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He had not wasted them much on building bridges or hollowing tunnels out of the too solid earth;' he left such enduring monuments to scientific theorists, and applied the great powers of his mind-he called them without the faintest consciousness of selfsatire its grasp '-to contracts; mostly in connection with coal. He took the same practical view of matrimony, which poor Lady Orr had never guessed, and for her part had wedded her second husband for love. It was unintelligible to her that a man of so much wealth should pant for more; but he did so to his last breath. If he could have carried all his money (and hers) away with him— 'to melt,' or 'to begin the next world with'-he would have done it and left her penniless. As it was, he died suddenly-killed by a fall from his horse below her very windows-and intestate. Even when his scarce breathing body was lying in an upstair chamber, and she tending it with all wifely solicitude, she could not stifle a sense of coming enfranchisement after twenty-five years of slavery, or the consciousness that her Sir Robert had been the better man of the two.
A woman of experience at least, if not of wisdom, was the present mistress of Beckett House; with strong passions, but with a not ungenerous heart; outspoken from the knowledge of her 'great possessions,' perhaps, as much as from natural frankness; a warm friend and not a very bitter enemy; and at the bottom of it all with a certain simplicity of character, of which her love for flowers was an example. She had loved them as Kitty Conway, the country doctor's daughter, when violets instead of camellias had been her only wear,' sweet-peas and wallflowers the choicest ornaments of her little garden, and Park Lane to her unsophisticated mind like other lanes. Fat, fair, and forty,' she was wont to call herself at the date this story opens, and it was the truth; but not the whole truth. Fat she was and fair she was, but she was within a few years of fifty. Of course she was admirably preserved; as the kings of old took infinite pains that their bodies after death should not decay, so women do their best for themselves in that way while still in the flesh; and Mrs. Beckett was as youthful as art and care could make her. In shadow and with the light behind her, persons of the other sex might have set her down as even less mature than she described herself to be. There would have been at least ten years' difference between their 'quotations'-as poor Sir Robert would have called them-and that of her tiring maid.
Five years she had had of gilded ease and freedom, since
drunken, greedy, hard John Beckett had occupied his marble hall in Kensal Green-Sir Robert had a similar edifice of his own in Highgate cemetery, for she had too much good taste to mix their dust and on the whole she had enjoyed them. Far too well favoured by fortune, however, not to have her detractors, she was whispered by some to be by no means averse to a third experiment in matrimony. "There swam no goose so gray,' they were wont to quote, and There was luck in odd numbers.' Gossips will say anything, and men delight in jokes against the fair sex. There is one about matrimony which was applied to the present case. A student of human nature once inquired of his grandmother (ætat. 80) at what age females ceased to experience the tender passion. My dear boy,' she answered, rather tartly, you must ask somebody much older than I am.' There was even a rumour, not old enough to be a legend, that Mrs. Beckett had once sounded her confidential man of business, Mr. Rennie, upon this subject. As you consult me as a friend,' he said-by which he meant gratuitously—my opinion, my dear madam, is not worth much; but as to the remarriage of widows-in cases where they have 30,000l. a year at their own disposal-I think it risky.'
Mrs. Beckett sighed, for she remembered that even when she was but twenty she had been married for her money. Still every man was not like John Beckett; and how nice Sir Robert must have been when he was young.
On the day on which our story opens, the widow was sitting in her drawing-room with a novel in her hand, on which, however, she was not bestowing that close regard, I do not say which such an agreeable description of literature has a right to expect, but even the commonest attention; her glance wandered with ill-concealed impatience over the top of her book to the gorgeous timepiece on the mantelpiece, the hands of which were travelling over gold and china towards two o'clock.
Suddenly her fair face flushed crimson; her eyes had met with another pair bound on the same identical errand; Miss Marvon, her young friend and companion,' was also watching the clock.
'Do you want your lunch, Mary?' inquired the lady of the house, with a very good imitation of a yawn.
Not at all, thank you, Mrs. Beckett,' was the quiet reply, delivered in the gentlest and sweetest of tones. It was not her dependent position that gave honey to her speech; it was natural to Mary Marvon to be sweet and gentle to everybody, but espe
cially to those who were kind to her; and Mrs. Beckett had been very kind. The jewels on the girl's shapely wrist, the lace about her dainty neck, the very dress which fitted her slight but graceful figure with such completeness, were all Mrs. Beckett's gifts. Nay, in her dark brown hair blushed a scarlet flower, which Mrs. Beckett in her characteristic admiration for it, had placed there with her own hands that morning as being the fittest setting for such a floral jewel. If anything were wanting to show how smooth and even was the social ground on which the two women stood, notwithstanding the conventional relation between them, it was found in the next words that Mrs. Beckett spoke. As a rule ladies do not think it worth while to excuse themselves to their hired companions for this or that, whereas our widow paid hers the compliment of telling a 'tarradiddle' or white lie, in order to explain her recent interest in the timepiece.
