The Fortunate Lord Fabrigas
The Fortunate Lord Fabrigas
BY J. STORER CLOUSTON
SOME men were born to point the world's morals, others to adorn its tales, and the Marquis of Fabrigas to justify civilization. A Velasquez or Titian among the artists in life, he confounded pessimism by his very presence.
For who could despair of society while Fabrigas condescended to adorn it? In his youth, and indeed up till his seven-and-twentieth year or so, fame had been content to sing of him as the best-looking, best-dressed, and politest man in London. If it were permissible to breathe a gentle hint of criticism upon such a paragon, one might perhaps have said that his virtues at this period were a trifle negative; that he was content merely to stand upon a pedestal and accept with his charming smile the natural admiration of the world; that though he struck the most effective attitudes imaginable, these were rather limited in number.
But gradually a pleasant and unexpected change was noted by the epicures. His smiling silences grew shorter in duration, his smooth speech began to display by flashes a crisp and happy wit; a remarkable gift for catching the attention of society developed; he hopped, as it were, from one pedestal to another, and before the buzz of admiration had time to subside he had hopped, with a perfect dramatic instinct, upon a third. In brief, before the politest public in the world he played, with the lime-light always cunningly upon him, the part of perfect gentleman.
Look at him as he reclines (neither "lounge" nor "sit" would meet the nicety of the case) in an easy chair within the smoking-room of his club. It is an afternoon in early summer, in the very height of the season, and so appropriately does Fabrigas dress that had you the requisite sensibility you could toll the month by his trousers, the day by his waistcoat, and the time, within a couple of hours, by his tie. All the while he smokes with a characteristically graceful indolence, unconscious (apparently) of the glances of two admiring fellow members.
"Fabrigas is perfect!" said one.
The other looked at him for a moment longer, and then said slowly:
"What an extraordinary transformation! It has happened so gradually that one has grown used to it; but—there it is, the most remarkable case of development on record!"
"What do you mean?"
"I remember Fabrigas not so many years ago as a mere Adonis of the Guards:—he is now, at three-and-thirty, a wit, a man of taste, a fellow who actually displays an idea now and then; he has made an excellent speech in the House of Lords, written a tolerable pamphlet, composed a creditable poem. The Admirable Fabrigas! But how has it happened?"
Lord Fabrigas rose and came down the room. As he passed the pair he stopped for a moment, honored them with a smiling remark or two, which if not strictly witty in themselves were at least expressed in the manner and with the cadence of a happily tongued talker, and passed on when he had spoken exactly enough to leave a pleasant flavor in the mind.
Watch him now, moving with a light step and shining boot along the pavement of Pall Mall, his figure, tall and slender, worthily encased in a creation of the greatest artist among tailors, and a cylindrical mirror of silk poised at an irresistible angle above his finely cut profile, with its trim, fair mustache and its background of precisely barbered hair. Is he not a walking contradiction of the phrases "an effete aristocracy," "gilded barbarism," and the like?
His steps at present are turned eastwards, till presently he reaches that little flat, the occupancy of which, instead of his ancestral mansion up a lane in Mayfair. has been one of his most telling strokes of genius. It is on the first floor of a building which divides a famous street into two populous, jingling thoroughfares, on the eastern fringe of club-land and flat-land; so conspicuous a situation that everybody observes the curtained windows with their boxes full of flowers and their woodwork painted blue, and asks whom they belong to—so unlikely a place for a Marquis to live that everybody having learned the tenant's name comments for some moments on the phenomenon. Thus, delicately and adroitly, he keeps obscurity at bay.
On this particular afternoon he had no sooner entered his smoking-room than a man sprang up from a chair and stood deferentially at attention, an open book still in his hand, an expression of respectful scrutiny in his eyes. By his attitude by his dress, by his little side-whiskers, he was clearly the Marquis's valet; yet he arrested attention as surely as his master. Of a good height and shape, and with good features, he was endowed besides with the eye of an enthusiast burning beneath the brow of a philosopher. Evidently he was a privileged valet, for Fabrigas, passing without remark his presence and occupation in the smoking-room, fell into a chair and pulled thoughtfully at his mustache.
"Jeenes," said he in a moment, "I think I'll have this thing shaved off. I saw a fellow in the club with a mustache almost the identical same. If they are all going to grow 'em again, there's nothing for it but clean shaving."
Jeenes looked at him critically.
"My lord, I do not think we shall remove it," he answered at length, respectfully but firmly. "It has been one of my most frequent observations that some lips were constructed by nature to carry a mustache; others were not. Yours, my lord, falls under the former category."
