Lord Hayling’s Infatuation
From the London Magazine
THE unpretentions envelope, addressed in a precise and feminine hand to Colonel the Honorable Ivo Brough, had been waiting on the green baize board of the Staff Club—vulgarly known as the “Gold Lace”—for three days, and the steward ventured to mention the fact.
Colonel Brough screwed an eyeglass under a shaggy eyebrow and glanced at the writing, then grunted. Judging from his expression, it would have made no material difference to his equanimity if the letter had waited three weeks. He began to read' it slowly, but had not proceeded far when his interest was suddenly intensified, and before he had finished it the accustomed equanimity had entirely gone.
“My Dear Ivo,” it ran, “I am in great trouble. There is a hateful woman here—a widow—whose husband was, I believe, in your regiment, though I only gathered that from a chance observation which escaped her. Her name is Mrs. Laurier; one of those women who wear well with a little assistance. She may be anything from thirtyfive upwards, and I suppose you would call her pretty.
“She has set her cap at dear Arthur; and he, I need hardly say, has fallen a victim. It is the talk of the Spa. He refuses to come away, and the woman treats my hostility as a ioke. I am most anxious. Arthur is so extremely stubborn—it is the great fault of your family—and as he is twenty-one, what can I do?
Could you come down?—Your affectionate sister, Florence.”
Colonel Brough thrust the letter into his pocket, and seized a telegram form.
“Lady Hayling, Brampton Spa, Derbyshire,” he wrote. “Letter just received. Coming at once.—Ivo.” Having thus definitely committed himself to a course of action, the lines of his mouth relaxed a little under the white moustache. He dropped into a chair and opened his sister-in-law’s letter again, actually chuckling to himself as he did so. Then he spent some time in meditation. At last he rose in a liesurely fashion and looked carefully round the room.
“You were contemporary with poor old Laurier, weren’t you, Barnes?” he said to a man on the other side of the fireplace.
“Of course,” was the reply. “He left the regiment when he married.” The Colonel lighted a cigar.
“Who was the lucky girl?” he asked, carelessly. “I forget.”
“Nobody in particular ; a pretty little fluffy thing. She hooked him for his money, poor chap.”
“Why poor chap !”
“They weren’t happy, so I’ve heard. Anyhow, he got his own back.” “How?”
“Left her only three hundred a year. All the rest is in trust for the daughter until she is twenty-five or marries—something like a hundred thousand. I remember distinctly.” “Ah ! there was a daughter, was
there? I had forgotten. She must be getting on now, eh ?”
"The other man laughed.
“Too much so for madame,” he said. “I expect she’s fishing again, and a daughter of seventeen is not good bait. 'Moreover, it seems that the girl takes after Laurier. She’s big for her age, I hear—looks twenty, according to my kid. They’re at the same school down in Devon ; that’s how I know.”
“Umph !” said the Colonel, as though dismissing the subject. “Poor old Laurier!”
A couple of hours later he was on his way north.
If there was one thing in which Colonel Brough took especial pride it was a certain reputation for diplomacy—a knack of “managing ’ affairs after other people had found them unmanageable. When friends told him their troubles and asked his advice—which they only occasionally followed'—he was not bored but flattered, and this unusual attribute made him exceedingly popular.
After this explanation it will be more readily understood that in laying his plans for the redemption of his youthful nephew—ninth Baron Hayling in the Peerage of the United Kingdom—from the toils of a designing widow, he felt, after the first spasm of annoyance, as much pleasure as in playing a salmon.
Consequently, when he arrived at the station, he was in his best and most cheerful mood; and Lord Hayling, who had dutifully motored over to meet him, was somewhat mystified by the fact.
“My dear ‘boy,” exclaimed the old soldier, as he wrung his hand, “you’re getting more absurdly like your father every day. But—hang it !—you don’t look over pleased to see me.”
Lord Hayling flushed.
“I’m as pleased as Punch, uncle,” he said, with forced enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, he viewed the visit with considerable distrust and displeasure.
A glance at the sullen expression 114'
on his nephew’s usually open countenance decided Colonel Brough as to the line he should take.
“So you’ve been making your mother nervous, have you?” he asked, with a laugh, as they took their seats in the car.
