her hair, murmuring to Chloe, 'I can't abide that powder. You shall see me walk in a hoop. I can. I've done it to slow music till my duke clapped hands. I'm nothing sitting to what I am on my feet. That's because I haven't got fine language yet. I shall. It seems to come last. So, there 's the place. And whereabouts do all the great people meet and prommy—?'
'They promenade where you see the trees, madam,' said Chloe.
'And where is it where the ladies sit and eat jam tarts with whipped cream on 'em, while the gentlemen stand and pay compliments?'
Chloe said it was at a shop near the pump room.
Duchess Susan looked out over the house-tops, beyond the dusty hedges.
'Oh, and that powder!' she cried. 'I hate to be out of the fashion and a spectacle. But I do love my own hair, and I have such a lot, and I like the colour, and so does my duke. Only, don't let me be fingered at. If once I begin to blush before people, my courage is gone; my singing inside me is choked; and I've a real lark going on in me all day long, rain or sunshine—hush, all about love and amusement.'
Chloe smiled, and Duchess Susan said, 'Just like a bird, for I don't know what it is.'
She looked for Chloe to say that she did.
At the moment a pair of mounted squires rode up, and the coach stopped, while Beau Beamish gave orders for the church bells to be set ringing, and the band to meet and precede his equipage at the head of the bath avenue: 'in honour of the arrival of her Grace the Duchess of Dewlap.'
He delivered these words loudly to his men, and turned an effulgent gaze upon the duchess, so that for a minute she was fascinated and did not consult her hearing; but presently she fell into an uneasiness; the signs increased, she bit her lip, and after breathing short once or twice, 'Was it meaning me, Mr. Beamish?' she said.
'You, madam, are the person whom we 'delight to honour,' he replied.
'Duchess of what?' she screwed uneasy features to hear.
'Duchess of Dewlap,' said he.
'It's not my title, sir.'
'It is your title on my territory, madam.'
She made her pretty nose and upper lip ugly with a sneer of 'Dew—! And enter that town before all those people as Duchess of . . . Oh, no, I won't; I just won't! Call back those men now, please; now, if you please. Pray, Mr. Beamish! You'll offend me, sir. I'm not going to be a mock. You'll offend my duke, sir. He'd die rather than have my feelings hurt. Here's all my pleasure spoilt. I won't and I sha'n't enter the town as duchess of that stupid name, so call 'em back, call 'em back this instant. I know who I am and what I am, and I know what's due to me, I do.'
Beau Beamish rejoined, 'I too. Chloe will tell you I am lord here.'
'Then I'll go home, I will. I won't be laughed at for a great lady ninny. I'm a real lady of high rank, and such I'll appear. What 's a Duchess of Dewlap? One might as well be Duchess of Cowstail, Duchess of Mopsend. And those people! But I won't be that. I won't be played with. I see them staring! No, I can make up my mind, and I beg you to call back your men, or I'll go back home.' She muttered, 'Be made fun of —made a fool of!'
'Your Grace's chariot is behind,' said the beau.
His despotic coolness provoked her to an outcry and weeping: she repeated, 'Dewlap! Dewlap!' in sobs; she shook her shoulders and hid her face.
'You are proud of your title, are you, madam?' said he.
'I am.' She came out of her hands to answer him proudly. 'That I am!' she meant for a stronger affirmation.
'Then mark me,' he said impressively; 'I am your duke's friend, and you are under my charge here. I am your guardian and you are my ward, and you can enter the town only on the condition of obedience to me. Now, mark me, madam; no one can rob you of your real name and title saving yourself. But you are entering a place where you will encounter a thousand temptations to tarnish, and haply forfeit it. Be warned do nothing that will.'
'Then I'm to have my own title?' said she, clearing up.
'For the month of your visit you are Duchess of Dewlap.'
'I say I sha'n't!'
'I command it.'
She flung herself forward, with a wail, upon Chloe's bosom. 'Can't you do something for me?' she whimpered.
'It is impossible to move Mr. Beamish,' Chloe said.
Out of a pause, composed of sobs and sighs, the duchess let loose in a broken voice: 'Then I 'm sure I think—I think I'd rather have met—have met his skeleton!'
Her sincerity was equal to wit.
Beau Beamish shouted. He cordially applauded her, and in the genuine kindness of an admiration that surprised him, he permitted himself the liberty of taking and saluting her fingers. She fancied there was another chance for her, but he frowned at the mention of it.
Upon these proceedings the exhilarating sound of the band was heard; simultaneously a festival peal of bells burst forth; and an admonishment of the necessity for concealing her chagrin and exhibiting both station and a countenance to the people, combined with the excitement of the new scenes and the marching music to banish the acuter sense of disappointment from Duchess Susan's mind; so she very soon held herself erect, and wore a face open to every wonder, impressionable as the blue lake-surface, crisped here and there by fitful breezes against a level sun.
It was an axiom with Mr. Beamish, our first, if not our only philosophical beau and a gentleman of some thoughtfulness, that the social English require tyrannical government as much as the political are able to dispense with it: and this he explained by an exposition of the character of a race possessed of the eminent virtue of individual self- assertion, which causes them to insist on good elbowroom wherever they gather together. Society, however, not being tolerable where the smoothness of intercourse is disturbed by a perpetual punching of sides, the merits of the free citizen in them become their demerits when a fraternal circle is established, and they who have shown an example of civilization too notable in one sphere to call for eulogy, are often to be seen elbowing on the ragged edge of barbarism in the other. They must therefore be reduced to accept laws not of their own making, and of an extreme rigidity.
Here too is a further peril; for the gallant spirits distinguishing them in the state of independence may (he foresaw the melancholy experience of a later age) abandon them utterly in subjection, and the glorious boisterousness befitting the village green forsake them even in their haunts of liberal association, should they once be thoroughly tamed by authority. Our 'merrie England' will then be long-faced England, an England of fallen chaps, like a boar's head, bearing for speech a lemon in the mouth: good to feast on, mayhap; not with!
Mr. Beamish would actually seem to have foreseen the danger of a transition that he could watch over only in his time; and, as he said, 'I go, as I came, on a flash'; he had neither ancestry nor descendants: he was a genius, he knew himself a solitary, therefore, in spite of his efforts to create his like. Within his district he did effect something, enough to give him fame as one of the princely fathers of our domestic civilization, though we now appear to have lost by it more than formerly we gained. The chasing of the natural is ever