- CHAPTER XII LADY ESTHER'S SUCCESS
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LADY ESTHER'S SUCCESS
LET it not be supposed that Lord Westerham succumbed without a struggle to Beryl Delaney's charms. For a time his loyalty to Esther held him back, and made him feel that the undoubted attraction which Beryl exercised for him was tinged with a shade of something dishonourable. But he was no saint, as Esther was; he was just an ordinary young man, with an ordinary young man's eye for beauty: and what Beryl did not know about the art of attracting men was not worth the knowing. Doubtless it would have been more in keeping with his rôle of devout lover had he kept faithful to his cousin Esther: but, on the other hand, let it be remembered, in extenuation of Lord Westerham's adaptability to circumstances, that Romeo—that accepted prince among lovers—was caught by Juliet's charms when on the rebound from Rosaline.
And what strengthened tenfold Beryl's fascination for Westerham was the fact that she appealed to that side of him which Esther had never touched. She awakened in him feelings which his love for Esther had left dormant, and which consequently had gained strength—when they were at last awakened—by their enforced repose. Had Beryl been eligible to occupy that niche in his heart which Esther filled, he would have steeled himself against her approach, and would
160have regarded that very eligibility as an attack upon Esther's stronghold. But to object to one woman's playing in the pleasure-garden because another woman is praying in the oratory, seems an absurd precaution against any infringement of the law of trespass: there appears no possibility of the one's interfering with the other, as their centres of action are so far apart: and therefore it happened that Esther's throne was already tottering before Westerham had any idea that Beryl was within half a mile of the throne-room.
Being a man, he talked to Beryl about the things nearest to his heart, as he had talked to Esther: and being a man he had no idea that Beryl did not understand one tithe of what he was saying and would not have been in the least interested even if she had under-stood. She listened to his words so prettily that none but a cynic—and hardly a male cynic at that—would have imagined that all the time she was planning in her head the elegant costumes that she would wear when she was Countess of Westerham.
"You must have been awfully pleased when you found you had come into all this," she said to him, waving her hand to indicate the vastness of his possessions.
"I was for some things—but not altogether for others."
Although Beryl was incapable of feeling interest in other people's affairs, she was by no means incapable of experiencing curiosity, and she was faintly curious now. "What sort of things made you not pleased, Lord Westerham?"
"Well, of course I was dreadfully sorry about Captain Wyvern's death—which really killed his father."
"I don't see that there was any need for you to be sorry about that: you didn't know him."
Westerham smiled. Unconsciously to himself, he found Beryl's childish irresponsibility a pleasant change after Esther's incessant splitting of hairs. "I didn't say there was any need for my sorrow: I only said I felt it."
"Well, I think it is a great mistake to be sorry about anything that doesn't affect you at all, and especially when it affects you pleasantly, as this did," argued the Hibernian beauty. "But that's only one thing; and you said things. I want to know the other things that made you not so pleased as you ought to have been to become Lord Westerham."
"Well, then, another thing was that I didn't like giving up my profession."
"But why? You weren't a soldier," said Beryl, to whom there was only one profession, and that not one of the so-called "learned" ones.
"I was a journalist," replied Westerham proudly; "a profession which I hold inferior to none."
Beryl raised her finely pencilled eyebrows. "Not to soldiers?"
"Certainly not," replied Westerham, who, in spite of his broken leg, could still mount his hobby-horse, and—when once mounted—could retain an unshaken seat. "Take the professions one by one, and tell me which of them is greater than Journalism? I admit to the full the grandeur of the Army and the Navy as the defenders of our country; but I maintain that ' prevention is better than cure'; and that while soldiers and sailors can only take their part in a war when it comes, the Press can prevent or precipitate that war in the first instance. The Services may conduct it to a successful issue, but not before there has
162been a terrible sacrifice of life and money; but the Press—if only it will use its influence in the right direction—may often avert war altogether."
"I see," said Beryl. But what she really saw by that "inward eye which is the bliss of solitude" was a Princesse gown of green velvet, which would show up her golden hair and her sea-green eyes to perfection. Whenever Westerham began to talk about anything but herself, she at once turned the current of her thoughts towards the unceasingly interesting subject of dress.
But, of course, Wilfred knew nothing of this: "Take the learned professions," he went on: "a barrister argues a question before a judge and jury; but a journalist argues it before the whole of the British Public. A doctor cures his own particular patients; but a journalist—through the medium of his paper—can preach the laws of hygiene to hundreds of thousands, and can show up, and so bring to destruction, evils which are a menace to the public health."
"Of course he can," were the words of Beryl's mouth; but the thoughts of her heart ran thus: "I think a hat to match would be better than a black one: a big green velvet picture-hat, with a long ostrich feather."
"Then take schoolmasters: they only educate comparatively few compared to those whom the Press educates; and the Press goes on educating even those few after the schoolmasters have done with them."
"Yes," said Beryl doubtfully. She was wondering whether one long ostrich feather or a bunch of shorter ones would look best.
