Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Round London : Down East and Up West, by Montagu Williams Q.C., 1894

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UP WEST - CHAPTER VI
     
HUCKSTERING HYMEN—continued

wedding at St. Peter’s, Eaton Square — Silas Davis—The Earl of Thanet—Lord L’Estrange—A love match—Ruin—The match at an end—Coercion—The marriage arranged—Where was it made ?— The Limelight Theatre—The “Johnnies” —Intellectual effusions —Miss Scarborough—A great hit—Fifty pounds a week—She draws the line —Viscount Millington —Engaged —Parents stop supplies —Mar­riage takes place—Parents still obdurate— “Lady Millington” returns to the stage—Society touts—Huckstering.
     

    IT is a glorious summer morning, the date the thirteenth of July. ‘The roadway in the immediate neighbourhood of St. Peter’s, Eaton Square, is thronged with carriages, and the very smartest wedding of the season is about to take place.
    The happy bridegroom is Silas Davis, Esq., late of Mel­bourne, Australia, now of Churtston House, Mayfair; the bride, the Hon. Louisa Verrinder, second daughter of the Earl of Thanet.
    Every seat in the church is occupied. The Bishop of——, who is to perform the ceremony, is attended by the Rector of Acol, the Earl’s country seat, as well as several fashionable West End clergymen.
    The bridegroom has already put in an appearance, accom­panied by his best man, an acquaintance he has made at his club during his short sojourn in this country. There is not a single representative of his own family among the throng of spectators.
    Silas Davis is a tall, rather engaging-looking man, with sandy hair already turning to grey. He is sixty years of age and slightly inclined to stoop. Though he struggles hard to appear at ease, it is clear that he is very hot and  uncomfortable.
    [-155-] The important moment arrives at last. There is a sound of wheels outside, followed by some little stir in the lobby, and then the bride enters the church leaning on her father’s arm. As they pass up the aisle they present a striking appearance.
    The Earl in his youth was accounted one of the handsomest men of his day, and even now he is of fine carriage, commanding presence, and pleasing countenance. He wears an old-fashioned blue tailed coat—exquisitely cut, and ornamented with brass buttons—a white, double-breasted waistcoat, and a scarf very full, and quite after the old school. In a word, he is a good specimen of the grand seigneur.

