A Few days after the entertainment at Willowsmere, and before the society papers had done talking about the magnificence and luxury displayed on that occasion, I woke up one morning, like the great poet Byron, "to find myself famous." Not for any intellectual achievement,—not for any unexpected deed of heroism,—not for any resolved or noble attitude in society or politics,—no !—I owed my fame merely to a quadruped;—' Phosphor' won the Derby. It was about a neck-and-neck contest between my racer and that of the Prime Minister, and for a second or so the result seemed doubtful,—but as the two jockeys neared the goal, Amiel, whose thin wiry figure, clad in the brightest of bright scarlet silk, stuck to his horse as though he were a part of it, put 'Phosphor' to a pace he had never yet exhibited, appearing to skim along the ground at literally flying speed,—the upshot being that he scored a triumphant victory, reaching the winning-post a couple of yards or more ahead of his rival. Acclamations rent the air at the vigour displayed in the 'finish,' and I became the hero of the day,—the darling of the populace. I was somewhat amused at the Premier's discomfiture, —he took his beating rather badly. He did not know me, nor I him. I was not of his politics, and I did not care a jot for his feelings one way or the other, but I was gratified in a certain satirical sense, to find myself suddenly acknowledged as a greater man than he, because I was the owner of the Derby-winner! Before I well knew where I was, I found myself being presented to the Prince of Wales, who shook hands with me and congratulated me;—all the biggest aristocrats in England were willing and eager to be introduced to me;—and inwardly I laughed at this exhibition of taste and culture on the part of 'the gentlemen of England that live at home at ease.' They crowded round 'Phosphor,' whose wild eye warned strangers against taking liberties with him, but who seemed not a whit the worse for his exertions, and who apparently was quite ready to run the race over again with equal pleasure and success. Amiel's dark sly face and cruel ferret eyes were evidently not attractive to the majority of the gentlemen of the turf, though his answers to all the queries put to him were admirably ready, respectful and not without wit. But to me the whole sum and substance of the occasion was the fact that I, Geoffrey Tempest, once struggling author, now millionaire, was simply by virtue of my ownership of the Derby-winner, 'famous' at last!—or what society considers famous,—that fame that secures for a man the attention of 'the nobility and gentry,' to quote from tradesmen's advertisements,—and also obtains the persistent adulation and shameless pursuit of all the demi-mondaines who want jewels and horses and yachts presented to them in exchange for a few tainted kisses from their carmined lips. Under the shower of compliments I received I stood, apparently delighted,—smiling, affable and courteous,—entering into the spirit of the occasion, and shaking hands with my Lord That, and Sir Something Nobody, and His Serene Highness the Grand Duke So-and-So of Beer-Land, and His other Serene Lowness of Small-Principality,—but in my secret soul I scorned these people with their social humbug and hypocrisy,—scorned them with such a deadly scorn as almost amazed myself. When presently I walked off the course with Lucio, who as usual seemed to know and to be friends with everybody, he spoke in accents that were far more grave and gentle than I had ever heard him use before.
"With all your egotism, Geoffrey, there is something forcible and noble in your nature,—something which rises up in bold revolt against falsehood and sham. Why, in Heaven's name, do you not give it way?"
I looked at him amazed, and laughed.
"Give it way? What do you mean? Would you have me tell humbugs that I know them as such? and liars that I discern their lies? My dear fellow, society would become too hot to hold me!"
"It could not be hotter—or colder—than hell, if you believed in hell, which you do not," he rejoined, in the same quiet voice. "But I did not assume that you should say these things straight out and bluntly to give offence. An affronting candour is not nobleness,—it is merely coarse. To act nobly is better than to speak."
"And what would you have me do?" I asked curiously.
He was silent for a moment, and seemed to be earnestly, almost painfully considering,—then he answered—
"My advice will seem to you singular, Geoffrey, but if you want it, here it is. Give, as I said, the noble, and what the world would call the quixotic part of your nature full way,— do not sacrifice your higher sense of what is right and just for the sake of pandering to anyone's power or influence,— and—say farewell to me! I am no use to you, save to humour your varying fancies, and introduce you to those great—or small—personages you wish to know for your own convenience or advantage; believe me, it would be much better for you and much more consoling at the inevitable hour of death, if you were to let all this false and frivolous nonsense go, and me with it! Leave society to its own fool's whirligig of distracted follies, put Royalty in its true place, and show it that all its pomp, arrogance and glitter are worthless, and itself a nothing compared to the upright standing of a brave soul in an honest man, and, as Christ said to the rich ruler, 'Sell half that thou hast and give to the poor.' ''
I was silent for a minute or so out of sheer surprise, while he watched me closely, his face pale and expectant. A curious shock of something like compunction startled my conscience, and for a brief space I was moved to a vague regret,—regret that with all the enormous capability I possessed of doing good to numbers of my fellow-creatures with the vast wealth I owned, I had not attained to any higher moral attitude than that represented by the frivolous folk who make up what is called the 'Upper Ten' of society. I took the same egotistical pleasure in myself and my own doings as any of them, and I was to the full as foolishly conventional, smooth-tongued and hypocritical as they. They acted their part and I acted mine,—none of us were ever our real selves for a moment. In very truth, one of the reasons why 'fashionable' men and women cannot bear to be alone is, that a solitude in which they are compelled to look face to face upon their secret selves becomes unbearable because of the burden they carry of concealed vice and accusing shame. My emotion soon passed, however, and slipping my arm through Lucio's, I smiled, as I answered—
"Your advice, my dear fellow, would do credit to a Salvationist preacher, but it is quite valueless to me, because impossible to follow. To say farewell for ever to you, in the first place, would be to make myself guilty of the blackest ingratitude; in the second instance, society, with all its ridiculous humbug, is nevertheless necessary for the amusement of myself and my future wife,—Royalty, moreover, is accustomed to be flattered, and we shall not be hurt by joining in the general inane chorus; thirdly, if I did as the visionary Jew suggested ''
"What visionary Jew?" he asked, his eyes sparkling coldly.
