- CHAPTER XIX ECLIPSE
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IT must be confessed that Milly Trafford found herself considerably cramped for accommodation; the little ex-box-room, despite its fresh wallpaper and bright chintz, afforded no scope for a tall girl inclined to flinging her things about, accustomed to the spacious apartments of a country house, and fine airy quarters at the private school in Dresden. | | 184 As she blankly surveyed the limited space, she wondered how and where she was to bestow her voluminous wardrobe, and other belongings? This question was indeed a puzzle. Milly was sincerely fond of dress, and enjoyed an allowance of one hundred a year--this she expended lavishly-her outburst of extravagance was chiefly confined to hats. To tell the truth, the young lady had a passion for head-gear, and the mere sight of a smart milliner's window had almost the same attraction for Miss Trafford, as the swing doors of a gin palace for an habitual drunkard!
Tired with a long journey, which included a hideous crossing, she slept like an infant, and awoke with the twittering of sparrows immediately above her head. Gradually she became aware of a sensation of overwhelming happiness; yes, she was at home with her mother at last! The bare idea was so stimulating that she sprang out of bed, rang for her bath, and began to dress. As she sat arranging her masses of splendid brown hair, a cat washing its fur on the skylight paused deliberately in its toilet, and super-intended the performance with sympathetic and flattering interest.
Leaving a somewhat untidy room, Miss Trafford rushed downstairs in the confident expectation of finding her mother and breakfast. Amazing to relate, neither were to be seen; only an astonished housemaid who was sweeping the hall, and was evidently unaccustomed to such an early raid!
'Mrs. Trafford breakfasts in her room, and if Miss Trafford will go up to the drawing-room, her breakfast will be served in ten minutes--it was just half-past eight,' announced Ross, the imperturbable.
The drawing-room had not yet been dusted, there were ashes in the grate, a litter of cigarette ends in a tray, and a new novel lay on the floor. Milly strolled round the apartment with her hands locked behind her back, admiring the china, the pictures, | | 185 the large signed photos of conspicuous men and women, and all the dainty knick-knacks in the cabinets. What taste her mother had! Then she cast herself into a corner of the Chesterfield, opened the book, plunged into the middle of it, and commenced to read.
Milly for her age (nearly twenty) was a curiously innocent girl. Sixteen years of country life with her Irish grandmother had kept her mind pure. Old Mrs. Trafford was a widely read, cultivated woman, fond of literature, of gardening, of a joke--indeed, she was in her way a wit--and when younger had travelled and seen a good deal of life. She loved poor Freddy's girl, who was truly the child of her old age. In Milly, she recognized something of her own character; her warm-heartedness, her impetuosity, and a touch of Celtic temper, recalled a far-away youth. She allowed her granddaughter a free rein in many ways, but undesirable companions and bad books were kept sternly at a distance.
The private school at Dresden, the old lady had selected with anxious care shortly before her death, and here, Milly was taught to be an accomplished young woman, and here again she led the sheltered life.
The poisonous novel in her hand was in a way sealed to her. She thought it 'queer,' and one or two expressions puzzled her, and one or two made her face quite hot; 'it was not her mother's book,' she assured herself, 'Mrs. Wallingford had left it behind her,' and here was Ross announcing breakfast. The establishment in the light of an April morning, though beautifully furnished, had a limited baby-house air, which in the electric light, the gleam of mirrors and silken draperies, had not been so apparent; the note it struck then was luxury and cultivated taste, and now the note added, 'for the sole enjoyment of one inmate.'
At last, at ten o'clock, her mother summoned | | 186 Milly. Mrs. Trafford, who looked charming in white lace tea-jacket, was sitting up in bed, and on the pale satin counterpane were scattered many envelopes and open letters.
'Well, darling!' as the girl flung herself on her and kissed her rapturously. 'How did you sleep?'
'Oh, splendidly,' sitting on the bed. 'I feel like a young lioness!'
'That's right, for we have a great deal to do today. You see there is your Court gown to be fitted you are to be presented on Friday week--and there's not much time.'
'Presented! Oh, mummy dear, how delightful! I shall love it!' and she clapped her hands.
'You are not a bit nervous then? Some girls think it such an ordeal.'
