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A MORNING OF PERPLEXITIES.
OLONEL BRAMLEIGH turned over
and over, without breaking the seal, a letter which, bearing the postmark of Rome and in a well-known hand, he knew came from Lady Augusta.
That second marriage of his had been a great mistake. None of the social advantages he had calculated on with such certainty had resulted from it. His wife's distinguished relatives had totally estranged themselves from her, as though she had made an unbecoming and unworthy alliance; his own sons and daughters had not concealed their animosity to their new stepmother; and, in fact, the best compromise the blunder admitted of was that they
should try to see as little as possible of each other; and as they could not obliterate the compact, they should, as far as in them lay, endeavour to ignore it.
There are no more painful aids to a memory unwilling to be taxed than a banker's half-yearly statement; and in the long record which Christmas had summoned, and which now lay open before Bramleigh's eyes, were frequent and weighty reminders of Lady Augusta's expensive ways. YOL, XYI.--N0. 95,
He had agreed to allow her a thousand Napoleons-about eight hundred pounds-quarterly, which was, and which she owned was, a most liberal and sufficient sum to live on alone, and in a city comparatively cheap. He had, however, added, with a courtesy that the moment of parting might have suggested, “ Whenever your tastes or your comforts are found to be hampered in any way by the limits I have set down, you will do me the favour to draw directly on the House,' and I will take care that your cheques shall be attended to."
The smile with which she thanked him was still in his memory. Since the memorable morning in Berkeley Square when she accepted his offer of marriage, he had seen nothing so fascinating-nor, let us add, so fleeting—as this gleam of enchantment. Very few days had sufficed to show him how much this meteor flash of loveliness had cost him; and now, as he sat conning over a long line of figures, he bethought him that the second moment of witchery was very nearly as expensive as the first. When he made her that courteous offer of extending the limits of her civil list he had never contemplated how far she could have pushed his generosity, and now, to his amazement, he discovered that in a few months she had already drawn for seven thousand pounds, and had intimated to the House that the first instalment of the purchase-money of a villa would probably be required some time early in May; the business-like character of this “advice" being, however, sadly disparaged by her having totally forgotten to say anything as to the amount of the impending demand.
It was in a very unlucky moment—was there ever a lucky one ? when these heavy demands presented themselves. Colonel Bramleigh had latterly taken to what he thought, or at least meant to be, retrenchment. He was determined, as he said himself, to “take the bull by the horns :" but the men who perform this feat usually select a very small bull. He had nibbled, as it were, at the hem of the budget ; he had cut down “ the boys' allowances. " What could Temple want with five hundred a year? Her Majesty gave him four, and her Majesty certainly never intended to take his services without fitting remuneration. As to Jack having three hundred, it was downright absurdity; it was extravagancies like these destroyed the Navy; besides, Jack had got his promotion, and his pay ought to be something handsome." With regard to Augustus, he only went so far as certain remonstrances about horse-keep and some hints about the iniquities of a German valet who, it was rumoured, had actually bought a house in Duke Street, St. James's, out of his peculations in the family.
The girls were not extravagantly provided for, but for example sake he reduced their allowances by one third. Ireland was not a country for embroidered silks or Genoa velvet. It would be an admirable lesson to others if they were to see the young ladies of the great house dressed simply and unpretentiously. “These things could only be done by people of station. Such examples must proceed from those whose motives could not be questioned.” He dismissed the head-gardener, and he was actually contemplating the discharge of the French cook, though he well foresaw the storm of opposition so strong a measure was sure to evoke. When he came to sum up his reforms he was shocked to find that the total only reached a little over twelve hundred pounds, and this in a household of many thousands.
Was not Castello, too, a mistake? Was not all this princely style of living, in a county without a neighbourhood, totally unvisited by strangers, a capital blunder ? He had often heard of the cheapness of life in Ireland ; and what a myth it was b He might have lived in Norfolk for what he was spending in Downshire, and though he meant to do great things for the country, a doubt was beginning to steal over him as to how they were to be done. He had often insisted that absenteeism was the bane of Ireland, and yet for the life of him he could not see how his residence there was to prove a blessing.
Lady Augusta, with her separate establishment, was spending above three thousand a year. Poor man, he was grumbling to himself over this, when that precious document from the bank arrived with the astounding news of her immense extravagance. He laid her letter down again : he had not temper to read it. It was so sure to be one of those frivolous little levities which jar so painfully on serious feelings. He knew so well the half jestful excuses she would make for her wastefulness, the coquettish prettinesses she would deploy in describing her daily life of mock simplicity, and utter recklessness as to cost, that he muttered - Not now" to himself as he pushed the letter away. As he did so he discovered a letter in the hand of Mr. Sedley, his law agent. He had himself written a short note to that gentleman, at Jack's request ; for Jackwho, like all sailors, believed in a First Lord and implicitly felt that no promotion ever came rightfully—wanted a special introduction to the great men at Somerset House, a service which Sedley, who knew every one, could easily render him. This note of Sedley's then doubtless referred to that matter, and though Bramleigh did not feel any great or warm interest in the question, he broke the envelope to read it rather as a relief than otherwise. It was at least a new topic, and it could not be a very exciting one. The letter ran thus:
“ MY DEAR SIR,
Tuesday, January 15. “ HICKLAY will speak to the First Lord at the earliest convenient moment, but as Captain Bramleigh has just got his promotion, he does not see what can be done in addition. I do not suppose your son would like a dockyard appointment, but a tolerably snug berth will soon be vacant at Malta, and as Captain B. will be in town to-morrow, I shall wait upon him early, and learn his wishes in the matter. There is great talk to-day of changes in the Cabinet, and some rumour of a dissolution. These reports and disquieting news from France have brought the Funds down one-sixth. Burrows and Black have failed—the Calcutta house had made some large tea speculation, it is said, without the knowledge of the
partners here. At all events, the liabilities will exceed a million ; available assets not a hundred thousand. I hope you will not suffer, or if so, to only a trifling extent, as I know you lately declined the advances Black so pressed upon you."