"Why, Christ of course!" I rejoined lightly.
The shadow of a strange smile parted his lips.
"It is the fashion to blaspheme !" he said. "A mark of brilliancy in literature, and wit in society! I forgot! Pray go on,—if you did as Christ suggested ''
"Yes,—if I gave half my goods to the poor, I should not be thanked for it, or considered anything but a fool for my pains."
"You would wish to be thanked?" he said."Naturally! Most people like a little gratitude in return for benefits."
"They do. And the Creator, who is always giving, is supposed to like gratitude also," he observed; "nevertheless, He seldom gets it!"
"I do not talk of hyperphysical nothingness," I said with impatience. "I am speaking of the plain facts of this world and the people who live in it. If one gives largely, one expects to be acknowledged as generous; but if I were to divide my fortune, and hand half of it to the poor, the matter would be chronicled in about six lines in one of the papers, and society would exclaim, 'What a fool!'"
"Then let us talk no more about it," said Lucio, his brows clearing, and his eyes gathering again their wonted light of mockery and mirth. "Having won the Derby, you have really done all a nineteenth-century civilization expects you to do, and for your reward, you will be in universal demand everywhere. You may hope soon to dine at Marlborough House,—and a little back-stair influence and political jobbery will work you into the Cabinet if you care for it. Did I not tell you I would set you up as successfully as the bear who has reached the bun on the top of the slippery pole, a spectacle for the envy of men and the wonder of angels? Well, there you are !—triumphant!—a great creature, Geoffrey,—in fact, you are the greatest product of the age, a man with five millions, and owner of the Derby-winner! What is the glory of intellect compared to such a position as yours! Men envy you,—and as for angels,—if there are any,—you may be sure they do wonder! A man's fame guaranteed by a horse is something indeed to make an angel stare!" .
He laughed uproariously, and from that day he never spoke again of his singular proposition that I should 'part with him,' and let the "nobler" nature in me have its way. I was not to know then that he had staked a chance upon my soul, and lost it, and that from henceforward he took a determined course with me, implacably on to the appalling end.
My marriage took place on the appointed day in June with all the pomp and extravagant 'show' befitting my position and that of the woman I had chosen to wed. It is needless to describe the gorgeousness of the ceremony in detail,— any fashionable 'ladies paper' describing the wedding of an Earl's daughter to a five-fold millionaire, will give an idea, in hysterical rhapsody, of the general effect. It was an amazing scene,—and one in which costly millinery completely vanquished all considerations of solemnity or sacredness in the supposed 'divine' ordinance. The impressive command, "I require and charge ye both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment," did not obtain half so much awed attention as the exquisite knots of pearls and diamonds which fastened the bride's silver-emboidered train to her shoulders. 'All the world and his wife' were present,—that is, the social world, which imagines no other world exists, though it is the least part of the community. The Prince of Wales honoured us by his presence; two great dignitaries of the church performed the marriage-rite, resplendent in redundant fulness of white sleeve and surplice, and equally imposing in the fatness of their bodies and unctuous redness of their faces; and Lucio was my 'best man.' He was in high, almost wild spirits, and, during our drive to the church together, had entertained me all the way with numerous droll stories, mostly at the expense of the clergy. When we reached the sacred edifice, he said laughingly as he alighted—
"Did you ever hear it reported, Geoffrey, that the devil is unable to enter a church, because of the cross upon it, or within it?"
"I have heard some such nonsense," I replied, smiling at the humour expressed in his sparkling eyes and eloquent features.
"It is nonsense, for the makers of the legend forgot one thing," he continued, dropping his voice to a whisper as we passed under the carved gothic portico,—"the cross may be
present, but so is the clergyman! And wherever a
clergyman goes the devil can follow !''
