A Newport Aquarelle/Chapter 3

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CHAPTER III.


On the morning following the fox-hunt, Mr. Larkington, inquiring at the post-office for letters, was somewhat surprised at the large bundle of notes which the clerk put into his hand.

He glanced hurriedly over the addresses: there was one foreign letter, with an English postmark, directed in a pointed feminine hand.

This letter he impatiently tore open, unfolding it without glancing at the writing, and looked between the closely written pages of the sheet.

Here he found a narrow slip of paper, which the lady clerk observed afterwards to the postmaster "was a check, as any one could see."

Whether this lady was right in her hypothesis or not, the perusal of the narrow bit of paper seemed to have an agreeable effect upon Mr. Larkington. His face, which until then had been rather moody, cleared, and, folding the paper, he placed it carefully in his pocket-book, thrust the unread letter which had been so carefully written, into his pocket, and proceeded to open leisurely the other notes.

All of these bore the local postmark.

The first one was marked by an elaborate crest, in blue and gold, and read as follows: "Mrs. Craig requests the pleasure of Mr. Larkington's company at dinner on Monday evening next, at half-past seven."

Another informed him that "Mrs. Fallow-Deer hopes that Mr. Larkington will drive with her on Saturday afternoon."

A third read: "Mr. Belhomme will be very glad to lend Mr. Larkington his coach and horses on Friday and Saturday of this week, during his absence in New York."

There were half a dozen other invitations to balls and routs of various kinds, and, most important of all to the mind of the Englishman, invitations for a month to the Redwood and Casino Clubs. To the first of these, incorrectly called the "Reading Room," Larkington immediately repaired.

Here he was warmly greeted by the men whose acquaintance he had made on the previous day and evening. These gentlemen introduced him to others.

Cuthbert Larkington had come to Newport, forty-eight hours before, a stranger, with no further claim on society than that implied by a single letter of introduction.

This letter, which was addressed to Mrs. Fallow-Deer, had been given him by a steamer acquaintance, to whom he had lent twenty-five pounds. He now felt that he had gained a footing from which he could climb to the heights of success and popularity.

As he was leaving the Club, Larkington met Count Clawski, and the two walked down Bellevue Avenue together.

A carriage, drawn by a pair of magnificent bay horses, rattled past them, the harnesses jingling with enough chains to secure all the prisoners in Newport jail.

Two ladies bowed from the back seat of the carriage, and Larkington, recognizing the face of the girl whose acquaintance he had made the day before, made a deep obeisance; Count Clawski, who seemed on good terms with the ladies, waved his hat with airy grace.

"You have the good fortune to know Miss Carleton, the heiress?" asked the Count.

"Yes; I met her yesterday. Is she one of the very rich people here?"

"Oh yes; her fortune is counted in millions,—half a dozen, I believe, and it is all in her own right. An interesting woman, very. Her cousin is very pretty, is she not?"

"I did not notice the cousin," answered Larkington, absently. "Is she an orphan,—Miss Carleton,—that she is so rich? From whom did she get all her money?"

"Oh, old Mr. Carleton was an enormously rich man, and she is his only child. She is an excellent woman of business, and manages her own affairs entirely. She has a mother; but Mrs. Carleton is not here this summer. She is an old lady, and finds Newport too exciting for her taste."

This is what was said on the sidewalk.

The lady in the carriage who was the subject of this conversation said to her companion,—

"Do you know who that man with Count Clawski is, Gladys?"

"Oh yes, Cousin Amelia; I can tell you all about him. His name is Larkington,—the Hon. Cuthbert Larkington. He is an Englishman, of high family. Mrs. Craig was telling us all about him this morning. She had been looking him up in the Peerage. He is the son of Lord Lucre, and is in the Army. I met him yesterday, and found him quite agreeable. You ought to have him presented, and ask him to dinner."

"I should be glad to know him, but I am off for Lenox to-morrow. Would n't you like to have Thomas come for you while I am away? You can have the carriage every afternoon, just as well as not. Mrs. Fallow-Deer, with her numerous engagements, must have constant use for hers."