'Oh no,' with a happy laugh, 'I shall enjoy it enormously. I am longing to see the King and Queen, and all the people one reads of in The World,--they took it at the Linden-strasse. I can make such nice curtseys,' and she slipped off the bed, and executed as graceful a révérence as it was possible to see; then rising, 'I am so happy to be at home with you, dear darling!' She took her mother's surprised hand and laid her exquisite lips upon it. 'That curtsey was to you. Oh, mummy, you do look beautiful--a queen'
'Mummy,' as she contemplated the animated graceful girl, was conscious of unaccustomed emotions; a curious pride, that this really lovely creature should be her flesh and blood, and resembling her so closely in appearance (but in character as the poles apart). Yes, she was actually experiencing a new sensation. As she held her daughter with a long penetrating gaze--she realized that she was face to face with her own youth, and saw herself as others once beheld her--a girl of twenty with her life before her! Milly had the same delicate nose and upper lip, the same long neck, and well-set-on proud little | | 187 head; her skin was flawless, with a faint pink tinge in her cheeks, and pencilled straight brows. The eyes--they were the jewels of her face--long-lashed, dark grey, and extraordinarily expressive; surely they were eyes that could melt or laugh or weep, and had a soul behind them. Now, Mrs. Trafford's own fine orbs were of a somewhat cold blue, that never had done anything but look keenly and continually after her individual interests.
'You see what a quantity of letters I have, dear child--stacks of them every morning--invitations. You will be a help and answer them, won't you?'
'Of course, dearest mum. I will do anything and everything for you!'
Mrs. Trafford, unconscious of any quickening impulse of maternal affection, gazed at her with an air of languid perplexity; this girl, with her longing, hungry expression, and her irritating demonstrative nature must be restrained! such overflowing affection was all very well during their scanty meetings. Then, she had suffered caresses for two wearisome days, but to have this stormy devotion living in the same house--no, it was not to be endured!
'We must go to Rookes' to see about your dress, to Woolland's for your veil and gloves and feathers, and remind me of your bouquet. I've ordered the electric brougham at eleven, and then we will start.' She saw in Milly's eyes that another embrace was imminent. 'No, darling, no,' drawing back, 'we love one another very much, you and I--no need for kissing. One kiss at night will be our allowance.'
Milly smiled and nodded, but when she retreated up to the box-room, there to unpack her best hat and frock, her feelings were just a little chilled; her warm affections had encountered their first repulse.
As Mrs. Vernon Trafford, an important customer--sauntered through Rookes' magnificent showrooms every eye was fixed upon the girl who followed her; | | 188 ladies who were merely idling and looking at the new models, ladies who were awaiting their pet fitters--and several of these belonged to Mrs. Trafford's own set--murmured among themselves, 'The daughter! How perfectly lovely!' and a third said, 'Now we can understand why she has never been produced before!' then with smiles as the topic approached, 'My dearest Valeria, I need not ask who this is?'
'No, my little girl. Lady Gaye, this is Milly. Mrs. Pontifex, let me introduce my daughter. We have come to see about her dress. I have an appointment in five minutes' time.'
'Oh, you are always so prévenant and punctual,' said Mrs. Pontifex; 'your first visit to London, Miss Trafford?'
'No, I've been up now and then for a few days but of course,' with a radiant smile,'that is different to coming to live here altogether.'
'I hope you will enjoy yourself, my dear.'
'Thank you very much, I am sure I shall.'
'Do look at poor Lady Lester--how thin she has become,' remarked Mrs. Trafford. 'Positively she is rattling inside her clothes!'
'Ah, yes--terribly gone off,' agreed Lady Gaye, with an emphatic gesture. 'You see Sir Clifford is--as we all know--conspicuously and crazily in love with Cissie Deloraine!'
'And poor Lola feels it frightfully-yes--yes--she's heart-broken.'
'Oh, I'm not so sure,' interposed another lady, who was standing by examining a piece of lace, 'I've an idea that she has a consoler. In fact, I happen to know that Mr. Goldmann has given her a perfectly lovely jewel,' and she surveyed her audience with an expression of grave significance.
'What! Àpropos of nothing?' exclaimed Lady Gaye, with a disagreeable laugh. 'How kind!'