“I don’t know how much she’s told you,” replied Lord Hayling cautiously-
“Nothing, except that you’ve fallen in love, my dear boy. And, pray, what could be more natural ? Didn’t we all do the same at your age?”
“This is a serious matter.” said the young man hotly. “I may tell you, uncle, I’m not going to be influenced by a lot of pladitudes about my youth and—and all that sort of
“Certainly not ! I rather admire you for it. After all, you’re the head of the family, you know, and you've got to marry and keep the title going in the direct line. And you need not be so touchy about your age. because early marriages are often the happiest.”
Such unexpected good nature did little to quell Lord Hayling’s suspicions.
“You never tried it yourself, uncle.”' he said, with a sidelong glance.
“Consequently, by dear boy. I’m unbiassed, and I can view the matter judicially. If the girl’s a nice girl, with a little money, perhaps—”
“Every penny she has goes when she marries,” said Hayling defiantly.
“That’s a pity! Still, if she’s voting and—
“She—she’s older than I am.”
For the first time the Colonel allowed himself to look concerned.
“How much?” he asked.
“Don’t quite know. Suppose she must be somewhere about thirty.”
“Somewhere about thirty! That’s unfortunate !”
“She doesn’t look it—really she doesn’t.”
“That’s something, at all events,” pursued his uncle. “Still, I wonder if she’ll only look somewhere about
forty when you are thirty-two, Arthur?”
That was an aspect of the case which Arthur had apparently not taken into consideration, and for the moment he was reduced to silence.
“Yet, after all, there must be something original about her, or she would have married before.”
Lord Flayling was actually blushing.
“Didn’t mother tell you that—that she was a widow?”
Colonel Brough almost jumped out of his seat.
“A widow!” he ejaculated. “The deuce !”
“Still,” he continued, with a reminiscent sigh. “I’ve known some very charming widows. Any children, dear boy?”
“Only one—a little girl. I haven’t seen her ; she’s away in the country at school somewhere. That doesn’t seem to me to be any particular obstacle. Of course, the girl’s provided for. In fact, I—I’m rather glad about it.”
To his obvious relief at that moment the car reached the grounds of the Spa. As they entered the hall, Colonel Brough’s swift glance fell upon a little fair woman in an easy-chair.
Arthur squared his shoulders, and advanced.
“May I introduce my uncle? Colonel Brough—Mrs. Laurier.”
The woman rose quickly, and held out her hand, not without a trace of anxiety. She was dressed in excellent taste and with consummate care. If there were any sign of age, any incipient line or wrinkle which merited concealment, the soft evening light was kind to her, and did its duty.
Colonel Brough looked at her with undisguised admiration.
“Laurier—Laurier!” he exclaimed, with enthusiasm. “Any relation of Charlie Laurier, I wonder—Charlie Laurier, of the 21st Hussars?”
. The woman’s lips still smiled, but a pair of grey eyes flashed defiance.
“He was my husband,” she said quietly.
“Delighted to meet you, Mrs. Laurier!’’ exclaimed the Colonel, with unabated warmth. “By and by we must have a chat together about old times. But, first of all, Arthur, if you'll take me to my room, I’ll make myself presentable. It must be nearly dinnertime !”
Uncle and nephew did not speak as they mounted the stairs ; and1 Lord Hayling was evidently suffering considerable embarrassment. A servant was unpacking the Colonel’s clothes, and the young man loitered in the room till they had it to themselves.
“You knew Laurier, then?” he ventured presently.
“Knew him, my dear boy?” exclaimed the Colonel. “Why, we served together! He was the jolliest fellow in the regiment. But that’s a long, long time ago.”
“Really, Ivo !”
There was tragic denunciation in Lady Hayling’s tone.
“Well, my dear Florence?” replied Colonel Brough.
It was late in the evening; and, in spite of repeated efforts, his sisterin-law had only just succeeded in getting him alone.
“Is that all you have to say? Oh, what am I to do ? What am I to do ?”
Seeing that she was about to break into tears, the Colonel gallantly took her hand and gently patted it. He had been decorated for bravery in the field, but a woman’s tears were more than he could stand. The action was beneficial, for Lady Hayling’s drooping spirits suddenly revived.
“I sent for you to put an end to this absurb infatuation of Arthur’s, and what have you done?” She spoke rather angrily.