He spoke in perfect English, and at the same time with an air of finality that appeared to settle the question, for his lordship merely observed:
"Well, if you are quite sure of it— By the way, these trousers, now—I've noticed you've put 'em out for me twice within the last fortnight."
"Your lordship perhaps observed that the sunlight was equally diffused on both occasions?"
"I didn't," said Fabrigas; "but of course I thought you'd some good reason for it."
Jeenes respectfully tendered him the book he had been reading.
"You will find the underlined passages worth learning by heart, my lord," he suggested. "The bit dealing with the labor question might serve as the basis for a conversation should you meet the Archbishop to-night. For purposes of feminine conquest the parts marked with a red pencil should prove telling if murmured with your lordship's voice suitably lowered."
There was a certain significance in his tone that caught his master's attention.
"Gad! Jeenes," he cried, "what are you driving at now?"
A pained expression flitted across the valet's imperturbable face.
"Oh, my lord! That won't do! The occasion should have been seized—a slight rise of your lordship's eyebrows—an even voice—half of those words omitted, and the rest said somewhat thus: 'Gad! Jeenes, what now?' It has the effect of an epigram;—do you see, my lord?"
"Gad! Jeenes, what now?" repeated Fabrigas, carefully. "Yes, you are right; those should have been the words."
Acknowledging his lordship's goodness by a respectful inclination, Jeenes resumed in well-considered words:
"My lord, as a bachelor you have enjoyed such a success—such a succès, one might say—as has surpassed my highest expectations. I entered your service six years ago because I saw in your lordship the ideal Marquis of the populace, of fiction, of the stage, and of my own humble conception of what an aristocrat should be like. But if I may say so without offence, my lord, a trifling something'—a soupçon, as it were—was still required to realize the highest possibilities. We have now put that right, my lord."
He paused, but rather, it seemed, to let this portion of his homily sink in than through any fear lest its tenor should displease his noble master.
"You've been devilish serviceable, Jeenes," said Fabrigas, languidly.
"Perfectly expressed!" exclaimed Jeenes, enthusiastically. "Spoken—and I may say thought—like a lord! Now, your lordship, we must not risk the reputation we have made. And we can't keep on dazzling 'em with something new forever, my lord; that's to say, not with high-class novelties. 'Twouldn't do for the Marquis of Fabrigas to stoop to correspondenting or going on the stage. That would savor too much of advertisement, my lord."
"You're quite sure?" asked his lordship, doubtfully.
"Believe me, a twopence-in-the-pound bankruptcy is better than that! No—we must marry!"
Fabrigas started, and for a moment a shade of irritation crossed his lightly tanned, unwrinkled face.
"Look here, Jeenes," he began, "there are some matters—"
"I ask your lordship's pardon."
His lordship lit a cigarette, and ruminated for a minute or two, while his valet watched him with a slight shade of anxiety. That it was not concerned, however, with the Marquis's temporary displeasure appeared when he at length gave voice to this dictum:
"The rich women bore me; and I can't afford the poor ones."
Jeenes appeared only partially satisfied.
"Rich women bore me: poor would bust me—or words to that effect:—how's that, my lord, as a trifling verbal amendment—the sentiment of course remaining your own?"
"Yes, yes," said Fabrigas, a trifle impatiently; "but that being so, who am I to marry?"
"You will meet her at Sir Henry's table to-night, my lord. Sir Henry's butler and I have talked it over confidentially, and such influence as he has will be used to getting you to take her in to dinner. Her exact figure is three millions and some twenty thousand odd, made in South African mines, but not now invested in 'em; her age is nineteen on the 22d of March last, and her height five feet nine, or eight, depending, on whether she is measured in her shoes or au naturel. Each item of this information, my lord, I can guarantee."
"And her name, Jeenes?"
"I beg your lordship's pardon—I had forgotten to mention it. Miss Ada Wimberley, my lord."
"Heiress of Horatio Wimberley?"
"The same, my lord."
"This promises. And her appearance?"
Jeenes's serenity for a moment deserted him.
"Oh, my lord, I was afforded a private view of her last night as she stepped, my lord, from her carriage. She is divine!"
"Hullo!" smiled Fabrigas.
"My lord, I do not exaggerate. I said to myself that moment, 'At last I have met a lady worthy of Lord Fabrigas!' Oh, your lordship, she has not left my thoughts since. If you win her, you will be the envy of Europe!"
