Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1861–1889
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889
 
Patrician Amenities
By Joseph A. Nimes
 
[Aristocracy. A Novel. 1888.]

“OH, you only talk like that because you’re an American. If you were an Englishman, you’d hunt, never fear.”
  1
  “Perhaps I couldn’t afford to have any horses of my own.”  2
  Lady Oaktorrington and Lord Beyndour catch all but the first word of this speech, and exchange glances. Lady Henry sees an opportunity to find out something she has been anxious to know before wasting any ammunition upon Allen, for she has mentally selected him for a victim, should events recommend and justify it in her estimation.  3
  “What bosh!” she exclaims. “All you Americans are so awfully rich. Aren’t you?”  4
  Lady Oaktorrington pays no heed to something the duke is saying to her, but sits breathless awaiting Allen’s reply:  5
  “I—I—really—I can’t answer for all my countrymen. Some of them are very wealthy, I dare say. Vanderbilt, for instance, and Jay Gould and Gordon Bennett and Mackay. But they are only four.”  6
  “Oh, come, you know you yourself are said to be enormously rich?”  7
  “Am I? People talk without book sometimes.”  8
  Lady Henry grows desperate.  9
  “Well, aren’t you?”  10
  “What? said to be enormously rich? I don’t know. You say so.”  11
  “Oh, no; you know quite well what I mean. Aren’t you awfully rich?”  12
  Allen winces and reddens, at the point-blank question, and his disgust at the grossness of its personal character is doubled as he becomes vaguely conscious that everybody is silently listening for his answer.  13
  “You must pardon my declining to answer,” he says, stiffly. “There is nothing I detest more than discussing myself at any time, and especially for the edification of a whole dinner-table.”  14
  “By Jove! if he hasn’t shuffled out of it. I thought he would,” mutters Lord Beyndour to himself but loud enough for his neighbors to hear. “He’s afraid to lie before so many people, of course. I say mother! Freddy ought to feel proud of himself, don’t you think?”  15
  The marchioness, who hasn’t this time caught Allen’s answer, owing to an inopportune remark from the duke, replies by a puzzled, questioning look, whereat Lord Beyndour shuffles his feet under the table in a temper, and says:  16
  “By Jove, she can’t think of anything but Harborough.”  17
  “I’m not going to have such an answer as that,” Lady Henry says, with a little laugh, fearful of having gone too far in her rudeness to a man whose evasive reply to her questions she is woman enough of the world to know is better proof of his riches than if he openly declared the fact to her. She must try and make up for it, she thinks, and for the first time it dawns upon her that Allen is “awfully good-looking.” Not that that fact would have had much weight with her had she not now felt morally convinced of his wealth. She throws into her eyes all the suggestive power that can come from half-closed lids veiling upward-turned pupils, and says in a soft, cooing voice, that dozens of men have known to their cost:  18
  “You must tell me some other time soon, all to myself. Promise me, won’t you? I shan’t tell any one. I never tell any one anything—not even my husband,” and she opens her eyes for one second and shoots a glance full of meaning at Allen. He is not the man to misunderstand her. No man knows woman and her ways better than he. He is conscious of a slight quickening of his heart-beats, and sense of sudden heat in his temples as she speaks, for she is really, by candle-light, a very pretty woman.  19
  “You will tell me?” she persists.  20
  “Certainly I will,” he answers in a low voice. “But it must be under the condition you mention; you must be alone. And”——He looks up and catches Lady Edith’s eye. She is looking at him with her great big soft gray eyes full of wonder and reproach. He colors and stops short.  21
  “And—what? what else? Oh, I’m afraid you’re wasting your time if that is your game. She’s engaged to be married.”  22
  “Yes? And to whom?”  23
  “To the man she’s sitting next and with whom she came in to dinner—Jack Bouverie”—this in a whisper, for Lord Bouverie’s ears are wide open.  24
  “I should hardly have fancied he filled her ideal.”  25
  “Girls in these days are not allowed such inconvenient impediments to matrimony as ideals, my dear. We find our ideals after marriage, not before. Some of us find them and some don’t. I’m still looking for mine,” and the old look comes into her eyes. “Perhaps I shall find it sooner than I thought.”  26
  “And do you mean to say, she is really engaged to that young man? Are you sure? It has not been formally announced?”  27
  “No, not yet. But they have been engaged for more than a year, I know. Lady Oaktorrington told me. There! will that satisfy you? But you mustn’t breathe a word of it to any one, for it is a secret yet. But there. How tiresome! Lady Oaktorrington is putting on her gloves. You won’t stay long, promise me—and,” in a low whisper, “come to me directly you can. I’ve got something I particularly want to say to you.”  28
 
