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Chapter 25

  • A Few days after the entertainment at Willowsmere, and before the societ_apers had done talking about the magnificence and luxury displayed on tha_ccasion, I woke up one morning, like the great poet Byron, "to find mysel_amous." Not for any intellectual achievement,—not for any unexpected deed o_eroism,—not for any resolved or noble attitude in society or politics,—no !—_wed my fame merely to a quadruped;—' Phosphor' won the Derby. It was about _eck-and-neck contest between my racer and that of the Prime Minister, and fo_ second or so the result seemed doubtful,—but as the two jockeys neared th_oal, Amiel, whose thin wiry figure, clad in the brightest of bright scarle_ilk, stuck to his horse as though he were a part of it, put 'Phosphor' to _ace he had never yet exhibited, appearing to skim along the ground a_iterally flying speed,—the upshot being that he scored a triumphant victory, reaching the winning-post a couple of yards or more ahead of his rival.
  • Acclamations rent the air at the vigour displayed in the 'finish,' and _ecame the hero of the day,—the darling of the populace. I was somewhat amuse_t the Premier's discomfiture, —he took his beating rather badly. He did no_now me, nor I him. I was not of his politics, and I did not care a jot fo_is feelings one way or the other, but I was gratified in a certain satirica_ense, to find myself suddenly acknowledged as a greater man than he, becaus_ was the owner of the Derby-winner! Before I well knew where I was, I foun_yself being presented to the Prince of Wales, who shook hands with me an_ongratulated me;—all the biggest aristocrats in England were willing an_ager to be introduced to me;—and inwardly I laughed at this exhibition o_aste and culture on the part of 'the gentlemen of England that live at hom_t ease.' They crowded round 'Phosphor,' whose wild eye warned stranger_gainst taking liberties with him, but who seemed not a whit the worse for hi_xertions, and who apparently was quite ready to run the race over again wit_qual pleasure and success. Amiel's dark sly face and cruel ferret eyes wer_vidently not attractive to the majority of the gentlemen of the turf, thoug_is answers to all the queries put to him were admirably ready, respectful an_ot without wit. But to me the whole sum and substance of the occasion was th_act that I, Geoffrey Tempest, once struggling author, now millionaire, wa_imply by virtue of my ownership of the Derby-winner, 'famous' at last!—o_hat society considers famous,—that fame that secures for a man the attentio_f 'the nobility and gentry,' to quote from tradesmen's advertisements,—an_lso obtains the persistent adulation and shameless pursuit of all the demi- mondaines who want jewels and horses and yachts presented to them in exchang_or a few tainted kisses from their carmined lips. Under the shower o_ompliments I received I stood, apparently delighted,—smiling, affable an_ourteous,—entering into the spirit of the occasion, and shaking hands with m_ord That, and Sir Something Nobody, and His Serene Highness the Grand Duk_o-and-So of Beer-Land, and His other Serene Lowness of Small- Principality,—but in my secret soul I scorned these people with their socia_umbug and hypocrisy,—scorned them with such a deadly scorn as almost amaze_yself. When presently I walked off the course with Lucio, who as usual seeme_o know and to be friends with everybody, he spoke in accents that were fa_ore grave and gentle than I had ever heard him use before.
  • "With all your egotism, Geoffrey, there is something forcible and noble i_our nature,—something which rises up in bold revolt against falsehood an_ham. Why, in Heaven's name, do you not give it way?"
  • I looked at him amazed, and laughed.
  • "Give it way? What do you mean? Would you have me tell humbugs that I kno_hem as such? and liars that I discern their lies? My dear fellow, societ_ould become too hot to hold me!"
  • "It could not be hotter—or colder—than hell, if you believed in hell, whic_ou do not," he rejoined, in the same quiet voice. "But I did not assume tha_ou should say these things straight out and bluntly to give offence. A_ffronting candour is not nobleness,—it is merely coarse. To act nobly i_etter than to speak."
  • "And what would you have me do?" I asked curiously.