Miss Amelia Carleton was the cousin of Gladys, and Count Clawski had not exaggerated her fortune to Larkington.

She was a rather hard-favored iron-bound virgin of some forty odd years, well preserved and not the reverse of handsome in face or figure. She had remained Miss Carleton from choice, preferring the freedom of single life and enjoying the power which her money gave her. She could have married "anybody she pleased," as the phrase goes, but she did not please, and said she did not care to support any man for the pleasure of writing Mrs. before her name.

"There was, of course, some old romance," her friends all said, but who the hero of it was, even rumor whispered not.

It is quite possible that neither hero nor romance had ever entered her life.

She belonged to that type of women, not uncommon in New England, who do not feel the necessity of domestic relations for their happiness, and to whom men are rather antagonistic than attractive.

These women are often among the hardest workers in the social community, and are unremitting in their charitable labors. They are dubbed "strong-minded,"—a title which they resent almost universally, and yet it is one they fully deserve.

It seems as though a wise provision of Providence had created a certain proportion of the women of the Eastern States with this independence of nature, to fit them for the life of moral and physical self-support imposed upon them by the disproportionately small number of men in these regions.

On reaching his hotel, Larkington walked slowly up the long stairs which led to the third floor, upon which his room was situated.

He seemed deeply absorbed in thought, and stood before the window, looking with unseeing eyes into the blue sky. Yet the tenor of his thoughts was of a nature more terrestrial than celestial, as the anxious expression of the eyes and lips betokened.

"Shall I, or shall I not, go in for the heiress?" was the question he asked himself, as he paced slowly up and down the narrow coffin-like apartment, with its iron bedstead, chair, table, and wash-stand, for the use of which he would be obliged to pay five dollars a day, when he should settle his bill. When he should settle his bill! The thought reminded him of his unread letter, and seating himself at the table he soon became absorbed in the perusal of the finely crossed epistle.

After reading it through, he sat silent for another space, staring out into the bright sunlight of the summer morning, and then quite suddenly drew toward him the pen and ink and paper, and rapidly indited the following note:—


Dearest Muz,—Thank you so much for the enclosure of one hundred pounds, and your kind letter, both this morning received. It is the last penny I'll ever ask you to send me, I swear that to you. I was pretty well cleaned out when it came, and never was gladder in my life to see your writing. Tell Sissy that I am going to make a dash for a fortune here. There's a pretty girl attached to it, to whom I can easily become attached. Failing this, I shall start for Mexico, and strike out for myself. I suppose Dad does n't suspect where I am; don't let him know. Does n't he wonder who your feminine correspondent is? Love to Sissy and your dear old self.

From your ever affectionate
Cuthbert


The letter was written in a small but bold hand. He directed the envelope in a large pointed ladylike chirography. It bore this superscription:—

To Mrs. Martin Larkington,
Care Larkington & Co.,
No. 7 Washleather St.,
Strand, London.


Now, if Mrs. Craig or Mrs. Fallow-Deer had happened to see this letter which their new acquaintance had just written to his mother, they would have been somewhat surprised at the business address which it bore. They would have looked for the following aristocratic superscription:—

Lady Larkington Lucre,
Larkington House,
Larkington, Oxfordshire.

Having performed this filial duty, Larkington proceeded to look over the notes which he had so hurriedly read at the Post-Office. One there was which he had passed over, and on opening it he gave an exclamation of pleasure. The note was from Charles Farwell, who offered Mr. Larkington the use of his two polo ponies during his absence, which would last for about two weeks, and telling him that a match was to take place that very afternoon, in which Farwell had arranged for Larkington to take his place.

If there was one pursuit which the Englishman cared for, more than any other in the world, it was certainly the game of polo.

Larkington was a tall athletic fellow, light of body and sinewy of limb. His arms and legs were long, and he had that grace of movement which comes only from a condition of perfect physical health and muscular development. Nimrod was his hero and his god. From hunting and athletic pursuits and sports he derived the greatest enjoyment of his life.