The lovely bride, as she walks up the aisle, seems to cling somewhat despairingly to her companion’s arm. Only a close observer would detect the slight quivering shudder that passes through her frame as she approaches her mother, the Countess, who occupies a front seat opposite the chancel, and is sur­rounded by her noble relatives.
    The set expression on the young girl’s face renders her even more beautiful than usual. She is radiant in gems, which are the finest the bridegroom’s wealth could procure. Her lustrous black eyes look out from a face that is deadly pale.
    She walks up to the altar with a firm step, and, throughout the service, utters the responses in an audible and unquavering voice.
    So far as the ceremony is concerned, it does not take long to make these two persons one. After an adjournment to the vestry for the signing of the register, there comes the departure from the church, followed by the usual breakfast and rice-throwing. Then these two beings, who are as much made to be mated as the lion and the lamb, leave town as man and wife, whom God has joined together and whom no man shall put asunder.
    Under what circumstances has this union taken place? Let us see.
    The bride’s father, the Earl of Thanet, is not rich and never has been. His wife brought him but a small dowry. They are the parents of seven girls and three boys. The eldest daughter has already entered into the bonds of wedlock under circumstances much to her worldly advantage. Her mother discovered a bon parti, and arranged matters with her usual diplomacy. Nor did the Countess have any difficulty in that case. Her eldest daughter was as prepared to obey her in the choice of a husband as in the selection of a frock.
    [-156-] In the case of the second daughter things had been very different. The Countess had had a very uphill battle indeed, and had her will been one whit less indomitable than it was she must inevitably have suffered defeat.
    Louisa had passed the greater portion o~ her early youth at their country seat. She was her brothers’ favourite sister, and joined in all their sports, being never so happy as when they were home for the holidays.
    The Earl’s nearest neighbour at Acol was Lord L’Estrange, the head of the firm of Messrs. Lombard and Throgmorton, the great financiers. He had received his peerage in consideration of his wealth and influential position.
    For many years it had been quite an understood thing that the Hon. Allan Lombard and the Hon. Louisa Verrinder should, when their ages would permit, become man and wife. As lad and girl they had fallen in love, and the prospective match was one that gave complete satisfaction to both families, Allan, I may add, was a schoolfellow and intimate friend of the Earl’s sons.
    Time went on, Louisa was presented at Court, and it was arranged that the marriage should take place at the end of the season. Then the unforeseen occurred. The great firm of financiers failed, and Lord L’Estrange and his family were ruined.
    Of course, as is usual in such cases—I mean in society, where hearts count for so little—matrimony was held to be out of the question. The Earl’s family announced that the match was at an end.
    The poor girl appealed to her father and pleaded with her mother, but all to no purpose. The answer she received from the Countess was:
    “Allan Lombard is a gentleman and a man of honour. He has released you from the engagement, and has wisely made up his mind to go abroad and seek his fortunes in a foreign land.’
    This was true enough, but the Countess did not mention the arguments she had employed to make the young man come to this conclusion. She had insisted that he would be doing her daughter the greatest injury if he persisted in his suit. There had been, on his part, a long struggle between love and a sense of duty; and at length the appeals to his honour carried the day, and he had made what he knew to be the greatest sacrifice of his life.
    [-157-] Allan stipulated for one thing—a final interview with the girl he so dearly loved. It took place, and resulted in her assurance, based on the roseate hopes always found under such circumstances, that she would patiently await the time when, as a rich man, he should return to this country to claim her as his wife.
    The Countess of Thanet belonged to a set of match-making mothers, and, as I have already indicated, was no novice in the art.
    At first her ladyship played a waiting game. She did not force her daughter into society, but allowed her to lead a quiet, humdrum life in the country.
    At the opening of the season in the following year, when the family returnee to London, the Countess altered her tactics. She insisted upon her daughter going once more into the gay world, stating that the interests of her sisters made it necessary for her to do so. So, night after night, the poor girl was dragged off to parties, balls, and receptions, and night after night, on her return home, she would throw herself on her bed, without removing her finery, and sob herself to sleep; or, inspired by some faint spark of hope, she would seek her mother’s boudoir and on her knees beg to be released from so terrible a life. The Countess would reply:
    “You know our position. Your sisters have to be con­sidered, and it is absolutely necessary for all of us that you should marry and marry well.”
    When the unhappy girl appealed to her father, he invariably replied:
    “My dear, it is useless your speaking to me. These are your mother’s affairs.”
    It was while things were in this condition that Silas Davis made his appearance in England. His enormous wealth became at once a matter of notoriety, and, in spite of his age, he could have made his selection of a wife from among the noblest and most handsome in the land.
    Needless to say, Silas Davis did not escape the eagle eye of the Countess of Thanet. She sedulously pursued him throughout the London season, and, when it came to an end, on reading in The Morning Post of his arrival in Homburg, she at once set out tor that place in company with her daughter Louisa.
    I have no space to dwell upon the wiles that were resorted to, the arguments that were brought to bear, and the near [-158-] approach to actual force that was used, to bring the poor girl to consent to the marriage. It took place, as I have shown, an St. Peter’s, Eaton Square, on a bright July morning.
    How is such a union likely to end? Was the marriage made in heaven, or—elsewhere?
    These are questions I can leave my readers to answer for themselves.
     