"'When,' I should have said. I beg your lordship's pardon."
Fabrigas reflected for a minute. Then he picked up the book.
"Underlined in red, you say?" he asked, casually.
"In red, my lord."
The announcement of the engagement of Lord Fabrigas to Miss Ada Wimberley within ten days of her first appearance in London caused the most gratifying sensation. Once more he had done exactly the right thing, and at exactly the right time. The very lull in political events at home and complications abroad, in railway accidents and causes célèbres, which at the moment threatened to eclipse the gayety of journalists, seemed designed by Providence to reward him for his enterprise. The happy couple obtained columns of print, when at a less auspicious juncture they might have had to rest content with paragraphs. Their photographs were cut out of a dozen periodicals and pinned, pasted, or propped against a million walls; a new waltz was dedicated to her, and a new cigarette named after him. Well might they style him "the fortunate Lord Fabrigas"! His bride to be was not only beautiful and fabulously rich, but gracious and clever besides. Indeed, she quickly came to be considered almost equally with him a mark-stone showing where the tides of civilization could reach at their highest flow. Beyond that limit, gods, Martians, and the spirits of Japanese generals might conceivably attain, but surely not mortals upon this earth. In a word, this happy pair were held to typify felicity, culture, and splendor, as harmoniously united as the three legs of Manx heraldry. Who should suppose there was a cloud in their firmament? To conceive of either of them oppressed with unwelcome thoughts seemed as incongruous as to imagine a pessimistic butterfly or a chilly sunbeam. And yet when Fabrigas came into his flat one afternoon about a fortnight after the engagement was announced his brow was furrowed by an unwonted frown.
"My dressing-gown, Jeenes!" said he.
"But, my lord, Miss Wimberley expects you."
"She must be content with expectations.
"I am beginning to grow bored."
"With that divine, that charming lady? Oh, my lord!" His valet's fervor appeared to disconcert the Marquis a little.
"An engagement is the invention of the devil, Jeenes. If I could be married to-morrow and get it over, I wouldn't mind. But, hang it! I pitched the key too high at first. She expects such a d—d lot. I hadn't bargained for making love like an operatic tenor."
"In love, my lord," said the valet, sagely, "a little license is permissible, I assure you. Cannot your lordship be natural now and then for a relief, as it were?"
"No," said his lordship. "I'm hanged if I can! I've forgotten how."
A shadow of distress passed over his servant's intelligent features; but he contented himself with merely calling the Marquis's attention to a beautiful bouquet of the rarest flowers.
"Your offering for to-day, my lord."
"Gad! you've chosen well," said Fabrigas, with a flicker of interest. "I tell you what, take that round yourself, see Miss Wimberley, and tell her I've caught a chill."
The color rose to Jeenes's face, and his master actually heard that smooth voice stammer.
"Me see her, my lord—personally address myself to Miss Wimberley! Oh, my lord!—do you really mean it?"
"Certainly, if I tell you to. What with feeling bored and the effect of a fellow's waistcoat in Piccadilly—pea-green, Jeenes, pea-green, with a magenta tie!—Gad! I don't feel equal to writing her a note:—while if I sent a wire she'd probably come with a poultice. You'd better be quick, or you won't be back in time to massage me."
His back was turned to his servant or he would have been amazed to see the emotions surging in Jeenes's face. At first he was clearly overwhelmed at the thought of the interview; for an instant pained and even displeased at the tone of his master's reference to the poultice; and then came a rush of resolution, of inspiration, of a fervor not often seen in the countenance of Jeenes. It was the man conquering the valet.
"Very good, my lord," said he, and grasping the bouquet convulsively, hurried from the room with unsteady stride.
Remarkable indeed must have been the potency of this upheaval; for straightway running to his room, he there took razor in hand and ruthlessly removed those neat side-whiskers that had marked him ideal valet. Ten minutes later a handsome, perfectly dressed gentleman, bearing himself with a distinguished air that arrested the eyes of more than one lady passing by, and holding in his gloved hand a bouquet, stepped out of Lord Fabrigas's flat, jumped into a hansom, and drove swiftly westwards.
"Positively, Jeenes, I cannot bring myself to do it. I can hardly expect you to understand, of course, the sensitiveness of a nature like mine:—you must be content to believe that I shrink—positively shrink—from the vulgarity of the ordeal."
"I admit, my lord, it is in many points similar to the experience of the common herd—"
"Oh, devilish!" interjected Fabrigas.
