset and a
stocking tied round the throat."
"My dear Talbot, take some liqueur," cried the
baronet, rising hastily, and purposely knocking down his chair to drown the
remainder of Mr. Talbot's observation.
[-15-] "But I dare say you
didn't follow my advice, ma'am," pursued M. Talbot, with the most
imperturbable gravity. "For my part I am suffering dreadful with a bad
foot. I'll tell you how it were, ma'am. I've got a nasty soft corn on my little
toe; and so what must I do, but yesterday morning I takes my razor, sharpens it
upon the paytent strap, and goes for to cut off master corn. But instead of
cutting the corn, I nearly sliced my toe off; and —"
" By the way, Diana, has the young gentleman called yet,
whom we met the other evening at ·the Opera?" said the baronet, abruptly
interrupting this vulgar tirade.
"Do you mean the effeminate youth whom we dubbed the Handsome
Unknown?"' said the Enchantress.
"Yes: he who was so very mysterious, but who seemed so
excessively anxious to form our acquaintance."
"He promised to call some evening this week,"
answered Diana, "and play a game of écarté. He told me that he was
invincible at écarté."
"Talking of écarté, let us play a game,"
ejacu1ated Mr. Chichester, who was sitting upon thorns lest Mr. Talbot should
commence his vulgarities again.
"Well, I'll take a hand with pleasure," said this
individual: then turning towards Diana, he added, "I will tell you the rest
of the adventure about the soft corn another time, ma'am."
"What a nuisance this is!" whispered Chichester to
the baronet. "The young fellow does stare so."
"You must give him some explanation or another,"
hastily replied the baronet; "or I'll tell Diana to say something presently
that will smooth down matters."
The cards were produced, and Mr. Talbot and the Honourable
Mr. Chichester sat down to play.
Rupert backed the former, and considerable sums in gold and
notes were placed upon the table. Presently the lady turned towards Richard, and
said with a smile, "Are you fond of écarté? I must venture a
guinea upon Mr. Chichester. Sir Rupert is betting against him; and I love to
oppose Sir Rupert at cards. You will see how I shall tease him presently."
With these words the Enchantress rose and seated herself near
Mr. Chichester. Of course Markham did the same; and in a very short time he was
induced by the lady to follow her and back the same side which she supported.
Mr. Chichester, however, had a continued run of ill luck, and
lost every rubber. Richard was thus the loser of about thirty sovereigns; but he
was somewhat consoled by having so fair a companion in his bad fortune. He would
have suffered himself to be persuaded by her to persist in backing Mr.
Chichester, as she positively assured him that the luck must change, had not
that gentleman himself suddenly risen, thrown down the cards, and declared that
he would play no more.
"Would you, ma'am, like to take Mr. Chichester's place
?" said Mr. Talbot.
Mr. Chichester shook his head to the baronet, and the baronet
did the same to Diana, and Diana accordingly declined. The card-table was
therefore abandoned; and Mrs. Arlington, at the request of Sir Rupert, seated
herself at the piano. Without any affectation she sang and accompanied herself
upon the instrument in a manner that quite ravished the heart of Richard
Suddenly the entire house echoed with the din of the
front-door knocker, and almost simultaneously the bell was rung with violence.
In a few moments the young tiger announced Mr. Walter Sydney.
He was a youth apparently not more than nineteen or twenty,
of middle height, and very slim. He wore a tight blue military frock coat
buttoned up to the throat; ample black kerseymere trousers, which did not,
however, conceal the fact that he was the least thing knock-kneed, and a hat
with tolerably broad brims. His feet and hands were small to a fault. His long
light chestnut hair flowed in luxuriant undulations over the collar of his coat,
even upon his shoulders, and gave him a peculiarly feminine appearance. His
delicate complexion, upon the pure red and white of which the dark dyes of no
beard had yet infringed, wore a deep blush as he entered the room.
"Mr. Sydney, you are welcome," said Mrs. Arlington,
in a manner calculated to reassure the bashful youth. "It was but an hour
ago that we were talking of you, and wondering why we had not received the
pleasure of a visit."
