Page:Court Royal.djvu/73

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traditional creeds, religious and political, and customs social and domestic, without consideration, with an undercurrent of doubt. He never hurt anyone’s feelings, never transgressed a canon of good taste. His eyes were open to the errors and follies of men, and to the virtues of humanity, but the former roused in him no indignation, the latter no admiration. Although he was cheerful in society, this cheerfulness carried with it an appearance of artificiality, and when he was alone he lapsed into melancholy or indifference.

He now and then made an excursion to Brittany or Switzerland; he had been even to Brazil and South Africa. He came back with embroidered kerchiefs and carved spoons, lion skins and stuffed humming-birds, and a good deal to say about what he had seen, but with no ambition to ascend peaks or explore wildernesses. In politics he took no interest. He rarely visited relatives and acquaintances, disliking the trouble. He professed, and no one doubted his sincerity, that he was happier at home than anywhere else; and more content lounging out a purposeless existence than making an effort to observe and please among strangers and in strange places.

This had not always been the case. He had been in the army, though never on active service. The few years in which he was in the army formed the one epoch in his life in which he had been lost to the sight of his family. The young Marquess, who had been somewhat spoiled at home, with great personal beauty, fascinating manners, a kindly disposition, little knowledge of the world, and a ducal coronet hanging over his head, had suddenly been transferred from the quiet of Court Royal to the vortex of the whirlpool of life. The Duke, owing to his heart disease and advancing years, had been obliged gradually to withdraw from town, and to retire from an active part in the social and political spheres to which he belonged. Lady Grace was always with him; she would not leave her father for long, consequently the world of Court Royal had become a very quiet and a very small world. The temptations to which a young man like the Marquess would be exposed on entering the army were hardly realised by his father and by the Archdeacon. His sister had not the vaguest suspicion of them. ‘He is a Christian and a gentleman,’ said the Duke, ‘and a Christian and a gentleman, put him where you will, does nothing unbecoming.’

At Court Royal none knew how he fared, whether he fought or whether he fell. His father heard, indeed, that he