    There is no more popular place of amusement in all London than the Limelight Theatre. It is the favourite haunt of the “Johnnies” and “dear chappies “—those singular specimens of the rising generation of England. They are always to be seen there—in summer and in winter, at evening performances and at morning performances—even though the bill remains unchanged for months at a stretch. The front row of the stalls is almost sacred to them. If you drop in from time to time you will always see the same young gentlemen, in the same seats, with the same smiles on their faces, and wearing the same Malmaison carnations inn their buttonholes. They seem to live in those stalls.
    I don’t know, but I suppose some of these young gentlemen have business to attend to. They certainly don’t look like it. If they have, I should be very sorry to trust them with any of mine.
    The “Johnnies” are on intimate terms with the principal artists. They like nothing but burlesque, and the chief performers, male and female, are their idols. The prima donna calls them “my boys,” and they in return rapturously applaud everything that falls from her lips, and never tire of showering floral offerings at her feet. But this is not surprising, for in nine cases out of ten the prima donna is extremely clever, and quite worthy of the enthusiasm she excites.
    What strikes me as most extraordinary is the power of the risible faculties of these gentlemen. No matter what their favourite comedian says or does, be the words or the act never so vapid, they simply roar with laughter, twist and wriggle about like eels, and almost drop out of their stalls in fits. Well, he may be very amusing to them, but what about the general public? The fun, if fun it be, usually has reference to some sporting or fighting club, to which these young gentlemen belong, as does possibly the comedian himself.
    The songs, which are often not without merit, send the “chappies” frantic with delight. They never tire of hearing
    [-159-] “How I did it on the sly,” “Please don’t tell my ma,” “Pull your socks up, William,” and intellectual effusions of that order.
    It is sometimes said that in these democratic days class distinctions have vanished. Certainly the remark is true so far as the music-hall performers and their patrons are concerned. The lion comique is “ Johnny’s” intimate friend. They go to one another’s rooms, they play billiards together, they drink together, and, in fact, they seem unable to live apart.
    It happened in the autumn of last year that business at the Limelight Theatre became very slack. The enterprising manager went about with his eyes wide open, anxiously in search of some novelty. One day, happening to enter an East End music-hall, he made a very lucky find in the person of a young, pretty, graceful, agile danseuse, with extraordinary kicking powers and any amount of “go.”
    Being a friend of the proprietor, the Limelight manager went behind the scenes, and had a conversation with the young lady. It was arranged that he should call and see him on the following morning, and the result of the interview was that the danseuse accepted an engagement at the Limelight.
    A new burlesque was announced to appear in a week or two, and a special line on the bill was given to Miss Scarborough, “the celebrated skirt dancer.”
    The first night arrived. Every seat in the stalls was occu­pied, and some of the “Johnnies” had to be relegated to the orchestra. From the very first the burlesque took well, but the climax of success came with the appearance of the debutante. Miss Scarborough made a great hit. Not for years had there been such applause at the Limelight. Jaded youths leapt from their seats and clapped their hands with zeal, and it is to be feared that, in the enthusiasm of the moment, some of them creased their collars.
    “What a jolly pretty girl !“ “Light as a fairy!” “Sweet little hands and feet!” Yes; Miss Scarborough had indeed “caught on.”
    In a few weeks the young lady demanded fifty pounds a week, and received it. At the East End music-hall two pounds a week had been her maximum salary.
    Miss Scarborough did not lose her head; she was no fool. Night after night and day after day she was besieged by a host of young gentlemen who professed themselves her slaves. All this was very different from the time when she had for her [-160-] lover a young Jew, the son of an East End pawnbroker in rather a small way of business. Miss Scarborough soon became very fastidious, and learnt to discriminate between a dandy who only gave her silver bracelets and one who went the length of a diamond brooch. Her ambition developed with extraordinary rapidity, and it was not long before she resolved to play the matrimonial card.
    One young Earl, not remarkable for the lucidity of his intellect, and who was already married, gave her jewels to the value of several thousand pounds. She accepted them, and treated him with some little condescension. She allowed him to give her dinners at Richmond, suppers at the Café Royal, and so on; but there she drew the line.
    Miss Scarborough received offer after offer, in some cases from men whose fathers were wealthy and titled. But they were not good enough for my lady. “I shan’t be content,” she was wont to say to her intimate friends (the other young ladies of the theatre), “until I’m a Countess.”
    One day young Viscount Millington, after dining at his club, dropped in at the Limelight Theatre with a few friends. He was at once completely captivated by the young dancer.
    Certain habitués of the theatre are permitted to go behind the scenes with their friends, and among these privileged few was one of his lordship’s companions. The proposition was made that they should all “go round and see her,” and it was at once agreed to.
    Miss Scarborough and Lord Millington supped together that night, and three weeks afterwards they were engaged to be married.
    Viscount Millington is the eldest son and heir of the Earl of Claremont. He had no independent means, but had been in receipt of a most liberal allowance from his father.
    When the bomb burst and the engagement was publicly announced, the Earl was furious, and the Countess in despair. They positively refused to have anything more to do with their son, and at once stopped his supplies. This was exceedingly awkward, for Lord Millington had, during the three weeks he had known Miss Scarborough, lavished the whole of his income upon her, and he was now practically penniless. However. the young couple decided that when they were married, and it was too late for any further opposition to be raised, the Earl and Countess would relent and come to their assistance financially. In this expectation, however, they were woefully [-161-] mistaken. The worthy peer was made of sterner stuff than his son had supposed, and a deaf ear was turned to all overtures for a reconciliation.
    What was to be done? Of course the bride had her jewellery, which would have realised sufficient money to keep them afloat for some time; but young ladies of her class are not in the habit of making such sacrifices.
    Upon her marriage, Miss Scarborough had severed her connection with the stage; but, as soon as financial matters reached a crisis, she resolved to return to her profession. Nor did she experience the slightest difficulty in doing so. Theatrical managers vied with one another in their efforts to secure the prize. Was she not “My lady,” and could she not be an­nounced as “Lady Millington, the future Countess of Clare­mont”?
    She was engaged at one of our principal theatres, and there she is still playing. Her august husband either hangs about the theatre during the performances or awaits his wife’s pleasure at the stage door.
    Again I ask—where was this marriage made and how is it likely to end? and again I leave the reader to solve the matter for himself.
     