  • He was silent for a moment, and seemed to be earnestly, almost painfull_onsidering,—then he answered—
  • "My advice will seem to you singular, Geoffrey, but if you want it, here i_s. Give, as I said, the noble, and what the world would call the quixoti_art of your nature full way,— do not sacrifice your higher sense of what i_ight and just for the sake of pandering to anyone's power or influence,— and—say farewell to  _me!_  I am no use to you, save to humour your varyin_ancies, and introduce you to those great—or small—personages you wish to kno_or your own convenience or advantage; believe me, it would be much better fo_ou and much more consoling at the inevitable hour of death, if you were t_et all this false and frivolous nonsense go, and me with it! Leave society t_ts own fool's whirligig of distracted follies, put Royalty in its true place, and show it that all its pomp, arrogance and glitter are worthless, and itsel_ nothing compared to the upright standing of a brave soul in an honest man, and, as Christ said to the rich ruler, 'Sell half that thou hast and give t_he poor.' ''
  • I was silent for a minute or so out of sheer surprise, while he watched m_losely, his face pale and expectant. A curious shock of something lik_ompunction startled my conscience, and for a brief space I was moved to _ague regret,—regret that with all the enormous capability I possessed o_oing good to numbers of my fellow-creatures with the vast wealth I owned, _ad not attained to any higher moral attitude than that represented by th_rivolous folk who make up what is called the 'Upper Ten' of society. I too_he same egotistical pleasure in myself and my own doings as any of them, an_ was to the full as foolishly conventional, smooth-tongued and hypocritica_s they. They acted their part and I acted mine,—none of us were ever our rea_elves for a moment. In very truth, one of the reasons why 'fashionable' me_nd women cannot bear to be alone is, that a solitude in which they ar_ompelled to look face to face upon their secret selves becomes unbearabl_ecause of the burden they carry of concealed vice and accusing shame. M_motion soon passed, however, and slipping my arm through Lucio's, I smiled, as I answered—
  • "Your advice, my dear fellow, would do credit to a Salvationist preacher, bu_t is quite valueless to me, because impossible to follow. To say farewell fo_ver to you, in the first place, would be to make myself guilty of th_lackest ingratitude; in the second instance, society, with all its ridiculou_umbug, is nevertheless necessary for the amusement of myself and my futur_ife,—Royalty, moreover, is accustomed to be flattered, and we shall not b_urt by joining in the general inane chorus; thirdly, if I did as th_isionary Jew suggested ''
  • "What visionary Jew?" he asked, his eyes sparkling coldly.
  • "Why, Christ of course!" I rejoined lightly.
  • The shadow of a strange smile parted his lips.
  • "It is the fashion to blaspheme !" he said. "A mark of brilliancy i_iterature, and wit in society! I forgot! Pray go on,—if you did as Chris_uggested ''
  • "Yes,—if I gave half my goods to the poor, I should not be thanked for it, o_onsidered anything but a fool for my pains."
  • "You would wish to be thanked?" he said."Naturally! Most people like a littl_ratitude in return for benefits."
  • "They do. And the Creator, who is always giving, is supposed to like gratitud_lso," he observed; "nevertheless, He seldom gets it!"
  • "I do not talk of hyperphysical nothingness," I said with impatience. "I a_peaking of the plain facts of this world and the people who live in it. I_ne gives largely, one expects to be acknowledged as generous; but if I wer_o divide my fortune, and hand half of it to the poor, the matter would b_hronicled in about six lines in one of the papers, and society would exclaim,
  • 'What a fool!'"
  • "Then let us talk no more about it," said Lucio, his brows clearing, and hi_yes gathering again their wonted light of mockery and mirth. "Having won th_erby, you have really done all a nineteenth-century civilization expects yo_o do, and for your reward, you will be in universal demand everywhere. Yo_ay hope soon to dine at Marlborough House,—and a little back-stair influenc_nd political jobbery will work you into the Cabinet if you care for it. Did _ot tell you I would set you up as successfully as the bear who has reache_he bun on the top of the slippery pole, a spectacle for the envy of men an_he wonder of angels? Well, there you are !—triumphant!—a great creature, Geoffrey,—in fact, you are the greatest product of the age, a man with fiv_illions, and owner of the Derby-winner! What is the glory of intellec_ompared to such a position as yours! Men envy you,—and as for angels,—i_here are any,—you may be sure they  _do_  wonder! A man's fame guaranteed b_ horse is something indeed to make an angel stare!" .
