UP WEST - CHAPTER II
CLIMBING THE LADDER - continued
Mr. Maurice changes sides—His reason therefor—Mrs. Maurice and her dear friends— The house in Belgrave Square—The guests—Broadstone Hall, in Northamptonshire —The shooting there — The elder daughter "knows her value "—The noble pensioner.
THE several members of the Maurice family vie with one another in their endeavours to climb the social ladder. They are always in London from February to the end of July—from the opening of Parliament to Goodwood. Though the head of the family is not at present in the House, he is rather given to politics. Oddly enough, for years he gave his support to the Liberal party, to which he was of considerable assistance, monetarily and otherwise; but as soon as the cry of Disruption of the Empire and Separation arose, he turned his back on his former friends and was one of the first to join the ranks of the Liberal Unionists. The reason for this is not difficult to find, and will be sufficiently indicated if I quote a conversation he had with his wife immediately after the split over the Irish question.
"You see, Rachel, my dear," he said, "it is the very thing for people in our position. Matters stand thus. The Tories cannot keep in a day without us, so Lord Salisbury and the big-wigs of the Conservative party are bound to be civil. Cards for their receptions and for political parties will flow in merrily this year, and if in the autumn or spring the Liberals obtain a majority, we shall next session be even in a better position. We have never actually declared ourselves adverse to the Radical programme, you know. On the contrary, the Dissentient Liberals sit on the same side of the House as the Liberals. We have simply detached ourselves on the question [-122-] of Ireland, and if the Gladstonians come in they will only be too glad to get us back. They are not too flush of cash, you know, and then, a man of my wealth, and the power of such a fortune as mine—a peerage, my dear, a peerage!"
Mr. Maurice made this speech while surveying himself—a habit to which he was much attached—-in the Louis Quatorze glass in his wife's boudoir, in their magnificent mansion in Belgrave Square. The lady is, if possible, more subservient to Duchesses, Countesses, and other titled people, even than her husband. She always talks of them as her dearest and most intimate friends, and frequently refers to them by their Christian names.
"My dear," said she the other day to a poorer friend whom she was in the habit ot patronising, "you know the dear Duchess of W——. She is the sweetest" (" sweetest" is a favourite word of hers) "thing that ever breathed. Nothing but kindness and simplicity. And the house, my love! You never could have imagined anything so lovely. The blue room is simply perfect, and then the yellow drawing-room! Such taste! And the china I And the pictures All the old masters, and the most lovely collection of water-colours ever seen
She proceeded to give a pretty accurate description of the staircase, ball, and other parts of the house. I need scarcely say that she had never been a guest there in the whole of her natural, or, rather, unnatural life. Her Grace had, however, been in the habit of occasionally lending her mansion for charitable meetings, concerts, and other gatherings, and Mrs. Maurice had never omitted to take tickets for these functions. While others were listening to the speeches and music, she had been making mental notes of the pictures, furniture, and ornaments around her. She is a constant student of the Peerage and Baronetage, and the "County Families," and, in fact, almost knows those publications by heart. So conversant is she with Debrett and Butke, that if the conversation turns upon any Prince, Duke, or peeress, she immediately chimes in with something like this:
"Yes, of course, she married ——. She is the sister of Lord , who married and was divorced from poor who was one of the sweetest and most loveable creatures ever created."
The family, though apparently most united, are not averse to saying unkind things one of the other. It was only the [-123-] other day that Mrs. Maurice's sister-in-law, after listening to one of that lady's tirades on birth and rank, observed:
"If I did not know that Rachel was studying one of these books," taking up Debrett, "all day long, I should really think she obtained her information from the linkman."
The house in Belgrave Square is replete with every luxury, and the entertainments given there—dinners, concerts, and receptions—the best in all London. It has been said that, provided your cook be good and your cellar beyond reproach, you have only to go out on the doorstep and ring the dinner bell, to secure the most acceptable of guests. Be that the case or not, all the best men, and some of the best women, are always willing to accept Mr. and Mrs. Maurice's hospitality.
The two grand occasions of the year are those on which they receive Royalty, and I believe these are the happiest days of their lives. Yet I have often wondered whether the host is really happy in the presence of his distinguished visitors. Is it not a dash of bitter in his cup of sweets to know that he is out of his element, that he is merely tolerated, and that he is often treated with something very like insolence? Apparently not. He has perhaps become used to his position. If you should ask him if he knows the Duke of ——,he will answer that his Grace is the oldest friend he has, and if you should enquire of him whether he is acquainted with the Earl of his reply will be, "Or course—I have known him all my life." Should you afterwards chance to see him in the company of one & the individuals referred to, you cannot but be hugely amused at the scene. The little man, all blandness and smiles, goes sidling up to the nobleman, who, with a curt "Good evening," or possibly without even a word of greeting; turns quickly on his heels and makes his escape. But this sort of thing has no effect. Off goes the busy bee to try and gather honey from another flower.
