THE. CHIMNEY CORNER.
HOW I BEOAMiTtHE FASHIOIT. I was born a beauty; from the time I could talk and understand, it was instilled into me as a fact. When I could toddle about, some judicious person, probably a nurse, gave me the name of “ Beauty,” and it stuck to me ever after. I don’t think I was inordinately proud of my distinction, although even in childhood it makes a difference, but it seems to me, as I look back, that my attractions were made use of by my brothers and sisters for their own benefit. 'They were always sending me to beg a holiday on the plea that “ Papa won’t refuse Beauty,” or later on to get leave to go to this place or that place of amusement, for “ Mamma is sure to let Beauty have her way.”
It’.s a wonder I wasn’t quite spoiled, but I don’t think I was; at least no such accusation was ever made, even when sisterly civilities wore being inurchanged. We were a large family, principally girls, all presentable except my eldest sister, Matilda; she had no looks to speak about, but she made it up by a superabundance of brains she was the family headpiece, a sort of plateau to be relied upon on all state occasions. She certainly was a remarkable woman ; her one idea was to push one’s self forward in life—an English adaption of “Aide loi, le ciel t’aidera.” How angry she was when I married Charley ! She was at Gibralter settling my brother Edmund in his appointment, and I was Mrs. Redcar before she came back. Charley was a captain with good prospects of getting on, but Matilda made him sell out and put his money into a new company started to provide Venice with tramcars; after this we came up to town, because Matilda said that with my beauty and Charley’s connections London was tire place for us. We were sure to push our way; but curiously enough, we didn’t, Charley's connections belonged to the Plymouth Brothers and Sisters, and my good looks were quite thrown away on people who wore poke bonnets. There was one old man, a grand uncle of Charley’s, who had lived in the Regency days, and said I was the image of Dolly Bloomfield, whoever she may be.
A year or so passed very quietly, and then Matilda came up to see how we were getting on. She was very indignant when she found that we had made no way, and scolded us roundly' for our supineness. “ I have no patience with either of you,” she said. “ With Beauty’s looks and the Redcar connection you ought to be at the very top of the tree.” And then we explained to her about Plymouth Brethren.
“ But there’s Charlie’s godfather’s wife ; she has nothing to say to trade or meeting-houses, because 1 see her parties every other week in The Morning Post, 1 ' said my sister, with a look, which meant : “ You can’t impose on me; if Beauty were only seen there she’d soon push her way.” Charley looked at me and I looked at Charley, and then we both burst out laughing.’ It was a mortifying confession, but the truth was we had been at Charley’s godmother’s —no, I mean Charley’s godfather’s wife—more than once, and nothing had come of my “ being there ” but the bills we had to pay for the dress I wore and the carriage. Matilda looked very glum when he told her this. “ I don’t see what you are laughing at,” she said crossly. “No one hut a fool would find amusement in their own failure.” This was very severe, but Matilda was awfully put out, and in the evening, when Charley had gone to the “ Rags ” to have his smoke, she spoke very serious to me. “ I don’t like the looks of things,” she said. “ I shouldn’t be at all surprised if those Venetian tram shares don’t come to much. The people there are so silly, the) 7 prefer the gondolas, and if they go down where will you be ?” “Goodness gracious, Matilda, I thought you recommended them, and said they rvould double our income.” “ And haven’t they done so, you silly thing? All you have to do is to put your shoulder to the wheel, and push Charley, and that will make it all right As for him, he’s a regular stick-in-the-mud. So you must do it yourself.” “I ? Why, what in the world can I do ?”
“ Make yourself the fashion ! ’ said my sister oracularly. Tire next day Matilda, Charley, and I went to see the pictures at the R A. It’s a long way from Inverness Terrace to Piccadilly, particularly on a hot day, so we went in an ominibus, but Matilda thinks it’s a disgrace to be seen in one. She has a provincial idea that every one knows her. She sits far back, with her veil drawn in a tight little ball over her nose, which makes her ever so much more remarkable. 'This day in particular she was in a great fright, and was very indignant with Charley and me, who were laughing at the faces she made.
When she got out she said : “ 'To think that our Beauty should be brought down to sit with washerwomen in an omnibus !”