"He's right there," muttered Bramleigh. “I wouldn't touch those indigo bonds. When old Grant began to back up the natives, I saw what would become of the planters. All meddling with the labour market in India is mere gambling, and whenever a man makes his coup he ought to go off with his money. What's all this here;”' muttered he, “ about Talookdars and Ryots? He ought to know this question cannot interest me."
“I met Kelson yesterday; he was very close and guarded, but my impression is that they are doing nothing in the affair of the Pretender.' I hinted jocularly something about having a few thousands by me if he should happen to know of a good investment, and, in the same careless way, he replied, “I'll drop in some morning at the office, and have a talk with you.' There was a significance in his manner that gave me to believe he meant a 'transaction.' We shall see. I shall add a few lines to this after I have seen Captain B. to-morrow. I must now hurry off to Westminster.” Bramleigh turned over, and read the following :
Wednesday, 16th. "On going to the Drummond' this morning to breakfast, by appointment, with your son, I found him dressing, but talking with the occupant of a room on the opposite side of the sitting-room, where breakfast was laid for three. Captain B., who seemed in excellent health and spirits, entered freely on the subject of the shore appointment, and when I suggested caution in discussing it, told me there was no need of reserve, that he could say what he pleased before his friend whom, by the way,' said he, • I am anxious to make known to you. You are the very man to give him first-rate advice, and if you cannot take up his case yourself, to recommend him to some one of trust and character.' While we were talking, the stranger entered—a young man, short, good-looking, and of good address. * I want to present you to Mr. Sedley,' said Captain B., • and I'll be shot if I don't forget your name.'
“I half doubt if you ever knew it,' said the other, laughing; and, turning to me, added, “Our friendship is of short date. We met as travellers, but I have seen enough of life to know that the instinct that draws men towards each other is no bad guarantee for mutual liking.' He said this with a slightly foreign accent, but fluently and easily.
“We now sat down to table, and though not being gifted with that expansiveness that the stranger spoke of, I soon found myself listening with pleasure to the conversation of a very shrewd and witty man, who had seen a good deal of life. Perhaps I may have exhibited some trait of the pleasure he afforded me-perhaps I may have expressed it in words;
at all events your son marked the effect produced upon me, and in a tone of half jocular triumph, cried out, “Eh, Sedley, you'll stand by him-won't you? I've told him if there was a man in England to carry him through a stiff campaign you were the fellow.' I replied by some commonplace, and rose soon after to proceed to Court. As the foreigner had also some business at the Hall, I offered him a seat in my cab. As we went along, he spoke freely of himself and his former life, and gave me his card, with the name · Anatole Pracontal.' So that here I was for two hours in close confab with the enemy, to whom I was actually presented by your own son! So overwhelming was this announcement that I really felt unable to take any course, and doubted whether I ought not at once to have told him who his fellow-traveller was. I decided at last for the more cautious line, and asked him to come and see me at Fulham. We parted excellent friends. Whether he will keep his appointment or not I am unable to guess. By a special good fortune--so I certainly must deem it -Captain Bramleigh was telegraphed for to Portsmouth, and had to leave town at once. So that any risks from that quarter are avoided. Whether this strange meeting will turn out well or ill, whether it will be misinterpreted by Kelson when he comes to hear it-for it would be hard to believe it all accident-and induce him to treat us with distrust and suspicion, or whether it may conduce to a speedy settlement of everything, is more than I can yet say.
“I am so far favourably impressed by M. Pracontal's manner and address that I think he ought not to be one difficult to deal with. What may be his impression, however, when he learns with whom he has been talking so freely, is still doubtful to me. He cannot, it is true, mistrust your son, but he may feel grave doubts about me.
“I own I do not expect to see him to-morrow. Kelson will certainly advise him against such a step, nor do I yet perceive what immediato good would result from our meeting, beyond the assuring him-as I certainly should—that all that had occurred was pure chance, and that, though perfectly familiar with his name and his pretensions, I had not the vaguest suspicion of his identity till I read his card. It may be that out of this strange blunder good may come. Let us hope it. I will write to-morrow.
Colonel Bramleigh re-rend every line of the letter carefully; and as he laid it down with a sigh, said, “What a complication of troubles on my hands. At the very moment that I am making engagements to relieve others, I may not have the means to meet my own difficulties. Sedley was quite wrong to make any advances to this man; they are sure to be misinterpreted. Kelson will think we are afraid, and raise his terms with us accordingly.” Again his eyes fell upon Lady Augusta's letter ; but he had no temper now to encounter all the light gossip and frivolity it was