He was withal not lacking in other attainments which made him an agreeable man in a drawing-room, as well as a prominent one in the field. He had a gift for music which, although uncultivated, was all the more remarkable. He could play any air that he had ever heard, with an abandon and spirit which to unmusical people were more captivating than the careful performance of a finished musician. He could talk of English politics with a certain knowledge of facts, but with an indifference to principles which proved that he was not guided by them.

He was fairly well educated, had been at a good public school, but had not passed through a university.

He knew quite as much of Paris, Vienna, and Rome, as of London, and seemed even rather more at home in the society of these European capitals than in that of London, judging from his conversation concerning them. He spoke—astonishing fact for an Englishman!—excellent French, good German, and could make himself understood in the other languages of Europe. His ideas about art were absolutely without value. Indeed, it should rather be said that he had none, being entirely wanting in artistic sense.

With all that belonged to nature he was in perfect sympathy, and his advice about the care of horses or cattle, and his comments on vegetables and fruit and the best manner of raising them, were well worth hearing.

Children liked him and came to him, as did dogs and all other uncivilized beings, but with women he was, strangely enough, not popular. He got on much better with men, and had had little to do with women. Of love in its higher form he knew nothing.

Five o'clock was the time appointed for polo, and at ten minutes past the hour, Larkington entered the grounds of the Westchester Polo Club, and rode down to the small pavilion tent, from the top of which floated a white flag. His faithful servant Stirrups, who was by turns his valet, groom, and companion, stood waiting him with Charles Farwell's ponies. They were two sturdy little mustangs, with short cropped manes, and legs bandaged to the body for protection against the blows of the mallets.

One of his side told him that the match would not begin for a quarter of an hour, and Larkington took this opportunity of examining the ground which was soon to be turned into a battle-field. He had played polo in England and in Nice, but he affirmed to the men in the tent "that this ground beat all the others he had ever seen, hollow."

The large space of turf, which was outlined by strips of whitewash, marking the boundaries of the polo ground, was emerald green.

Outside of these lines was a wide driveway, with room enough for three or four carriages to stand abreast. A high fence surrounded the driveway, which was on this afternoon filled with carriages of every description.

The north side was reserved for the coaches, of which a dozen were assembled, covered with maids and matrons, in rainbow-hued gowns and smart coaching-hats.

Equestrians were there, too, and a group of people standing and sitting in the corner, where stood a covered platform filled with chairs.

The horses and their trappings were magnificent, and the sloping beams of light thrown by the afternoon sun revealed a spectacle of glittering wealth and display which is not surpassed in any city of the world.

So thought Larkington, and so said Larkington, with that British frankness which, if it brusquely sneers at times at American manners and solecisms, quite as freely and magnanimously praises, on occasion.

"There comes the coach with the President," said one of the bachelors from the tent; "the game will be called in five minutes. Are you ready, Larkington?" The Englishman for answer threw off his cover coat, and, standing revealed in his white jersey, boots, and breeches, proceeded to tie about his head a white silk kuffia, adjusting it with a twisted cord, and fastening the ends at the back of his head, after the fashion of the Bedouins of Syria. The match on this particular afternoon was between the bachelors and married men of the club; and as Charles Farwell was to have played in it, he had arranged for Larkington to take his place.

Mrs. Fallow-Deer had begged him to do something for the Englishman, and this had been the easiest thing to do.

A prize cup had been offered by the ladies of Newport, and the match was undoubtedly the most important one of the season.

"Just like my luck to be in for this game," Larkington had said to Stirrups that morning.

The signal to ride into the field was now given, and the six bachelors, chastely and appropriately attired in white, rode into place at their end of the ground. Ranged side by side, with raised mallets, they sat waiting, their eyes fixed upon the red flag in the umpire's hand.

Their adversaries, six married men, at the opposite end of the field, were well able to cope with them, if one might judge from their appearance and that of their ponies. The figures of these men were fine and athletic; their costume was of dark blue and yellow stripes.

"Are you ready? One, two, three, go!" said the umpire; the red flag was dropped and the ball thrown into the middle of the ground.

Flash! crash! went the twelve ponies and their twelve riders, dashing toward each other at lightning speed, each and every one determined to have the first blow at the little white wooden ball, which lay peacefully on the grass.