Charley flushed up. He’s the most pood-humored fellow in the world, but he doesn’t like Matilda. “ She should drive in a coach with six horses, if I could give it to her,” he said ; “ but she knew I was a poor man when she took me.” . . i£ And liked you all the better,” cried I «nyly, as I pressed his arm affectionately but Matilda only snorted. I heard her mutter— 1 ’ A pair of fools .' ” The Academy was very full that day, and I thought it a great bore. Neither Charley nor I care much for pictures, but Matilda says she understands “color.” She goes round religiously with her catalogue and pencil and marks the good ones. She leaves it on the drawing room table when she goes home, and holds forth to the ronntrv people upon the “flesh tints ” of Millais, and the 15 deep impasto” of Burne Tones. I soon got tired, so I sat down near the passage leading to the refreshment room. I always think the lurch is about the best thing at the picture . But they seemed never to be coinin'-. For some time I amused myself looking at the people ; they were a shifting mass of faces and dresses, and I was greatly diverted. By-and-bye I began
to observe that the crowd when they came to a certain picture stood there, forming a regular line as they did for Miss Thompson. It was awfully hot, and I hail taken off my veil and pushed up my hat, for my forehead was burning. Suddenly I noticed that a great many people turned their backs upon the pictire, and looked at me, and then faced round again to the canvas wall. In my character of Beauty I had been all my life accustomed to the sort of homage conveyed by what is called “ hard staring,” so that it must have been an undue amount of it which attracted my attention ; but surely I had never seen anything like this. Groups of two, three, six at a time, would stand’ before me, calmly surveying me, and, I could see by their gestures, talking of me. But I didn’t hsar what they said. I became very anxious to see the picture which attracted such attention, but the block around it was too great. The next best thing was to ask for inform ■ tion. It was some Tme before I could pitch upon a person who seemed fi ted for this purpose. At last a very quiet-looking lady came near me. She had a catalogue in her hand. I addressed her—“ May I ask you to tell me the name of the picture at which everyone is looking ? ” She turned to the book, but first glanced at me ; then hurried on, and I saw her a few minutes afterwards pointing me out to some of her friends. I felt extremely uncomfortable. I looked about anxiously for Charley and Matilda, but there was no sign of either. Then I did a very foolish thing ; I got up, to go and look for them, principally to escape from the numberless eyes fixed upon me.
To my surprise the crowd made way at once, and as I walked followed me, pressing very closely upon me, but not discourteously. I could hear some of the remarks, which were of the most flattering description. Just then, I saw in the distance a brother officer of Charley’s, a certain Captain Winton. He was a hanger-on and toady of the great, and a most conceited little
creature. I disliked him, although I’m bound to say r he never absolutely cut us. He stopped to speak to me; of course, he was politely indifferent as to the loss of my party. “ I would help you to look for Charley,” he said ; but the fact is, the Duchess of Cranberry is here, and she’s quite on the qui vive. Some one has told her that the original of the picture is actually in the room, and, of course, it would be everything to secure her for the 20th, and—” Here I interrupted him rather rudely, but lie is such a bore.
“ I wonder,” I said —but here I was in my turn interrupted. Two gentlemen on one side, two on the other, tapped Captain Winton on each shoulder.
“Will you kindly introduce me?” said one. *• And me ?” said the other. “ And me ?” “And me ?” Little Winton stared, but did as he was bid.
“ Lord Snappington —Mrs. Redcar ; Colonel Eotheringham —Mrs. Redcar; Sir John De Tabley—Mrs. Redcar; Major Beaulieu—Mrs. Redcar. Beaulieu, I think you know Charley Redcar; he was one of ours ?”
In the right of this acquaintance, Major Beaulieu walked on my r right hand ; Lord Snappington fought hard to keep his place on my left, but the crowd, which persistently followed in my wake, would not let him. Hardly any conversation was possible. At the first convenient pause, little Winton darted forward ;
“ Mr dear Mrs. Redcar, how sly you have been! And Charley, too. never breathed a word of this ! Now, you must come at once to the Duchess; I have her positive orders.” And. before I could take in what he meant, I was being introduced to a very large lady, wich a high nose, and a charming manner.
“I am so pleased to know you, Mrs. Redcar,” she said. “I am obliged to hurry away ; but you will come to me on the 20th, won’t you ? I haven’t time to say half the pretty things I ought ; but really, without flattery, it isn’t equal ! There, now, I’ll not say another word. Stay ; could you come to me this evening? It’s shockingly informal, but you don’t look formal. Eh ? What ?■’ —In answer <-q a whisper from Little Winton— “Of course, Captain Redcar, by all means—-that is, if he will give me the pleasure. I have to run away —so sorry. My carriage, Captain Winton, if you please, Good bye.” And, with a pretty smile and a bow she vanished. It was all so sudden that I felt quite stunned. “ I don’t understand it,” “ I said. “ I don’t know her, or what she wants with me.” “ That’s the Duchess of Cranberry. She’s a great friend of Masse’, and her wonderful party is to be on the 20th.” “ But what does she want with me ?” I repeated. They all smiled, and Winton, who had just come back, said ‘-'Capital!” He volunteered to go and lock for Charley, and suggested to one of the gentlemen to see about my carriage. “The Duchess is delighted,” he said, “ and thanked me so much for the introduction. No wonder it makes the whole thing complete. Didn’t I do well about Charley ? It wouldn’t do at all for him to be in the background. But, listen, I have a hint for your private ear. I shouldn’t be at all surprised if a certain person is there this evening.” “ Where ?”
“ Oh ! at the Duchess’s, of course. I just give you the hint. Throw over any engagement, do you hear? And mind you bring Charley.” And with a grave face he went. Eor a minute or two I felt inclined to cry. I had had no luncheon, and this extraordinary adventure puzzled me. I looked round at my escort of four gentlemen. “I should like to go home,” I said. Lord Snappington immediately offered me his arm. Major Beaulieu brought my parasol—the other two ran for my carriage. “ I haven’t any indeed,” I went on ; “I think you take me for some one else.” ( To be continued.)
See our copyright guide for information on how you may use this title.
Use these buttons to limit your searches to particular dates, titles, and more.
Print, save, zoom in and more.