'Ah, here is my fitter,' said Mrs. Trafford, 'au revoir. Come along, Milly darling.'| | 189
'Mother,' she whispered, as they moved forward, 'were those married people they spoke of?'
Valeria Trafford looked at the girl's startled eyes and blazing cheeks! Here, indeed, was yet another embarrassment! Milly was as ignorant of the seamy side as a week-old lamb!
'That is only just their way of talking, my dear. They were speaking in a joking way--you must not take them seriously. Now I wonder if you should have a chiffon--or a lace train?'
The fitter and one of the principals were much interested in this beautiful and totally unconscious débutante. All the items of her toilette were arranged and exhaustively discussed, without the slightest reference to the girl's own wishes, and Milly believed that she had some taste, and had expected to have a voice in the choice of her toilettes; but any such hope was soon dissipated: everything was to be exactly as her mother selected, and everything was guaranteed to be très distingué et très chic. A ball gown, a little dinner frock, and an afternoon costume, were in turn selected and ordered. It was one o'clock when the fitting and conference had come to an end. The dressmaker and one or two of the lady assistants stared after the girl, as she passed out. Possibly the beauty of the season? Well, there was some credit in making toilettes for such as her!
As mother and daughter drove off together, the former said--
'We may as well lunch at Searcy's to save time, and then the first thing you must get is a hat.'
'But won't this one do? I am so proud of it. It cost a hundred francs.'
'Oh no, my poor child; why, it's like a bewitched lamp shade, and too wild and bizarre for words! I saw people gazing at it at Rookes', and I must confess that I'm not surprised.'
This remark was met by a blank silence, and | | 190 foolish Milly, looking out of the carriage window, presently winked away two tears.
The hat shop was visited and two models were selected. Milly's impassioned entreaty for 'an angel of a black crinoline, with a wreath of roses' was dismissed with lifted brows. No, she was not allowed to have it, nor her own way in anything--even in the selection of her gloves!--and began to fear that her darling mum had forgotten that she was no longer a child!
That same evening, Mrs. Trafford entertained a little theatre dinner of eight, and Milly, in a simple white frock, her hair dressed by a French coiffeur, was introduced to several of her mother's intimates. Sir Lucas Wakefield, a debonnaire bachelor of fifty-five with a refined face and pince-nez, who cultivated sedate friendships with women; Lord Finglass, a stout officer in the Blues, afflicted with small black eyes and a shiny complexion; Lady Brunhilda and Mr. Sampson. Lady Brunhilda was an animated fair lady, who wore magnificent pearls, a scandalously low dress, and entertained political celebrities. Mr. Sampson, an enormously wealthy young man whose grandfather (it was whispered) had made a fortune under a disguised name as a notable money-lender. Then there were Lord and Lady Foxrock, he a poor peer, crippled with a barren estate and heavy death duties, she the gay and handsome widow of a great manufacturer.
Dinner was excellent--and short, as is the fashion--the wine and waiting left nothing to be desired. It was a delightful novelty to Milly, who looked, listened, and would gladly have talked; but most of the conversation was beyond her reach--health cures, a new play, a new palmist, the odds on races, and certain Stock Exchange rumours, were the topics brought forward and discussed. The guests had naturally expected the daughter of Valeria Trafford to be good-looking, but this girl's appearance gave | | 191 them the unusual sensation of a surprise. What a brilliant animated face--truly, a radiant beauty--and she possessed an even greater charm, a freshness, an innocence, the indescribable aura of happiness so rare to meet! As two of the men subsequently agreed, 'She was bound to give them all the knock--Mrs. Trafford was safe to enter her for some big matrimonial stake--yes, and bring it off too!'
Milly was seated next to Lord Finglass, a silent, heavy man, accustomed to be flattered and entertained; he was considerably piqued to find that this good-looking girl made no effort to amuse him--actually no attempt to address him beyond a request for the salted almonds! She confined her conversation to Mr. Sampson, a more agreeable neighbour, who told her about the play they were to see that evening, and various other plays then running, related amusing anecdotes, inquired if she were going to Sandown? suggested winners and offered her the box-seat on his drag for the Meet of the Coaching Club. His wife, he assured her, was terribly nervous, and would only be too thankful to yield her place to another.