163in the state of life to which one is called: but all the same—if I had been given my choice—I'm not at all sure that I wouldn't have chosen to be a member of the Press rather than of the Peerage. I mean the best part of me would have so chosen: the worst part of me naturally enjoys the flesh-pots of Egypt more than the manna of the wilderness. But candidly I believe that I could have done more good to my fellowcreatures, and wielded a far wider and more beneficial influence, if I had remained a journalist."
Beryl's lovely eyes expressed whole volumes of sympathetic interest as she communed with herself: "I think one long natural-coloured ostrich feather would really look better than anything—better even than keeping the hat all green."
Encouraged by the apparent sympathy shining in the beautiful eyes, Westerham went gaily on: "I cannot tell you what a glorious feeling of power it gives one to sit in an office and know that from there one is forming public opinion, and pulling strings which will sway the destiny of nations. The enormous power of the Press is, of course, quite a modern growth, and men do not yet rightly gauge it: if they did, I think they would add a word to the Litany, and pray that not only the "nobility" and "the lords of the council," but the Press also might be endued with "grace, wisdom and understanding."
Westerham was almost startled by the look of supreme satisfaction and absolute content which suddenly flooded the beautiful face at his side, apparently at his suggestion of an amended Litany: he felt that even Esther herself could not have responded more quickly and more subtly to the workings of his mind. He had no idea that the sunshine which illumined Beryl's fair countenance was caused—not by any
164feeble words of his—but by a final decision that a pure white ostrich plume would be the really chic finish to the green velvet picture-hat.
And so it went on. Day after day Westerham succumbed more and more to Beryl's fascinations. Had she been a plain, or even only a passably pretty, girl, he would have seen through her as clearly as anybody: but—being a man—her marvellous beauty absolutely dazzled him, and prevented him from being so clearsighted as he would otherwise have been.
Esther—who had deliberately brought this state of things to pass—marvelled at him. She was quite as ready as he was to forgive Beryl's shallowness for the sake of Beryl's beauty; but what astonished her was that Westerham failed to perceive there was any shallowness to forgive. There the fundamental difference of sex came in. Some women are quite as ready as men to excuse the shortcomings of their beautiful sisters; but it is only men who cannot see that there are any shortcomings to excuse.
So gradually Westerham fell into the trap that Esther—in the blindness and unselfishness of her heart—had set for him: his feeling for Esther slowly congealed into friendship, and his admiration for Beryl into love.
What Esther suffered at this time no one knew but herself. With bleeding feet she firmly trod the stony path that she had marked out, and with unfaltering courage she took her broken heart in her hands and laid it on the altar of Wilfred's happiness.
And she reaped the full agony of her reward: for there was no doubt that Westerham was really happy in his love for Beryl Delaney.
165turned his head. Although with regard to what is called book-learning Beryl was absolutely ignorant and Esther distinctly far advanced, in knowledge of men and the ways of managing them Esther was a child compared with Beryl. After Wilfred had fallen in love with her, Esther could do nothing but love him in return; but Beryl was mistress of a thousand arts whereby to charm his fancy and stimulate his passion.
And at last Wilfred even went to the length of admitting to himself that Esther had been right all along, and he had been wrong. For, in addition to the fine breeding and finished manners which Beryl shared with her cousin, she possessed an exuberance of youth and beauty which that cousin—even in her youngest days—had never known.
Lady Westerham regretted the turn which affairs had taken, but felt powerless to alter it: her days for understudying Providence, with regard to the love-affairs of her daughter, were long over and past, and as she had no longer the strength and energy to amend what she considered the Divine decrees, she gracefully submitted to them; and turned her attention to her garden, where she could count on reaping what she had sown with far more certainty than she could in dealing with that more debatable soil, the hearts of her children.
By the time that the Duke and Duchess came back from Scotland, the engagement of Beryl and Lord Westerham was announced; so that there was nothing left for her Grace to do towards the prevention of Lady Esther's self-inflicted martyrdom; for that martyrdom was already accomplished, and the future Lady Westerham's trousseau ordered.
166remarked, the first time she motored over to the Dower House after her return; and so she straightway sat down beside her mother, and proceeded to cry over it.
"I could do nothing, absolutely nothing, Eleanor," pleaded the Countess; "Esther would have Beryl to stay here, and the rest seemed to follow of itself."
"Of course it would, with Beryl being so absurdly pretty!"
"Perhaps it was a mistake for Esther to invite her just then; but it never occurred to me that there was any danger in it. I am so used to the dear child's beauty that I have ceased to notice or to think about it; and I was so busy arranging a new rose-garden at the other side of the big lawn that I am afraid I did not give much thought to the matter; but when Esther made the suggestion I just acquiesced. I fear my pleasure in my garden is making me selfish and indifferent to my children's interests." And Lady Westerham's still beautiful eyes filled with tears of remorse.
"Oh no, Mamma, it wasn't your fault at all, and you are not an atom selfish, and couldn't be if you tried. And besides, Esther's inviting Beryl wasn't a mistake at all: it was a deep-laid plan."
"A deep-laid plan, my dear? I do not quite under-stand."