“Well, what? A woman never asks
a question like that unless she has an answer ready.”
“You’ve done nothing but encourage it. The whole evening you have been humoring her and petting her and making her absurdly flattering speeches.”
“What would you have? Except yourself, my dear, Mrs. Laurier is the only fascinating woman in the house. The rest are all as dull as ditch-water.”
“But surely you did not come here with the idea of amusing yourself? I consider your attitude most reprehensible.”
Lady Hayling’s expression was one of outraged propriety.
“You will at least give me credit for preventing a tete-a-tete,” said the Colonel lamely.
“You have given Arthur to understand that the woman has your approval. I believe you have even told her so.”
“Not in so many word's.”
“I caught her eye just now. She looked at me triumphantly as much as to say: ‘You see. I’ve won him over.’ What will happen after you have gone? What course am I to adopt?” “Why not come with me?”
“And leave Arthur here? What can you be thinking of, Ivo? Do you think that in his present state he would consent to come away?” “Perhaps not,” said the Colonel. He tried to look grave, but there was a twinkle in his eye which gave Lady Hayling encouragement.
“I had such faith in your diplomacy,” she said.
“And I had great faith in your common sense, Florence. Fancy bringing the boy to a place like this, where there isn’t a decent girl for him to make love to, always excepting Mrs. Laurier !”
“We came here for my health.” “Entirely ?”
“Well, T thonght it was nice and quiet, and he would be kept out of mischief. Pie’s so impressionable.” “And you see the result.”
“But what do you think will result from your behavior to-night?”
“Who can sav? You might write and tell me. I’m going to-morrow.” “Going to-morrow? And is this all the comfort yon have for me?”
“Now, don’t unduly worry yourself. my dear Florence. These things
must not be hurried. At present Arthur is a little nonplussed. Firstly, by the absence of apparent opposition on my part. That's disappointing to him, you know, although he may not realize it. And, in addition to that, he begins to have a glimmering idea that Mrs. Laurier and he are not of the same generation. Most of the people she and I have been chatting about to-night are dead. I resuscitated them for the purpose of showing my nephew how exceedingly young he is.”
“That was clever, perhaps. But after you have gone?”
“The infatuation will cease, I hope. If it doesn’t, you must import some fresh blood. Haven’t you any young girls among your friends—pretty girls ? I wonder you didn’t think of it before.”
“I’ve been too distracted. Besides. Ivo—”
“Well, wire me the day after tomorrow. If necessary, I will come down again. But with ordinary luck everything will go as I predict. Goodnight, Florence.”
In spite of the apparently unsuccessful result of his intervention, the Colonel slept soundly ; and when he announced at breakfast next morning that he must return to town, no one was more sorry than his nephew. Mrs. Laurier looked sorry, too. but, in reality, she was somewhat relieved. In spite of her conciuest, she had not slept so well. Solitary reflection, added to that curious twinkle in the Colonel’s eye. had bred misgiving.
It was pretty late in the afternoon when the car was brought round to take Colonel Brough to the station. Lord Hayling was not quite ready.
“Nice car!” said the Colonel.
The chauffeur agreed. It was a car which could do anything—under his guidance.
“Ever break down?” inquired the Colonel.
The man looked up quickly. Lord Hayling was suddenly heard whistling as he came through the hall.
“Here’s a sovereign,” said the Colonel. without more ado. “If the car
breaks down, for three-quarters of an hour on your way back from the station, there'll be another for you when we meet again.”
“Very good, sir,” said the man, with a grin. “His lordship—”
“Must -know nothing about it, of course, till afterwards. Then, if vou like. I will tell him, and relieve you of all the blame.”
“Ah, here you are, uncle ! Then we may as well be off. But we’ve plenty of time.”
“Well?” said the young man, as they whizzed away.
Colonel Brough lighted a cigarette.
“You want me to sum up,” he said. “Well, Arthur, she’s an extremely fascinating woman. If I had a chance, I don’t know that I shouldn’t marry her myself. But I shouldn’t hurry things. I don’t want you to do anything desperate for a week. Is that asking too much ?”
Lord Hayling gripped his hand.
“You’re a brick, uncle! If that’ll satisfy you, I suppose, in the end, it will satisfy the mater. I won’t propose to her for a week. That I promise. But, of course, you understand it will be all the same.”