At the Haymarket theatre, many eyes were fixed on Mrs. Trafford's party, and when the play was over, and they all adjourned to supper at the Carlton, many heads were turned as they entered; people at other tables whispered and stared; later, as Mrs. and Miss Trafford passed through the Palm Court to their electric brougham, a personage of importance accosted the former with bland smiles, and requested her to present him to her daughter! This was the beginning of Milly's triumphs, and the close of her mother's long day. To Mrs. Trafford no words could express the bitterness of her feelings; to stand aside and witness the attentions and homage she once received as her due, now showered upon her companion with lavish display--and Milly accepted her triumphs so simply! She did not appear to realize | | 192 that she was what is called 'the rage,' that long and vainly coveted invitations now came pouring into the letter box at Queen Street, that it was the fashion to secure (if possible) the presence of 'the beautiful Miss Trafford' at smart functions, where she was as much an attraction as a bare-footed dancer, or the most costly vocalist. Her mother, however, weeded these cards with a discriminating hand, determined that the star of a season should not make herself vulgarly cheap!
At the opera, at Ranelagh, or in the Park, the admiring glances so long Mrs. Trafford's due, were now directed to her companion; she was compelled to walk beside her, a social martyr, suffering all the tortures of wounded vanity, yet forced to wear a delighted expression of maternal complacency. Until now, the miserable woman had never realized her own insatiable greed for admiration. For years it had been a nonchalantly accepted right, and behold this joy--this, the very salt of her life--was carelessly snatched from her by--her own child! Congratulations were forced on her by men and women. Lord Bynx, glancing from mother to daughter, had aptly quoted--
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
Mrs. Trafford's coldness, her strength of will, and her insistence on ruling her daughter's tastes, choosing her friends and keeping her in painfully tight | | 193 leading strings, gradually had their effect. By slow degrees, the cold truth dawned on the poor girl. Her mother did not love her--no, nor even dear old Phil. Mummy so rarely wrote to him, and one of his letters had lain unopened for three whole days! Her mother's despotism was serene, suspicious and extreme; she tolerated no chattering young friends. Milly might not accept invitations to little informal luncheons, or summon another girl up to the box-room to have a nice comfortable talk--such as all young women enjoy. No, there were notes to write, flowers to arrange, sewing, practising, shopping, then the park, luncheon, calls, At Homes, dinners, concerts, and dances. It was one incessant whirling round that left her giddy! feeling that she had no individuality, no mind of her own, and was simply a mere bundle of animated chiffons!
As the season waned, it was whispered that poor dear Valeria Trafford was positively in despair! Her girl could--and she would--have married brilliantly; but she steadily refused more than one excellent offer. Her suitors were invariably too old or too young, or too something; she declared herself deeply honoured, but preferred to remain Milly Trafford.
Early in August, the mother and daughter departed to make a round of visits in Scotland; Milly was a born country girl, with country tastes, capital at games, at gardening, and a sound authority on the ailments of indoor pets; bright, spontaneous, easily amused, and not the least conceited or self-conscious--she proved an exceedingly popular guest.
From time to time she wrote long letters to Phil, and sent him papers that had published her picture, with flattering descriptions of herself, her triumphs, and her dress--which papers her brother somewhat shyly exhibited to Scruby and Miss Hampton.
At one of the country houses, she made acquaintance with another girl, a certain Miss Moffatt. They walked with the guns, exchanged the mysteries of | | 194 new stitches and card games, sat in one another's rooms, and talked; simple Milly soon gathered, that other young women enjoyed far more freedom than fell to her share; they chose their clothes, cultivated their own particular friends, and went to tea or lunch at one another's houses without let or hindrance.
'Your mother keeps you pretty strictly,' remarked Miss Moffatt; 'she is not used to girls, I fancy; and is in the bridge and racing set with people of her own age. By the way, every one knows that Lord Bynx is wild about you! Why on earth don't you marry him?'
'He is so old--he must be over fifty,' objected Milly.
'But so rich, and so well preserved. They say he is immensely clever; he has a lovely place in Oxfordshire.'
'Yes, but he breathes through his nose and is frightfully greedy,' objected the beauty. 'No, I really could not marry him.'
'Then there is Captain Digby--good-looking, and amusing.'
'Yes, I rather liked him--till--'
'I saw him one night we were having supper at the Savoy. He looked so red in the face, his eyes were so glassy--and he had a most appalling young woman with him.'