What a pity it is that the poor fellow cannot enter into a working agreement with needy members of the aristocracy, whereby he would recompense them for their patronage with hard cash! A regular scale of fees might be fixed upon, varying, of course, with the rank of the patron. Thus, I take it, one pound would not be an excessive sum for the smile of a Baronet, nor five pounds for the handshake of an Earl, and I am persuaded that the little man would not begrudge a couple of one hundred-pound notes to be greeted by a Duke, before a roomful of people, in some such terms as these: "Hullo, [-124-] Maurice, my dear fellow; I'm delighted to see you." Two hundred pounds, did I say ?—why, such bliss would be purchased cheaply for five times that sum.
The season over, Mr. Maurice usually retires to his country seat in Northamptonshire, which certainly is a very magnificent estate. 0f course, however, if he reads in the newspapers that Royalty is at Carlsbad, Spa, or Homburg, thither he betakes himself with all speed.
His place in Northamptonshire, Broadstone Hall, was the country seat of one of the oldest families of England. The house itself is of the Elizabethan style of architecture, and is in every way a show place. The central hall is one of the finest in the world. Around it winds a splendid picture gallery, filled with works of the old masters—a few Gainsboroughs and Rembramdts, a Romney or two, and some of older date. Mr. Maurice purchased the house as it stood, pictures and all. The first question the hostess asks you, should you be a visitor at the house, is:
"Have you seen our picture gallery?"
Then she points to different works, and explains:
"That is Lady ——, time of James the First; here is Sir Vincent B ; and this picture," pointing to one hung beside a suit of armour, "is Viscount G——, killed in the Wars of the Crusaders."
I believe it is no exaggeration to say that she has really come to believe that the canvases represent ancestors of her own. The park, pleasure grounds, and gardens all bear the stamp of antiquity, the last-named being laid out in the Italian style. It is manifest that the fruit-trees on the walls have clung there for generations. At the end of the stabling, which is most extensive, stands an old belfry tower, the architecture of which is of so remote a date as to puzzle antiquaries. In the centre of the stable-yard, surrounded by a plot of grass, is an ancient mulberry-tree, which is supposed to have been planted by Queen Elizabeth herself while honouring the then proprietor of the Hall with a brief Visit.
In the stable a separate compartment is set apart for each member of the family. There are Miss Jessie's hunters, Miss Bessie's hunters, the master's hunters, and a number of horses belonging to the son and heir.
There is splendid shooting at Broadstone Hall, the beat [-125-] shoots excelling in number any bag made up elsewhere in the county. Several of the nobility are asked down for a day or two's shooting, and if slaughtering hundreds of hand reared pheasants be a pleasure, the guests have a chance of enjoying themselves to their heart's content.
Everything is overdone at Broadstone Hall. The elaborate costumes of the beaters, and the gorgeous velveteen of the keepers, call up a smile to the lips of the old country sportsman. The hot luncheon which is brought out on a large vehicle elaborately constructed for the purpose is far superior to the repast usual on such occasions, and would make the mouth of any disciple of Epicurus water. A year or two ago a member of the Royal Family was induced to attend one of these shooting-parties, and ever since the lady of the mansion has spoken of the rooms where her distinguished guest passed the night as "His Royal Highness's suite."
The young ladies shine a good deal at Broadstone Hall. The elder, having heard that young Lady Dorothy B——, a daughter of one of the old aristocracy of the county, is very smart at handling a team and shooting rabbits, has passed a great deal of her time endeavouring, under the tuition of the head coachman and head keeper, to become a proficient in both those accomplishments. She has, in consequence, obtained a mastery over the gun and the reins, together with a slanginess and swagger not infrequently associated therewith. This young lady has studied Zola, and is up in all the latest French novels of the day. She often drives her father to the railway station, or elsewhere, and afterwards joins the shooting-party at luncheon. She has the greatest possible idea of her accomplishments and appearance, and was overheard the other day to remark, while looking at herself in the glass in the billiard-room
"I don't mean to go cheap. I know my value, and I don't intend to go under it—ten thousand a year and a title. I know I'm clever, and "—surveying herself from head to foot in the glass—" I can't help seeing that I'm handsome."
The younger girl is extremely fast, and openly declares that she is desirous of getting married as soon as possible, stating as her reason that she knows she will be able to enjoy herself so much more as a married woman.
One of the family party I have, up to the present moment, omitted to refer to. This is Sir Hugh —. At one corner [-126-] of the Park stands a large antiquated-looking stone house enclosed in walls and with long windows composed of small panes. This building was, and still is, known as the Dower House, and it is inhabited by the gentleman alluded to.
Soon after the family had taken Broadstone Hall, they were introduced in London to Sir Hugh, who was a ruined man, and had scarcely a five-pound note to call his own.
They had asked him down to the Hall, thinking that, as he had known every one in the county, he would not only be able to put them au fait at entertaining, but be an excellent card to play at dinner. He accepted the Maurices' invitation, and has remained with them from that day to this. As I have said, he occupies the Dower House, but he lives to all intents and purposes at the Hall.
Oddly enough, it was in the gaming-house described in the early lines of my last chapter that Sir Hugh's grandfather had dissipated all the estates and property that would, in the natural course of events, have passed into the possession of this young man. Both he and his host are ignorant of the fact, but so degenerate is human nature that I doubt very much whether, if the former were aware of it, it would make any difference in his relations to the latter.
I now conclude my sketch of this typical family, but shall ask my readers only to say au revoir to some of the characters introduced, as they will probably reappear in a later chapter.
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