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CORNHILL MAGAZINE. .
The Bramleighs of Bishop's Folly.
Tue DROPPINGS OF A GREAT DIPLOMATIST.
HEN a man's manner and address are very successful with the world —when he
of captivation which extends to people of totally different tastes and habits, and is equally at home, equally at his ease, with young and old, with men of grave pursuits and men of pleasure — it is somewhat hard to believe that there must not be some strong sterling quality in his nature; for we know that the base metals never bear gilding, and that it is only a waste of gold to cover them with it.
It would be, therefore, very pleasant to think that if people should not be altogether as admirable as
they were agreeable, yet that the qualities which made the companionship so delightful should be indications of deeper and more solid gifts beneath. Yet I am afraid the theory will not hold. I suspect that there are a considerable number of people in this world who go through life trading on credit, and who renew their bills with humanity so gracefully and so cleverly, they are never found out to be bankrupts till they die. VOL. XVI.— NO. 92.
A very accomplished specimen of this order was Lord Culduff. He was a man of very ordinary abilities, commonplace in every way, and who had yet contrived to impress the world with the notion of his capacity. He did a little of almost everything. He sang a little, played a little on two or three instruments, talked a little of several languages, and had smatterings of all games and field-sports, so that to every seeming, nothing came amiss to him. Nature had been gracious to him personally, and he had a voice very soft and low and insinuating.
He was not an impostor, for the simple reason that he believed in himself. He actually had negotiated his false coinage so long that he got to regard it as bullion, and imagined himself to be one of the first men of
The bad bank-note, which has been circulating freely from hand to hand, no sooner comes under the scrutiny of a sharp-eyed functionary of the bank than it is denounced and branded; and so Culduff would speedily have been treated by any one of those keen men who, as Ministers, grow to acquire a knowledge of human nature as thorough as of the actual events of the time.
The world at large, however, had not this estimate of him. They read of him as a special envoy here, an extraordinary minister there, now negotiating a secret treaty, now investing a Pasha of Egypt with the Bath ; and they deemed him not only a trusty servant of the Crown, but a skilled negotiator, a deep and accomplished diplomatist.
He was a little short-sighted, and it enabled him to pass objectionable people without causing offence. He was slightly deaf, and it gave him an air of deference in conversation which many were charmed with ; for whenever he failed to catch what was said, his smile was perfectly captivating. It was assent, but dashed with a sort of sly flattery, as though it was to the speaker's ingenuity he yielded, as much as to the force of the conviction.
He was a great favourite with women. Old ladies regarded him as a model of good ton ; younger ones discovered other qualities in him that amused them as much. His life had been anything but blameless, but he had contrived to make the world believe he was more sinned against than sinning, and that every mischance that befel him came of that unsuspecting nature and easy disposition of which even all his experience of life could not rob him.
Cutbill read him thoroughly; but though Lord Culduff saw this, it did not prevent him trying all his little pretty devices of pleasing on the man of culverts and cuttings. In fact, he seemed to feel that though he could not bring down the bird, it was better not to spoil his gun by a change of cartridge, and so he fired away his usual little pleasantries, well aware that none of them were successful.
He had now been three days with the Bramleighs, and certainly had won the suffrages, though in different degrees, of them all. He had put himself so frankly and unreservedly in Colonel Bramleigh's hands about the
coal-mine, candidly confessing the whole thing was new to him, he was a child in money matters, that the banker was positively delighted with him.
With Augustus he had talked politics confidentially,—not questions of policy nor statecraft, not matters of legislation or government, but the more subtle and ingenious points as to what party a young man entering life ought to join, what set he should attach himself to, and what line he should take to insure future distinction and office. He was well up in the gossip of the House, and knew who was disgusted with such an one, and why so and so “wouldn't stand it any longer.
To Temple Bramleigh he was charming. Of the “line," as they love to call it, he knew positively everything. Nor was it merely how this or that legation was conducted, how this man got on with his chief, or why that other had asked to be transferred; but he knew all the mysterious goingson of that wonderful old repository they call " the Office." • That's what you must look to, Bramleigh,” he would say, clapping him on the shoulder. " The men who make plenipos and envoys are not in the Cabinet, nor do they dine at Osborne ; they are fellows in seedy black, with brown umbrellas, who cross the Green Park every morning about eleven o'clock, and come back over the self-same track by six of an evening. Staid old dogs, with crape on their hats, and hard lines round their mouths, fond of fresh caviare from Russia, and much given to cursing the messengers.”
He was, in a word, the incarnation of a very well-bred selfishness, that had learned how much it redounds to a man's personal comfort that he is popular, and that even a weak swimmer who goes with the tide, makes a better figure than the strongest and bravest who attempts to stem the current. He was, in his way, a keen observer, and a certain haughty tone, a kind of self-assertion in Marion's manner, so distinguished her from her sister, that he set Cutbill to ascertain if it had any other foundation than mere temperament; and the wily agent was not long in learning that a legacy of twenty thousand pounds in her own absolute right from her mother's side accounted for these pretensions.
“I tell you, Cutty, it's only an old diplomatist, like myself, would have detected the share that bank debentures had in that girl's demeanour. Confess, sir, it was a clever hit.”
“ It was certainly neat, my lord.”