I almost laughed aloud at his manner of making this irreverent observation, and the look with which he accompanied it. The rich tones of the organ creeping softly on the flower-scented silence, however, quickly solemnized my mood, —and while I leaned against the altar-rails waiting for my bride, I caught myself wondering, for the hundredth time or more, at my comrade's singularly proud and kingly aspect, as with folded arms and lifted head he contemplated the lilydecked altar and the gleaming crucifix upon it, his meditative eyes bespeaking a curious mingling of reverence and contempt.
One incident I remember, as standing out particularly in all the glare and glitter of the brilliant scene, and this occurred at the signing of our names in the register. When Sibyl, a vision of angelic loveliness in all her bridal white, affixed her signature to the entry, Lucio bent towards her.
"As 'best man' I claim an old-fashioned privilege!" he said, and kissed her lightly on the cheek. She blushed a vivid red, then suddenly grew ghastly pale, and with a kind of choking cry, reeled back in a dead faint in the arms of one of her bridesmaids. It was some minutes before she was restored to consciousness, but she made light both of my alarm and the consternation of her friends,—and assuring us that it was nothing but the effect of the heat of the weather and the excitement of the day, she took my arm and walked down the aisle smilingly through the brilliant ranks of her staring and envious 'society' friends, all of whom coveted her good fortune, not because she had married a worthy or gifted man,—that would have been no special matter for congratulation,—but simply because she had married five millions of money! I was the appendage to the millions—nothing further. She held her head high and haughtily, though I felt her tremble as the thundering strains of the Bridal March from Lohengrin poured sonorous triumph on the air. She trod on roses all the way,—I remembered that too, … afterwards. Her satin slipper crushed the hearts of a thousand innocent things that must surely have been more dear to God than she ;—the little harmless souls of flowers, whose task in hfe, sweetly fulfilled, had been to create beauty and fragrance by their mere existence, expired to gratify the vanity of one woman to whom nothing was sacred! But I anticipate,—I was yet in my fool's dream, and imagined that the dying blossoms were happy to perish thus beneath her tread!
A grand reception was held at Lord Elton's house after the ceremony, and in the midst of the chattering, the eating and the drinking, we—my newly made wife and I—departed amid the profuse flatteries and good wishes of our 'friends,' who, primed with the very finest champagne, made a very decent show of being sincere. The last person to say farewell to us at the carriage-door was Lucio,—and the sorrow I felt at parting with him was more than I could express in words. From the very hour of the dawning of my good fortune, we had been almost inseparable companions,—I owed my success in society, everything, even my bride herself, to his management and tact,—and though I had now won for my life's partner the most beautiful of women, I could not contemplate even the temporary breaking of the association between myself and my gifted and brilliant comrade, without a keen pang of personal pain amid my nuptial joys. Leaning his arms on the carriage-window, he looked in upon us both, smiling.
"My spirit will be with you both in all your journeyings!" he said. "And when you return, I shall be one of the first to bid you welcome home. Your house-party is fixed for September, I believe?"
"Yes, and you will be the most eagerly desired guest of all invited!" I replied heartily, pressing his hand.
"Fie, for shame!" he retorted laughingly. "Be not so disloyal of speech, Geoffrey! Are you not going to entertain the Prince, the most popular of men ?—and shall anyone be more 'eagerly desired' than he? No; I must play a humble third or even fourth on your list where Royalty is concerned, —my princedom is alas! not that of Wales,—and the throne I might claim (if I had anyone to help me, which I have not) is a long way removed from that of England!"
Sibyl said nothing, but her eyes rested on his handsome face and fine figure with an odd wonder and wistfulness, and she was very pale.
"Good-bye, Lady Sibyl!" he added gently. "All joy be with you! To us who are left behind, your absence will seem long,—but to you,—ah !—Love gives wings to time, and what would be to ordinary folks a month of mere dull living, will be for you nothing but a moment's rapture! Love is better than wealth,—you have found that out already I know !—but I think—and hope—that you are destined to make the knowledge more certain and complete! Think of me sometimes! Au revoir!"
The horses started,—a handful of rice, flung by the society idiot who is always at weddings, rattled against the door and on the roof of the brougham, and Lucio stepped back, waving his hand. To the last we saw him, a tall stately figure on the steps of Lord Elton's mansion, surrounded by an ultra-fashionable throng, … bridesmaids in bright attire and picturehats,—young girls all eager and excited-looking, each of them no doubt longing fervently for the day to come when they might severally manage to secure as rich a husband as myself, … match-making mothers and wicked old dowagers, exhibiting priceless lace on their capacious bosoms, and ablaze with diamonds, … men with white button-hole bouquets in their irreproachably fitting frock-coats,—servants in gay liveries, and the usual street-crowd of idle sight-seers,—all this cluster of faces, costumes and flowers was piled against the grey background of the stone portico,—and in the midst, the dark beauty of Lucio's face and the luminance of his flashing eyes made him the conspicuous object and chief centre of attraction, … then … the carriage turned a sharp corner,— the faces vanished,—and Sibyl and I realized that from henceforward we were left alone,—alone to face the future and ourselves,—and to learn the lesson of love … or hate … for evermore together.