  • He laughed uproariously, and from that day he never spoke again of hi_ingular proposition that I should 'part with him,' and let the "nobler"
  • nature in me have its way. I was not to know then that he had staked a chanc_pon my soul, and lost it, and that from henceforward he took a determine_ourse with me, implacably on to the appalling end.
  • My marriage took place on the appointed day in June with all the pomp an_xtravagant 'show' befitting my position and that of the woman I had chosen t_ed. It is needless to describe the gorgeousness of the ceremony in detail,— any fashionable 'ladies paper' describing the wedding of an Earl's daughter t_ five-fold millionaire, will give an idea, in hysterical rhapsody, of th_eneral effect. It was an amazing scene,—and one in which costly milliner_ompletely vanquished all considerations of solemnity or sacredness in th_upposed 'divine' ordinance. The impressive command, "I require and charge y_oth, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment," did not obtain hal_o much awed attention as the exquisite knots of pearls and diamonds whic_astened the bride's silver-emboidered train to her shoulders. 'All the worl_nd his wife' were present,—that is, the social world, which imagines no othe_orld exists, though it is the least part of the community. The Prince o_ales honoured us by his presence; two great dignitaries of the churc_erformed the marriage-rite, resplendent in redundant fulness of white sleev_nd surplice, and equally imposing in the fatness of their bodies and unctuou_edness of their faces _;_  and Lucio was my 'best man.' He was in high, almost wild spirits, and, during our drive to the church together, ha_ntertained me all the way with numerous droll stories, mostly at the expens_f the clergy. When we reached the sacred edifice, he said laughingly as h_lighted—
  • "Did you ever hear it reported, Geoffrey, that the devil is unable to enter _hurch, because of the cross upon it, or within it?"
  • "I have heard some such nonsense," I replied, smiling at the humour expresse_n his sparkling eyes and eloquent features.
  • "It  _is_  nonsense, for the makers of the legend forgot one thing," h_ontinued, dropping his voice to a whisper as we passed under the carve_othic portico,—"the cross may be
  • present, but so is the clergyman! And wherever a
  • clergyman goes the devil can follow !''
  • I almost laughed aloud at his manner of making this irreverent observation, and the look with which he accompanied it. The rich tones of the orga_reeping softly on the flower-scented silence, however, quickly solemnized m_ood, —and while I leaned against the altar-rails waiting for my bride, _aught myself wondering, for the hundredth time or more, at my comrade'_ingularly proud and kingly aspect, as with folded arms and lifted head h_ontemplated the lilydecked altar and the gleaming crucifix upon it, hi_editative eyes bespeaking a curious mingling of reverence and contempt.
  • One incident I remember, as standing out particularly in all the glare an_litter of the brilliant scene, and this occurred at the signing of our name_n the register. When Sibyl, a vision of angelic loveliness in all her brida_hite, affixed her signature to the entry, Lucio bent towards her.
  • "As 'best man' I claim an old-fashioned privilege!" he said, and kissed he_ightly on the cheek. She blushed a vivid red, then suddenly grew ghastl_ale, and with a kind of choking cry, reeled back in a dead faint in the arm_f one of her bridesmaids. It was some minutes before she was restored t_onsciousness, but she made light both of my alarm and the consternation o_er friends,—and assuring us that it was nothing but the effect of the heat o_he weather and the excitement of the day, she took my arm and walked down th_isle smilingly through the brilliant ranks of her staring and envious
  • 'society' friends, all of whom coveted her good fortune, not because she ha_arried a worthy or gifted man,—that would have been no special matter fo_ongratulation,—but simply because she had married five millions of money! _as the appendage to the millions—nothing further. She held her head high an_aughtily, though I felt her tremble as the thundering strains of the Brida_arch from Lohengrin poured sonorous triumph on the air. She trod on roses al_he way,—I remembered that too, … afterwards. Her satin slipper crushed th_earts of a thousand innocent things that must surely have been more dear t_od than she ;—the little harmless souls of flowers, whose task in hfe, sweetly fulfilled, had been to create beauty and fragrance by their mer_xistence, expired to gratify the vanity of one woman to whom nothing wa_acred! But I anticipate,—I was yet in my fool's dream, and imagined that th_ying blossoms were happy to perish thus beneath her tread!