“Of course ! But it’ll give you time to see things a bit more clearly. And if they look the same at the end of your week, why, marry her, and good luck to you !”
And not another word was spoken on the subject.
The nearest station to Brampton Spa is some seven miles distant. It is a quiet little roadside platform, nothing more, and it was erected mainly for the convenience of a certain noble duke whose magnificent castle is the principal feature of the surrounding country. Consequently, the arrival of a passenger is something of an event.
When Lord Hayling’s car arrived, the solitary man who filled the treble role of booking-clerk, ticket-collector, and station-master, was dancing eager attendance on a verv pretty girl who was standing, a forlorn figure, in the
midst of a circle of substantial-looking luggage.
“But are you sure I can’t get a conveyance?” she was asking.
Lord Hayling pricked up his ears.
“Hallo! What’s this?” he ejaculated.
Colonel Brough seemed quite indifferent.
“Somebody stranded, apparently,” he said.
“But—but don’t you think I ought perhaps to offer the car?”
The factotum overheard him, and, seeing an issue out of his afflictions,, he touched’ his cap.
“Lady expected to be met, sir,” he volunteered.
The girl nodded pathetically, She looked about nineteen, and had large blue eyes and a healthy self-possession.
“My mother wired that she would meet me with a brougham,” she announced to the world at large.
“Indeed!” said Lord Hayling, cap in hand. “I hope you will consider my car at your service.”
She gave a sigh of relief. There was evidently not the slightest doubt that she would avail herself of the offer.
“But I should be taking you out of your way. I’m afraid.” she objected, half-heartedlv. “I have to go to Brampton Spa.”
“That’s where I’m staying,” said Lord Hayling.
He glanced rather guiltily at his uncle, but the Colonel was busily lighting a fresh cigarette from the stump of the old one.
“Indeed!” exclaimed the girl, with a fresh look of interest. “Then you probablv know my mother, Mrs. Laurier !”
There was a heavy pause.
“Mrs. L-Laurier, your m-mother? Oh, yes, I know her; f-fancy that!”
“She wired me vesterda}r to come down by this train, and she would meet me. It’s most remarkable that she isn’t here.”
Lord Hayling was gazing at her o'"en-mouthed, almost rudely.
“Let me help with Miss Laurier’s luggage,” interposed the Colonel quietly. “My train is not due for ten minutes.”
Lord Hayling caught his eye. He turned very red, which is usually considered a sign of guilt.
“This is really too kind of you,” said the girl, with a glance of unaffected gratitude as Hayling took the seat beside her and tucked the fur rug about them both. “Mother will be so much obliged.”
Once more Lord Hayling glanced timidly at his uncle, but he had suddenly, on some pretext or other, turned his back to them.
“Good-bye, uncle ”
Colonel Brough turned and took off his hat. Signs of unseemly mirth were discernible on his face. At least, they were visible to his nephew.
“Don’t forget,” he whispered to the chauffeur.
It was a very improper thing for a chauffeur to do on duty, but he actually winked.
The following letter reached Colonel Brough a week later:
“My Dear Ivo,—You sent that wire to the girl, and you didn’t tell me! You should have seen Mrs Laurier when Arthur and she arrived! They were ever so late, and it was quite dark. I could see at once how things would go; and so they did. Trust a woman for understanding these things ! They are frantically in love with each other. I thought that mother and daughter would disappear, but I was mistaken. She’s a weak little thing at heart, Mrs. Laurier—so different from her dear daughter. She came to me this morning and cried, and asked me to forgive her. I think you did her rather an injustice in thinking her so deep. Seeing that the girl will have all - her father’s money, perhaps, if it comes to anything, some additional settlement could be made on Mrs. Laurier. What do you think?—Your affectionate sister, Florence.”
“Why, certainly,” said the Colonel to himself, with a smile of extreme complacency ; “certainly, if only by way of thanksgiving !”
AT LACK of self-control always indicates other lacks and weaknesses which are fatal to the highest attainment. A man who can not hold himself in check, certainly will not be able to control others. A lack of self-control indicates a lack of mental balance. A man who can not keep his balance under all circumstances, who can not control the fire of his temper, who lacks the power to smother the volcano of his passion, can not boast of self-mastery, has not arrived at success.