'I was thinking,' she said, 'what a want of originality and sense of appropriateness there must be in clockmakers, since they all represent the progress of Time by hands, as if he was an acrobat. If legs were too unpoetical or indelicate, they might at least use wings.'
'It is only with the exceptionally fortunate, however,' returned Mary, smiling, 'that Time moves on wings.'
I doubt whether people are always the happier for that,' observed Mrs. Beckett.
'Perhaps not,' assented Mary. I should think those lives are the most enviable which are passed smoothly and equably, but not at eagle speed.'
'That was not quite what I had in my mind,' returned the widow, rising and looking thoughtfully through the open window. 'I was thinking that when Time seems to drag, because of our expectations, it is often better for us that it should drag on, and that they should remain without fulfilment. The secret of happiness in this world '-those three last words were mere garnish, and suited with her voice and manner no better than a flower made of a carrot or a turnip with some delicate entrée-'is not to expect, but to make the best of what we have- Was not that the
front door bell?'
The last observation was by no means uttered in the same philosophic tone as the rest, and a faint red suffused the widow's cheeks. The colour too came into Mary Marvon's face, which was, however, averted from her patroness, as she answered 'I think so." Then they remained silent. If they were listening for a step
upon the stair they must have been very sanguine, or else in possession of the gifts of Fine Ear in the fairy tale; for three-pile carpets are not good conductors of sound. If they could have seen what was going on below stairs they would have seen this: a young man of four-and-twenty or so, bright-eyed and freshcomplexioned, but with that subdued air which betokens dry humour rather than that of the sparkling kind, had been admitted by the hall porter, and introduced by the good offices of two tall footmen to the butler, Harris. This personage preceded him up the staircase with much solemnity, but on the landing paused, perceiving that the visitor was not following him.
All right, my man,' said a cheerful voice from below, 'I will be with you at the finish, but I really cannot go your pace.'
Then he came up three steps at a bound, just in time to be announced at the drawing-room door as Mr. Sotheran.'
'Oh, it's you, is it, Charley?' observed the widow in a tone of undisguised disappointment. Were you
'Well, yes, in default of a better it's poor me.
expecting an hereditary prince or what?'
'Lunch!' said Mrs. Beckett, sharply.
Whether this was a reply to his question or an order to Harris seemed doubtful; but the butler took it in the latter
'It is served,' he said, 'me lady.'
The title he used seemed out of place; but the fact was, though Mrs. Beckett had voluntarily descended in the social scale, her servants had objected to that arrangement. The old ones had been permitted after her second marriage to address her by the old phrase, which they pretended they could not forget, while the new ones adopted it readily enough as giving importance to their office. Mrs. Beckett had made certain efforts to put a stop to it and with this very man-Remember I am not "my lady," Harris.'
'Very good, me lady—I mean maʼam-but having always been with persons of title, if you will please to remember, it is difficult, in your ladyship's presence too' (Harris was astute and would have made an excellent ambassador, except perhaps to the United States), not to say "me lady."'
And I think Mrs. Beckett rather liked a practice which reminded the world how much she had given up and from the noblest motives.
A FRIEND OF THE HOUSE.
It was hard upon 'Charley' that his hostess had made it manifest she would have preferred to welcome somebody else; but what he felt much more was, that Miss Marvon also received him with a similar lack of enthusiasm.
"You are early to-day,' she said, not indeed without a pleasant smile, but that belonged to her and could no more be dispensed with than the Austrian lip or the Caucasian nose by their hereditary wearers: 'I am afraid you are defrauding the revenue.'
'And the tax-payers,' added Mrs. Beckett, which is me.'
'And this it is to be in a government office!' exclaimed the young fellow, clasping his hands despairingly; 'to rise-but only by ten pounds a year-with the lark, to work like a horse at a mill-wheel, and if one shares a half-holiday with the poorest, and gets away from one's house of toil upon a Saturday
'Come, take Mary's arm, sir,' interrupted the widow, and lead her downstairs- No, my dear' (for Mary had modestly drawn. back)-'I will not inflict myself upon him, and he hasn't the strength for it. The duties of the young gentlemen in the Probate Office are too overwhelming.'
'No one can say we have not the Will,' he began imploringly.
Be quiet, sir; you learn nothing but jokes there: Mary, I
Charley drew the young lady's arm within his own, and with a murmur, 'How cruel she is to me!' led the way to the dining
From the above it may be gathered that, though she had behaved to him so scornfully, Mr. Charles Sotheran was by no means looked on with disfavour by the lady of the house; and indeed she treated none of his sex with such familiarity. His mother was a clergyman's widow who had been her school friend, and to whom she was still the Kitty' of thirty years ago. She had promised her, when the boy came up to town, that Beckett House should be a home to him, and he came in and out of it, as he himself expressed it, like a cat for whom a hole has been cut in the door. It was pleasant to see the expression of the widow's eyes as she followed the pair downstairs; a woman would have translated it at once. 'I intend these two young people to be one, and a very pretty pair they'll make.'