'Oh, my dear, we girls are never supposed to see those sort of things.'
'But I 'm afraid I must always see what is under my nose.'
'Then what are you going to do, if you will not accept any of these eligibles? Of course, your mother is most frightfully disappointed.'
'Yes, I'm afraid she is, and I'm sorry; but you see it's my life, and to have to spend all the rest of my days with some one I simply couldn't endure--think of it? I'd really sooner be dead!'
On the other hand, Mrs. Trafford poured her bitter | | 195 lamentations into the ear of her neighbour, Mrs. Wallingford, who secretly sympathized with the girl.
'Oh, my dear Lally,' she said,' I don't know how I am to go on with this, and get through the winter and another season. My heart really sinks. If you only knew how Milly tries me; she is so impetuous, reckless and foolish. Now she has taken up with Lady Lamb, and is always running to her; and she is so extravagant and untidy and careless--in my little house it drives the servants wild, her gloves and veils and hatpins all over the place, and she has struck up a wonderful friendship with those two stupid Moffatt girls.'
'Well, they are warranted harmless and respectable!'
'Come, Lally, now what do you honestly think of Milly?'
'I think, what I've always thought, that she is a beautiful, good young creature, full of energy and high spirits, longing to have her little fling and set herself going! You keep her so tightly bitted, and she only meets elderly people, and eligibles.'
'Eligibles that she won't look at! Why, she was positively rude to Lord Goldpinch.'
'Then she treated herself to a luxury I wish I dared enjoy. I cannot endure him or his manners. The child is getting just a little bit spoiled, a little slangy, she smokes too many cigarettes, and is at last realizing the power of her beauty. She is past twenty now. I think she was a little bit hurt, that you did not remember her birthday. Do you know that she cried about it to me?'
'Silly little idiot! She will be only too glad some day to forget--as I do--that she has a birthday at all!'
This conversation took place late in October shortly after Mrs. Trafford had returned to town, and taken her house out of curl papers, and was pre- | | 196 paring to enjoy the autumn season, when most people are at home, and socially inclined.
Invitations to a grand ball at the Hotel Ritz had been issued by a wealthy American lady, and Mrs. Trafford exerted herself to an unusual degree in the selection of her toilette for the occasion. She really was looking her best, she said to herself, as she surveyed her reflection (a dazzling vision in amethyst draperies) in a cheval glass.
The ball proved as delightful as had been anticipated. Everything that money and taste could contrive had been accomplished; the wonderfully decorated rooms were crowded, and Milly was, as usual, beset by clamouring partners. Mrs. Trafford too had received a cordial welcome from many of her intimates, and anxious inquiries as to how and where she had spent the autumn? Indeed, so propitious was the occasion, so empressé; her reception, that she felt herself re-established in her original position, and among her particular circle once more supreme! She went in to supper with Colonel Granville, A.D.C. to the King, and one of her attachés--a distinguished officer with numerous decorations and a pair of handsome sleepy eyes. They found themselves at the same table with Lord Scarcliff (one of Mrs. Trafford's adherents), Lady Foxrock, and a young couple of her acquaintance. Here she took the lead in conversation, and absorbed the exclusive attention of the party. She was gay and amusing and really did look magnificent--it seemed just like old times (that is to say, dating back about six months).
Presently another pair came to the table; these proved to be Milly and a Guardsman--both slightly breathless from a long supper dance. Immediately there was a move, a little stir, as the girl took her place, and nodded to her mother and Lady Foxrock. Mrs. Trafford's animation faded; she became instantly conscious that a cloud had intervened between her and the sun! No, unfortunately it was not | | 197 imagination; it was the world's instinctive homage to beauty. Lord Scarcliff leant across and eagerly reminded Miss Trafford of his waltz--the next but one; Lady Foxrock beamed and said, 'Milly, my dear, I am counting on you to lead the Cotillon at my boy and girl dance on the 10th--no chaperones!' and she shook her head at Milly's mother.