"At the same time it is difficult to perceive how the antecedents of matrimony can be sufficiently varied to avoid the orthodoxy your lordship complains of. Men will be men, and women will be women—"
"Yes, women will be women:—that's the rub!" exclaimed his lordship, bitterly. "Literally, Jeenes, my coat was creased beyond recognition in the course of one—pah!—she would insist upon dubbing it a 'hug'! It suggests an orgy of winkles—a 'high tea' in the suburbs— Gad! Jeenes, it's as bad as dissent or labor members; 'pon my word it is!"
"My lord," said Jeenes, in a low voice, "had that been my coat I should never have permitted those creases to be ironed out."
The Marquis raised his finely pencilled eyebrows.
"That is the difference between Fabrigas and the herd," he condescended to explain.
The extraordinary delicacy of the Marquis's feelings may be realized when it is mentioned that for a whole week now he had preferred to eclipse his lustre within the shelter of his flat, professing in daily missives to the lady of his choice that his chill precluded his appearance even in the warm June air, rather than endure the discomforts of orthodox love-making. These billets-doux were such perfect little models of Chesterfieldian composition that apparently Miss Wimberley's affection was content to feed upon them without even making an endeavor to visit her invalid fiancé. Her answers, too, became more and more pitched in the same elegant key—a fact which, while it undoubtedly pleased Fabrigas, failed to efface the sordid recollection of his experiences. To avoid the contamination of post-marks and pillar-boxes, each of his notes was carefully despatched by hand. And on each occasion the same distinguished-looking gentleman slipped (somewhat furtively) from the flat and departed with a bouquet in a hansom.
During this week the bearing of Jeenes exhibited an odd mixture of his old calm deference, alternating with suppressed agitation. If his master's thoughts had any leisure from the contemplation of his own embarrassing case, he must have perceived that some hidden reef was disturbing the placid flow of his servant's existence; but who could expect a Fabrigas to notice a valet?
The Marquis turned and gazed at himself wistfully in the mirror.
"This infernal confinement is making me pale," he observed. "Fetch me another tie—something that blends with pallor. This thing makes me look like a corpse. It will mean changing my waistcoat too, of course. Try something with subdued buttons. And naturally I can't wear a watch-chain:—even this tie-pin is too showy for a pale man. One small pearl is positively all I can carry."
While his servant was collecting trappings to meet the case, and during the process of getting into them, Fabrigas maintained a singularly thoughtful air. Then at last, with unusual animation, he exclaimed,
"Pack for a month in Norway."
Jeenes stared. "Then, my lord, you will elope with her? A very original idea; I congratulate your lordship."
Yet he seemed to stifle a sigh.
"No; I shall elope with you."
The Marquis was smiling again, a load of care removed from his mind.
"And desert her, my lord!"
The Marquis frowned.
"'Desert' is a term confined to the most vulgar species of divorce. I choose to be free:—that is all."
"But, my lord, how will you break it to her?"
The Marquis reflected.
"Let me see—a cable from Norway, do you think? or wouldn't an unexplained disappearance be even more effective?"
He looked sharply at his servant.
"What the devil are you staring at, Jeenes?"
Jeenes recovered his composure instantly.
"I beg your pardon, my lord. Yes, a mysterious disappearance would, as your lordship suggests, occupy a prominent position in the posters for several consecutive nights."
"I did not suggest."
"Again I heg your lordship's pardon. I should have said 'implied.'"
"You're in a devilish odd humor, Jeenes," remarked Fabrigas. "Keep that waistcoat for yourself—and you might as well keep the tie-pin too."
"Thanks to your lordship's generosity, I have fifteen waistcoats and eleven tie-pins in my possession already. I cannot take further advantage of your magnanimous disposition, my lord. When do we start?"
With lowered eyes and a thoughtful air Jeenes stood for a moment silent before his master. But it only took him that moment to come to a decision.
"Can your lordship spare me for an hour this afternoon?"
"Want to say good-by to some one?" smiled Fabrigas, pleasantly. "Yes, you can go; but don't be long. I've five hundred things for you to do for me."
Jeenes moved towards the door.
"I say," said his master,—"Jeenes!"
Jeenes turned and waited in respectful silence while the Marquis hesitated.
"You quite agree that I am doing the right thing?"
It was Jeenes's turn to hesitate. Then in a voice devoid of any hint of expression he answered,
"Perfectly, my lord."
Again he moved away, and again Lord Fabrigas called him back.
"By the way, Jeenes, I notice you've shaved your whiskers. I want you to grow them again. Fact is, you look too much like a gentleman without 'em."