" It was more, Cutty ; it was deep-downright deep. I saw where the idiosyncrasy stopped, and where the dividends came in.”
Cutbill smiled an approving smile, and his lordship turned to the glass over the chimney-piece and looked admiringly at himself. " Was it twenty thousand you said ? " asked he, indolently.
“ Yes, my lord, twenty. Her father will probably give her as much more. Harding told me yesterday that all the younger children are to have share and share alike-no distinction made between sons and daughters."
“ So that she'll have what a Frenchman would call un million de dot."
“ Just about what we want, my lord, to start our enterprise.”
“ Ah, yes. I suppose that would do ; but we shall do this by a company, Cutty. Have you said anything to Bramleigh yet on the subject ? ”
“Nothing further than what I told you yesterday. I gave him the papers with the surveys and the specifications, and he said he'd look over them this morning, and that I might drop in upon him to-night in the library after ten. It is the time he likes best for a little quiet chat."
“He seems a very cautious, I'd almost say, a timid man."
“ The City men are all like that, my lord. They're always cold enough in entering on a project, though they'll go rashly on after they've put their money in it."
“ What's the eldest son ?"
“A fool-just a fool. He urged his father to contest a county, to lay a claim for a peerage. They lost the election and lost their money ; but Augustus Bramleigh persists in thinking that the party are still their debtors."
- Very hard to make Ministers believe that,” said Culduff, with a grin. “A vote in the House is like a bird in the hand. The second fellow, Temple, is a poor creature."
" Ain't he ? Not that he thinks so."
“ No; they never do,” said Culduff, caressing his whiskers, and looking pleasantly at himself in the glass. “They see one or two men of
. mark in their career, and they fancy_heaven knows why—that they must be like them; that identity of pursuit implies equality of intellect; and so these creatures spread out their little sails, and imagine they are going to make a grand voyage.”
“But Miss Bramleigh told me yesterday you had a high opinion of her brother Temple."
“I believe I said so," said he, with a soft smile. “One says these sort of things every day, irresponsibly, Cutty, irresponsibly, just as one gives his autograph, but would think twice before signing his name on a stamped paper.”
Mr. Cutbill laughed at this sally, and seemed by the motion of his lips as though he were repeating it to himself for future retail ; but in what spirit, it would not be safe perhaps to inquire.
Though Lord Culduff did not present himself at the family breakfasttable, and but rarely appeared at luncheon, pretexting that his mornings were always given up to business and letter-writing, he usually came down in the afternoon in some toilet admirably suited to the occasion, whatever it might be, of riding, driving, or walking. In fact, a mere glance at his lordship’s costume would have unmistakably shown whether a canter, the croquet lawn, or a brisk walk through the shrubberies were in the order of the day.
“Do you remember, Cutty," said he suddenly, “what was my engagement for this morning? I promised somebody to go somewhere and do something; and I'll be shot if I can recollect.”
“I am totally unable to assist your lordship,” said the other with a smile. “The young men, I know, are out shooting, and Miss Elearor Bramleigh is profiting by the snow to have a day's sledging. She proposed to me to join her, but I didn't see it."
“ Ah! I have it now, Cutty. I was to walk over to Portshandon, to return the curate's call. Miss Bramleigh was to come with me.”
" It was scarcely gallant, my lord, to forget so charming a project," said the other slyly.
"Gallantry went out, Cutty, with slashed doublets. The height and the boast of our modern civilization is to make women our perfect equals, and to play the game of life with them on an absolutely equal footing.”
“ Is that quite fair ?”
“I protest I think it is, except in a few rare instances, where the men unite to the hardier qualities of the masculine intelligence, the nicer, finer, most susceptible instincts of the other sex—the organization that more than any other touches on excellence ;-except, I say, in these cases, the women have the best of it. Now what chance, I ask you, would you have, pitted against such a girl as the elder Bramleigh ?”
“ I'm afraid a very poor one,” said Cutbill, with a look of deep humility.
“ Just so, Cutty, a very poor one. I give you my word of honour I have learned more diplomacy beside the drawing-room fire than I ever acquired in the pages of the blue-books. You see it's a quite different school of fence they practise ; the thrusts are different and the guards are different. A day for furs essentially, a day for furs," broke he in, as he drew on a coat lined with sable, and profusely braided and ornamented. " What was I saying? where were we?”
“ You were talking of women, my lord.”
“ The faintest tint of scarlet in the under vest-it was a device of the Regent's in his really great day—is always effective in cold, bright, frosty weather. The tint is carried on to the cheek, and adds brilliancy to the eye. In duller weather a coral pin in the cravat will suffice; but, as David Wilkie used to say, 'Nature must have her bit of red.'”
“I wish you would finish what you were saying about women, my lord. Your remarks were full of originality.”
“Finish! finish, Cutty! It would take as many volumes as the • Abridgment of the Statutes' to contain one-half of what I could say
about them; and, after all, it would be Sanscrit to you.” His lordship now placed his hat on his head, slightly on one side. It was the " “ tigerism" of a past period, and which he could no more abandon than he could gire up the jaunty swagger of his walk, or the bland smile which he kept ready for recognition.
“I have not, I rejoice to say, arrived at that time of life when I can affect to praise bygones ; but I own, Cutty, they did everything much