"Madam, you are too kind," replied Mr. Sydney, in a
tone which sounded upon the ear like a silver bell - so soft and beautiful was
its cadence. "I am afraid that I am intruding: I had hoped to find you
alone - I mean yourself and Sir Rupert Harborough - and I perceive that you have
He stammered - became confounded with excuses - and then
glanced at his attire, as much as to intimate that he was in a walking dress.
Both the baronet and Diana hastened to welcome him in such a
manner as to speedily place him upon comfortable terms with himself once more;
and he was then introduced to Mr Chichester, Mr. Talbot, and Mr. Markham.
The moment the name of Markham was mentioned, the youthful
visitor started perceptibly, and then fixed his intelligent hazel eyes upon the
countenance of Richard with an expression of the most profound interest mingled
Mr. Chichester made an observation at the same moment, and
Sydney immediately afterwards entered with ease and apparent pleasure into a
conversation which turned upon the most popular topics of the day. Richard was
astonished at the extreme modesty, propriety, and good sense with which that
effeminate and bashful youth expressed himself; and even the baronet, who was in
reality well informed, listened to his interesting visitor with attention and
admiration. Still there was a species of extreme delicacy in his tastes, as
evidenced by his remarks, which bordered at times upon a fastidiousness, if not
an inexperience actually puerile or feminine.
At half-past eleven supper was served up, and the party sat
down to that most welcome and sociable of all meals.
It was truly diverting to behold the manner in which Mr.
Talbot fell, tooth and nail, upon the delicacies which he heaped upon his plate;
and his applications to the wine-bottle were to correspond. At one time ha
expressed his regret that it was too vulgar to drink half-and-half; and on
another he vented his national prejudices against those who maintained that
Perigord pies were [-16-] preferable to rump
steaks, or that claret was more exquisite than port or sherry. Once, when, it
would appear, Mr. Chichester kicked him under the table, he roared out a request
that his soft corn might be remembered; and as his friends were by no means
anxious for a second edition of that interesting narrative - especially before
Mr. Walter Sydney - they adopted the prudent alternative of conveying their
remonstrances to him by means of winks instead of kicks.
After supper Mr. Talbot insisted upon making a huge bowl of
punch in his own fashion; but he found that Mr. Chichester would alone aid him
in disposing of it. As for Mr. Welter Sydney, he never appeared to do more than
touch the brim of the wine-glass with his lips.
In a short time Mr. Talbot insisted upon practising his vocal
powers by singing a hunting song, and was deeply indignant with his friends
because they would not join in the very impressive but somewhat common chorus of
"Fal de lal lal, fal de lal la." It is impossible to say
what Mr. Talbot would have done next; but, much to the honor of the baronet, Mr.
Chichester, and Diana - and equally to the surprise of Richard Markham and
Walter Sydney - he suddenly lost his balance, and fell heavily up in the floor
and into a sound sleep simultaneously.
"What a pity," said Mr. Chichester, shaking his
head mournfully, and glancing down upon the prostate gentleman, as if he were
pronouncing a funeral oration over his remains; "this is his only fault -
and, as it happens every night, it begins materially to disfigure his character.
Otherwise, he is an excellent fellow, end immensely rich!"
At this moment the eyes of Richard caught those of Walter
Sydney. An ill-concealed expression of superlative contempt and ineffable
disgust was visible upon the handsome countenance of the latter; and the proud
curl of his lip manifested his opinion of the scene he had just witnessed. In a
few moments he rose to depart. To Diana he was only coldly polite; to the
baronet and Chichester superbly distant and constrained; but towards Markham, as
he took leave of him, there was a cordiality in his manner, and a sincerity in
the desire which he expressed "that they should meet again," which
formed a remarkable contrast with his behaviour towards the others.
That night slumber seemed to evade the eyes of Richard
Markham. The image of Mrs. Arlington, and all that she had said, and the various
graceful and voluptuous attitudes into which she had thrown herself, occupied
his imagination. At times, however, his thoughts wandered to that charming youth
- that mere boy - who seemed to court his friendship, and who was so delicate
and so fragile to encounter the storms and vicissitudes of that world in whose
dizzy vortex he was already found. Nor less did Richard ever and anon experience
a sentiment of profound surprise that the elegant and wealthy Sir Rupert
Harborough, the accomplished and lovely Diana, and the fastidious Mr. Arthur
Chichester, should tolerate the society of such an unmitigated vulgarian
as Mr. Talbot.
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