  • A grand reception was held at Lord Elton's house after the ceremony, and i_he midst of the chattering, the eating and the drinking, we—my newly mad_ife and I—departed amid the profuse flatteries and good wishes of our
  • 'friends,' who, primed with the very finest champagne, made a very decent sho_f being sincere. The last person to say farewell to us at the carriage-doo_as Lucio,—and the sorrow I felt at parting with him was more than I coul_xpress in words. From the very hour of the dawning of my good fortune, we ha_een almost inseparable companions,—I owed my success in society, everything, even my bride herself, to his management and tact,—and though I had now wo_or my life's partner the most beautiful of women, I could not contemplat_ven the temporary breaking of the association between myself and my gifte_nd brilliant comrade, without a keen pang of personal pain amid my nuptia_oys. Leaning his arms on the carriage-window, he looked in upon us both, smiling.
  • "My spirit will be with you both in all your journeyings!" he said. "And whe_ou return, I shall be one of the first to bid you welcome home. Your house- party is fixed for September, I believe?"
  • "Yes, and you will be the most eagerly desired guest of all invited!" _eplied heartily, pressing his hand.
  • "Fie, for shame!" he retorted laughingly. "Be not so disloyal of speech, Geoffrey! Are you not going to entertain the Prince, the most popular of men ?—and shall anyone be more 'eagerly desired' than he? No; I must play a humbl_hird or even fourth on your list where Royalty is concerned, — _my_rincedom is alas! not that of Wales,—and the throne I might claim (if I ha_nyone to help me, which I have not) is a long way removed from that o_ngland!"
  • Sibyl said nothing, but her eyes rested on his handsome face and fine figur_ith an odd wonder and wistfulness, and she was very pale.
  • "Good-bye, Lady Sibyl!" he added gently. "All joy be with you! To us who ar_eft behind, your absence will seem long,—but  _to you,_ —ah !—Love give_ings to time, and what would be to ordinary folks a month of mere dul_iving, will be for you nothing but a moment's rapture! Love is better tha_ealth,—you have found that out already I know !—but I think—and hope—that yo_re destined to make the knowledge more certain and complete! Think of m_ometimes! Au revoir!"
  • The horses started,—a handful of rice, flung by the society idiot who i_lways at weddings, rattled against the door and on the roof of the brougham, and Lucio stepped back, waving his hand. To the last we saw him, a tal_tately figure on the steps of Lord Elton's mansion, surrounded by an ultra- fashionable throng, … bridesmaids in bright attire and picturehats,—youn_irls all eager and excited-looking, each of them no doubt longing ferventl_or the day to come when they might severally manage to secure as rich _usband as myself, … match-making mothers and wicked old dowagers, exhibitin_riceless lace on their capacious bosoms, and ablaze with diamonds, … men wit_hite button-hole bouquets in their irreproachably fitting frock- coats,—servants in gay liveries, and the usual street-crowd of idle sight- seers,—all this cluster of faces, costumes and flowers was piled against th_rey background of the stone portico,—and in the midst, the dark beauty o_ucio's face and the luminance of his flashing eyes made him the conspicuou_bject and chief centre of attraction, … then … the carriage turned a shar_orner,— the faces vanished,—and Sibyl and I realized that from henceforwar_e were left alone,—alone to face the future and ourselves,—and to learn th_esson of love … or hate … for evermore together.