"It was a contrivance of Esther's to make herself as wretched as she possibly could—and more so. She had made up her mind not to marry Wilfred, just because she wanted to: and then I rubbed it into her, when he was laid up, how much he wanted a wife. I thought I was being very clever and succeeding in inducing Esther to marry him after all, by showing her that it was her duty to do so. But that is always the way. When you think you are being particularly
167clever you are generally engaged in doing the most stupid thing you have hitherto done in the course of your whole life!" And the Duchess groaned in spirit.
Her mother laid a soothing hand upon her shoulder. "Do not say that, my love. You are never stupid."
"Not often: only on the few occasions when I think I am being particularly clever. If only I hadn't so rubbed it in about Westerham needing a wife, Esther might have been content to let him remain single. But after I showed her that he really wanted one, she at once set about providing him with the article, and killed two birds with one stone by making Westerham happy and herself miserable at the same time. I never knew such a glutton for misery as Esther is!"The Duchess was one of those people whose deep and real sympathy with the trouble and infirmities of those whom they love, expresses itself in irritation against the sufferers.
"Still, my love," argued her mother, "Esther had the chance of marrying Wilfred and refused him of her own free will. She is certainly old enough to please herself; and I agree with you that probably no one but herself is to blame. We cannot legislate for grown-up people as we do for little children. All that we can do is to exercise for their good such influence as we have over them."
"And that is none at all! I've come to the conclusion that nobody ever really influences anybody, after anybody is over eight years old."
"Oh! Eleanor, I cannot agree with that," remonstrated Lady Westerham, who belonged to the "word in season" generation, and had unlimited faith in the converting powers of what she called "personal influence."
"But it's true, Mamma, all the same. I don't believe a woman ever influences anybody except her husband and children; and not even her husband after she is married to him, or her children after they are grown up."
"My dear child, it grieves me to hear you say such things!"
"I can't help that. It's the truth, and you've always brought us up to speak the truth. Of course, when I was young I thought I was going to carve my name upon everybody I met, as if they had been beech-trees, and leave indelible and heavenward-pointing footsteps on the sands of time to guide all that came after me. But experience has taught me what a goose I was. The only people I've ever really influenced in my life were the men who were in love with me, and the children when they were little: and that wore off after the man married either me or somebody else, and the boys went to school."
Lady Westerham shook her head in strong disapproval of these sentiments. "You still have great influence over your husband, my love."
"Oh! dear no, I haven't. If I ask Tammy to do something just to please me, he'll always do it: but if I try to prove to him that he ought to do it because it is right or the wise thing to do, he'll go a hundred miles in the other direction after pointing out at length that the thing itself is neither right nor wise. I don't call that' influencing ' him. I can always get my own way, I admit, by asking for it as a favour: but I can never get it by trying to show that it is the right way; that sets his back up at once."
"But, my dear, I am sure that Tammy is as anxious to do what is right as you are."
169won't stand being taught what is right by his wife. All men are the same. The moment a wife becomes a signpost to heaven she is as worthless to her husband as if she had become a pillar of salt. He has no use for her: so he just goes on his way and leaves her behind, as Lot did."
Lady Westerham looked both shocked and perplexed. "My love, these are newfangled views, and I do not understand them. They distress me."
The Duchess laughed. "They needn't distress you, Mamma: they are really rather grateful and comforting; because they relieve one of that awful load of responsibility for other people, which makes life such a burden. I assure you it was quite a relief to my mind when I discovered that it was out of my power to make other people either bad or good. All we can do is to make them happy or unhappy: I admit we have plenty of influence on the happiness or the comfort of our fellowcreatures, if not on their characters. And if we try to make everybody with whom we are brought into contact more cheerful and more comfortable than they would have been had we never been born, I don't think we shall go far wrong."
"Perhaps you are right, my dear, and my old-fashioned views on the importance of personal influence, and of our responsibilities towards one another, are somewhat out of date."
"Of course they are, Mamma: and anyway they have signally failed in the present instance; for I said every word in season that I knew—and out of season, too—to induce Esther to accept Westerham; and they only resulted in inclining her not only to refuse him, but also to stick up Beryl as a buffer between them, to prevent his ever proposing to her again!"
170ham's brow lightened to some extent: her ladyship was one of the women who in spirit always dwell among their own people. "Well, Eleanor, if Esther is determined not to marry Wilfred—though I confess it is a great disappointment to me that she is so determined—there is no one whom I would sooner see as mistress of Wyvern's End that dear Beryl. I was always greatly attached to your poor Aunt Adelaide: and next to one of my own daughters I feel there is no one who will take my place better than her daughter will. And it is also a vast relief to my mind to know that Beryl will be so well provided for: for your Uncle Patrick is a most extravagant as well as a most unbusinesslike man, as dear Adelaide found to her cost." It was against the traditions of the house of Henderson to own that any of its members could be at fault. According to its dicta, it was always the "in-laws" that were to blame. No Henderson was capable of understanding that the extravagant member of the Delaney ménage was not "Uncle Patrick," but "poor Adelaide" herself.
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