In perfect silence Jeenes inclined his head and withdrew on velvet feet. That afternoon the gentleman with the bouquet again left the flat.
The Marquis of Fabrigas awoke from a refreshing sleep about the hour of nine next morning, and his first waking thoughts were as delicious as his slumbers. To-day he would be free; to-morrow famous! Well might he be styled "the fortunate."
"Jeenes," he murmured, "I am ready for my tea."
A man bending over a chairful of clothes straightened himself briskly.
"Very good, my lord."
The Marquis sat up in bed with astonishing alacrity.
"Who the deuce are you?" cried he.
A trim little fellow with irreproachable manners answered him suavely.
"Mr. Jeenes, my lord, 'as engaged me temporarily. I shall be 'appy to attend your lordship till you 'ave suited yourself."
"Where is Jeenes?" gasped the Marquis.
"He asked me to 'and you this letter, my lord."
The envelope was sealed with a neat monogram, the stationery a trifle more austerely perfect, if possible, than that the Marquis used himself, while the letterpress ran thus:
"Dear Fabrigas,—I take the liberty of addressing you with that familiarity which one gentleman is entitled to use when corresponding- with another; since, as you will shortly gather, we shall meet on that footing in future. I do not desire to wound your feelings in any way, but I am compelled to inform you candidly that my elevation from a position in which I may say without vanity I was an unqualified success to one wherein my very refinements—my nuances, so to speak—will at the start be against me, is due entirely to your failure to occupy the latter position yourself. I destined you for immortality as the embodiment of all a Marquis ought to be. From my earliest youth it has been my dream to know and to worship a Great Aristocrat. At the age of twenty I had completed in my own mind the portrait of the nobleman I required. He was to be a mixture of George IV., Charles II., Sir Philip Sydney, and the nobleman of the contemporary novel as purveyed for the consumption of the more credulous and imaginative classes. Need I say I allude to such as have never had the acute disappointment of meeting a living nobleman? At that time I was numbered among them; but my first situation was the means of raising me to speaking terms with the aristocracy. Is it necessary to add that at five-and-twenty I had decided to commit my dreams to paper and invent what I could not discover?
"At that crisis in my career I encountered yourself in the course of a week-end at the mansion of an already exploded hero. Instantly I laid my literary ambitions aside, and, as you are aware, I have devoted myself since to perfecting what appeared to me a character and a person all but ideal already.
"Now, my dear Fabrigas, speaking with perfect sincerity, I may say that as the bachelor about town and in the country house you were, and will ever remain, the personification of my own and my countrymen's dreams; and I can never give you any notion of my consternation and grief when I discovered that a tincture of those sordid middle-class virtues I had so long despised were actually necessary in order that the character of the Marquis of Fabrigas should retain my veneration. To think that my hero could not treat one woman in the spirit in which Rochester treated the entire sex without arousing in me a desire to punch his head! Fabrigas, the fault is very probably my own, but on the first occasion when I—attired in your cast-off clothing and answering to the name and title of Mr. Montague-Jeenes, secretary to his lordship—presented your bouquet to Miss Wimberley that was" (the Marquis started violently) "I secretly abjured your service. That you should not appreciate such a jewel! My faith in you was shaken, never to recover.
"It is true that I continued to struggle against my heterodoxy with tolerable success so lately as yesterday. But when you proposed to desert her, my conscience, my heart, and my artistic sense revolted simultaneously. I drove straight to Park Lane, informed her of your resolution, and—consoled her. She is now aware of my true profession, which, however, she is perfectly ready to forgive, since at one period of his career the late Mr. Wimberley himself carried a basket;—when full, at his elbow; when empty, over his head. At the same time she considers that for reasons of euphony the Montague had better be retained. The ceremony will be performed at such an early hour of the morning you receive this that it will unfortunately be scarcely possible for you to attend the registrar's office; and as Mrs. Jeenes and myself start for the Continent immediately afterwards, you will be saved the fatigue of your proposed Norwegian expedition.
"With kindest regards, in which my wife cordially joins, and hoping to see you at our house in Park Lane next season,
"Believe me, my dear Fabrigas,
Yours very truly,
The fortunate Lord Fabrigas dropped the letter upon the counterpane and for the space of five minutes gazed at the contour of his feet, which he was surprised to see still so far away from him, since a curious sensation as of diminished stature afflicted him distressingly.
"Should one wear a black tie?" he wondered: "Or carry it off with a cream-colored waistcoat?"