Each member of the party seemed anxious to claim the young lady's attention, and how she chattered, and how really brilliant she looked! not the least heated or ruffled--not a hair out of place. Milly had the happy knack of personal neatness--although her room was perfectly disgraceful! Yes, in her chiffon and silver frock, with her white teeth shining between her laughing red lips, long lashes sweeping her delicate cheek, she eclipsed every one in the room. Her mother was painfully conscious of this, and that her own trusty cavalier now accorded her but divided attention. He, Lord Scarcliff and the Guardsman, were devoting themselves exclusively to Milly, and she herself had actually made two important remarks and received no reply--her voice being drowned in an animated discussion over her daughter's programme. Such defection was bitter indeed! She felt neglected and ignored, oh, it was an intolerable experience! Draining her glass of champagne, Mrs Trafford threw herself back in her chair, and abandoned further effort. Her face suddenly became aged, white and rigid, as she realized that at last the sceptre had passed from her hand!
Sir Lucas Wakefield, meeting from a distance her restless, miserable eyes, came up and claimed her, as the supper party scattered. Had Sir Lucas the spirit of divination? or was it purely by accident that on that evening, in a dim, sequestered seat, he put his fate to the touch for the third time?
Next morning Mrs. Wallingford was astonished by an early visit from her neighbour; something | | 198 important, some powerful influence must have dragged her out of bed before ten o'clock in the day!
'Lally, I've something to consult you about,' Mrs. Trafford began. 'Sir Lucas Wakefield was at the ball last night. You know we are old friends. I think he sees that I am not very happy about things, and he has asked me to marry him--it's not the first time. I said I'd consider it--what do you think?'
'Well, he is a presentable man--and suitable--and has a good fortune,' replied her friend, after a weighty silence.
'But he is only a K.C.B.!'
'Never mind; you will be Lady Wakefield, and it sounds important--but what about Milly?'
'He likes her, admires her, is, in fact, raving about her, and says he will be more than a second father and take her about, and be so proud of her.'
'Um--yes,' Mrs. Wallingford's acquiescence sounded doubtful.
'I do not intend to give up my own home. Sir Lucas has no house--nothing but a flat in Whitehall Mansions.'
'And next-door there is not room for three,' observed her neighbour, nodding her head sagaciously.
'No, even two are a tight fit! I shall have to turn the lounge downstairs into a dressing-room.'
'Then I suppose you have some plan?'
'Yes. I could not sleep, my brain was so active, and I got up early to come in and consult with you. You see Milly is terribly wild and intractable--she will not marry. There is not the slightest use in trying to force her; unless she meets some one she falls in love with, she will be an old maid. She and Philip are tremendously fond of one another--and'-her tone became distinctly apologetic as she added--'I was thinking of letting her go out to him for awhile.'| | 199
'But, my dear, isn't he in the jungle?' inquired her friend, with a startled expression.
'Oh no; Chandi is not a big place, but there are other people. They seem to be nice, friendly, simple folk. This morning I threw out a hint, and Milly simply flung herself on the idea--you know her way! Now what do you say?'
'That three is trumpery, two is company! As you cannot get the girl married, you are going to get married yourself. Valeria, I believe you are wise; Milly will never settle down a tame little creature to be sold in the marriage market. She is not a girl to fall in love yet--not susceptible--but when she does, it will be an unexpected sort of choice, and--believe me--she will go in headlong!'
'Yes, just as she bursts into a room, or a friendship,' added her mother sourly.
'It has seemed to me that the present life is a severe strain on you both: though you do keep up appearances so charmingly. Yes--send the girl off to India with a nice little outfit, a saddle and some pretty frocks--she may meet her ideal, and pick up some one out there.'
'She may! Who knows--some nobody--a planter or a penniless subaltern, and the girl positively did refuse Lord Bynx. Sir Lucas wants the wedding to be very quiet and to go South before Christmas--on account of his bronchitis.'
'I see; and this, of course, is the Indian cold weather--you could not possibly send the child there in the hot season. If she does not embark before January, she must wait till this time next year. So'--with one of her knowing looks--' I imagine she will start without unnecessary delay!'
'You are right, Lally,' declared Mrs. Trafford, rising as she spoke. 'You always do take in details so thoroughly. I'll dispatch my answer to Sir Lucas by a messenger boy, and I'll speak to Milly immediately. The trousseau and outfit can be set | | 200 in hand at the same time, and I'll order them together.'
'Two birds with one stone!' exclaimed Mrs. Wallingford. 'Well, good luck to you both!'
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