   In my last chapter I stated that I should attempt to give some explanation of the evils illustrated by the three marriages I have described.
   One question will be uppermost in the minds of many of my readers. It is this: “How did the lady from San Francisco and the gentleman from Australia gain their entry into London society?” Their welcome, of course, was to be traced to their wealth. “Yes,” it may be said, “but how was their actual introduction brought about? On their arrival in this country they knew nobody.”
   Perhaps my readers have never heard of society touts? These are needy individuals who have elbowed their way into society—in many cases through the possession of what is termed “blue blood “—and who, for a consideration, are ready to assist others to do the same. Most society touts are men, but a good many women pursue the calling.
   When the wife of a nouveau riche desires to entertain, with a view to gaining a footing in the fashionable world, she sends for one of the fraternity, and places herself entirely in his or her hands. This individual has a book in which are inscribed the [-162-] names of all the noble and fashionable people who are likely to accept an invitation. It seems, indeed, that there are a number of persons ready to go to any good address, even though the occupier of the establishment be an entire stranger to them. Host and hostess count for nothing; the point is—will the cuisine and the wine be good?
   Supposing Mrs. A., the wife of the millionaire, gives an entertainment, the tout not only provides a number of aristocratic guests, but also manages to slip in other Mrs. A’s, and their families, thereby serving several clients at one and the same time.
   Thus it happens in the case of hundreds of parties given in the West End during the season, that the hostess who stands at the head of the stairs is a complete stranger to every one of the guests she welcomes so cordially. If a lady is the medium through which the guests are invited, it is not an unusual thing for her to stand beside the hostess and assist in doing the honours of the house.
   Can one expect a healthy outcome from such a system of imposture?
   I do not for one moment mean to suggest that huckstering in the matrimonial market is peculiar to this age. What I do say, however, is that never before has the evil assumed. the dimensions to which it has attained in the present day, and never before has it been fostered by means so degraded.
   Of course, in the case of the third marriage I have de­scribed, one must look elsewhere for the explanation of the evil. The fact is, many young men of the present day take no interest in the social gatherings of their own class. They are consequently driven to the music-halls, and other places of amusement, and are there as often as not caught in the toils of attractive, cunning, and ambitious women.
   Perhaps, if there were less hollowness and humbug about society functions, and a freer play for good, honest human nature, young men would not be so prone to seek the society of their social inferiors.

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