  When the ladies retire, Allen is left to the tender mercies of Lord Bouverie, in whose demeanor to him he notices a marked change. The old warmth of manner and glaringly apparent desire to ingratiate himself with the rich stranger by overdone attentions and forced interest-takings have vanished, and in their place he finds cold and distant civility. After a few interchanges of words of the most commonplace character, during which Lord Bouverie gives indisputable evidence of a wish to listen to, if not join in, the talk of the others, Allen lets the conversation drop, and sits silent and alone among his own conflicting thoughts. No one utters a word to him, no one takes heed of his presence, and the only part he takes in the assembly is to mechanically pass on the decanters as they come his way in their periodical circuits of the table.  29
  “I say Monty; heard anything of Bazzy, lately?” asks Lord Beyndour.  30
  “Who? Bazzy Paget?”  31
  “Um.”  32
  “No, only that he’s gone to the dogs, neck and crop.”  33
  “The devil! you don’t mean it?”  34
  “I do mean it, though. He’s been tumbling downhill fast enough the last two years for anybody to expect it, I should think…. He said he was thinking seriously of going out to America”——  35
  “Fancy Bazzy Paget on a cattle-ranch!” laughs Lord Beyndour, whose sole ideas of America are associated with his brother Freddy.  36
  “Cattle-ranch? No fear, my dear boy. Cattle-ranching wasn’t his little game. He thought he’d go over and pick up a Yankee heiress, with a million’s worth of plating over her twang.”  37
  Allen turns crimson, and the veins in his temples stand out like knotted whipcord with suppressed anger as he sees Lord Beyndour look over at him and laugh to himself. Jack Bouverie and Bertie exchange winks, and cough pointedly at each other.  38
  “Oh, for one—just one—of the boys, Al Freeman, Joe Spaulding, Ed Billings, or any one of them, to back me and see fair play, and I’d tackle the whole lot of them, duke and all!” groans Allen, helping himself to some grapes to appear indifferent. “Why, oh, why, did I ever come among them? Why, indeed?” and his thoughts flow into a different channel.  39
  “Poor chap,” says the duke. “Fancy being driven to that extremity.”  40
  “By-the-bye, talking of Yankee heiresses, have you seen Haskell’s wife?”  41
  “No, I haven’t. Have you?”  42
  “Yes, I have. I met her”——  43
  “Stop a bit,” interrupts the duke. “Is that the girl from ’Frisco? If so, I can tell you something about her. But go on, Vereker, I’ll wait.”  44
  “I met her and Sir George staying at the Charterises up in Yorkshire last winter. I believe she’s got two millions and a small foot, but there it stops.”  45
  “Oh, I say now,” shouts the duke, “draw it mild, Vereker. I happen to have seen her myself, and she’s deuced pretty.”  46
  “Tastes differ. She said ‘yes sur’ to me when I spoke to her first, but when we got ‘bettur ’quainted’ as she called it, her favorite forms of acquiescence in any of my observations were ‘that’s so,’ ‘you bet you,’ and ‘I should remark.’ I stopped counting the ‘guesses’ after the first ten minutes.”  47
  “Oh, come now,” exclaims the duke. “That’s too large an order. I’ve met loads of Americans myself, and though I should be deuced sorry to be so hard put as to have to take one to wife, they don’t talk like that. Give the devils their due.”  48
  “That’s just what I am doing. I’m telling you exactly the sort of woman Haskell’s Yankee wife is. They call her ‘the mustang’ up in Yorkshire.”  49
  “And more shame for them, is all I can say!” exclaims Allen, quickly, unable longer to restrain his tongue. “I don’t know what you may think about it yourselves, but to a foreigner like myself, such a remark applied to a lady is simply atrocious. English chivalry must, indeed, have gone to the dogs—if it ever existed, which I begin to doubt—when it can permit any man, I won’t say gentleman—to call a lady ‘a mustang.’”  50
  The men look from one to the other thoroughly taken aback, for a minute. Then Lord Beyndour sneers and tries to laugh, while Lord Bouverie wakes up from a doze, and asks:  51
  “What’s the row? Um. Eh?”  52
  The duke is about to say something disagreeable, from the look in his eye, when Vereker, with a very pale face, thinks discretion the better part of valor, and says, with a pacificatory smile to Allen:  53
  “What harm? I don’t in the least know what a mustang is. I had a sort of idea it meant a fairy, or”——  54
  “Oh, ho—ho—ho! Ha—ha—ha!” shouts Lord Beyndour in an explosion of laughter. “That’s too good. A fairy! oh, ho—ho—ho!”  55
  “Or a foreign princess, or something of that sort,” proceeds Vereker, as soon as he can make himself heard. “I thought it was something complimentary, at all events.”  56
  “Fancy sucking up to him like that!” says Lord Beyndour to the duke. “He needs a devilish good snubbing for his impertinence.”  57
  “I’ll give him one presently,” the duke answers. “Just wait.”  58
  “I’ll tell you what a mustang is,” Allen says, “and you’ll see how complimentary it is. It’s a half-bred Mexican horse, half-broken, half-wild.”  59
  “It may not be complimentary,” says the duke, “but I call it damned appropriate.”  60
  Allen rises quickly from his seat.  61
  “I have assumed that I was addressing myself to gentlemen,” he says, hoarsely. “Am I to understand that I have been wrong? I happen to have the honor of knowing the lady, and were it not so, she is a countrywoman of my own. As she is a friend, a countrywoman, and a woman, may I ask you to refrain from further comment upon her in my presence?”  62
  “Certainly—of course—we didn’t know,” explains Vereker, who is a man of some knowledge of the world outside the radius of English aristocratic society. “Pray sit down.”  63
  “Perhaps you’ll allow me to speak, Vereker,” scowls the duke; “our answer to you is this: Mr.— what’s his name?” aside to Lord Beyndour.  64
  “I’m blessed if I know,” Lord Beyndour answers with a grin.  65
  “Well, then, our answer to you, sir, is this: We propose to talk upon any subject we see fit, without any dictation from you. If you do not like it you can”——  66
  “Retire. Which I most assuredly shall do.” And Allen leaves the table and walks out of the room, without a voice or hand to stay him.  67
  “Beastly cad!” exclaims Lord Beyndour, as soon as the door is shut. “It serves mother right for asking him here.”  68
  “Who is he?” asks the duke.  69
  “A Yankee friend of Freddy’s he picked up on his journey home.”  70
  “It’s deuced lucky the servants had left the room,” remarks Lord Bouverie. “Um? Eh?”  71
 
 
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