It was a grand stroke, the first one, dealt by the mallet of a white player, who to most of the spectators was a stranger.

The ball was driven straight and clear toward the goal, and the blues had hard work in getting it back again. It was a hard-fought game, however, and both sides played well and pluckily; but the married men and their backers, who had been hopeful of success since it had been learned that Farwell, by long odds the best player of the club, was not in the field, began to be rather despondent.

Finally, after ten minutes' sharp contest, a splendid stroke from Larkington put the ball out between the two upright wands which marked the adversaries goal, and the first game was scored by the bachelors.

Five games were played, three being won by the white players, and the Benedicts being defeated by one game.

At the close of the match Larkington was congratulated on his playing by his allies and adversaries alike, and he felt that the polo match had raised him another step in the seemingly easy ladder of American society.

Larkington called that evening at Mrs. Fallow-Deer's, and found the ladies at home.

Count Clawski, who had been dining en famille with Mrs. Fallow-Deer, obligingly devoted himself to her, and Larkington was left free to talk to Miss Carleton.

He was in high spirits. The splendid exercise of the afternoon had set his blood aglow, and a convivial dinner with the bachelors, which had followed at the house of their captain, had not decreased his pleasurable condition of mind and body. Miss Carleton was as charming a person to talk to, to listen to, to look at, as Larkington had ever met.

She was sitting—the attitude would be better described as reclining—in a low arm-chair; her strong and svelte young figure took a natural and thoroughly graceful pose, and the folds of her white dress fell about its outlines, revealing them, but not too distinctly for maidenliness.

Her dress, which was of some thick and soft material, was close at the neck and wrists. She had the shoulders and arms of a goddess, but she never showed them. It was one of the few bits of sentiment which her mother had never laughed her out of.

In the old days, when she and Cid had had the one-sided understanding, he had begged her to keep those beauties from the eyes of the world.

"It is enough that they can see your face," he said jealously; he would almost have liked her to wear a yashmack, and keep that face for his eyes alone.

She had promised him in a weak moment never to wear the undress of ball dress, and she had kept her word.

Larkington was really pleased with the beauty and grace of the girl, and, as he had written to his mother, he thought it would be an easy as well as pleasant thing to become attached to her.

He was not much used to making love to ladies, and was not very sure of himself, but he did his best, and found that his pretty speeches were graciously, if cynically, listened to.

She puzzled him, this beauty, whose eyes did not droop, nor color change, under the ardent look of admiration which he fixed upon her.

She was thoroughly mistress of the situation, and when, after a too flagrant compliment, she turned upon him and with good-natured satire analyzed and caricatured all his speeches, cutting them to pieces, he was forced to laugh at her wit, though it had been at his own expense.

She liked his flattery, as he plainly saw, though it did not deceive her.

And when he asked if he might come to-morrow and coach her a little in her serving at tennis, which had seemed to him faulty that day at the Casino, she consented, and appointed the hour of twelve for the lesson.

"You will stay and lunch with us after the game, Mr. Larkington?" said Mrs. Fallow-Deer, hospitably.

"With the greatest pleasure, madam," answered the Englishman.

He took his leave. Both ladies shook hands with him in saying good-night,—Mrs. Fallow-Deer with the real cordiality which underlay all the superficial artificiality of her manner; and Gladys laid a smooth white hand for an instant in his own.

Under similar circumstances he would have been apt to press the hand of a woman he so much admired, and whose manner with him had been so easy. He was in a state of unusual exhilaration, and even felt himself to be a little in love.

Something, however, in the young girl's eyes made him touch her hand as coolly and lightly as if she had been old and ugly instead of young and very beautiful.

There was a spirit of good-fellowship about her that fascinated him; it alternated so strangely with the grand air which seemed equally natural to her, and which was as scornful and aristocratic as if she had been born a princess.

"Do you not find the American girls very different from any others, Clawski?" he asked, as the two men left the house together.

"Mon Dieu, yes," replied the diplomate. "I do not pretend to understand them, and have never anything to say to them. They are to me charming, but incomprehensible. With the married women I am at home, but with the young ladies who rule so much in American society, I am quite at a loss to understand, or make myself understood."