Francesca wishes to get some old hall-marked silver for her home tea-tray, and she is absorbed at present in answering advertisements of people who have second-hand pieces for sale, and who offer to bring them on approval. The other day, when Willie Beresford and I came in from Westminster Abbey (where we had been choosing the best locations for our memorial tablets), we thought Francesca must be giving a 'small and early'; but it transpired that all the silver-sellers had called at the same hour, and it took the united strength of Dawson and Mr. Beresford, together with my diplomacy, to rescue the poor child from their clutches. She came out alive, but her safety was purchased at the cost of a George IV. cream-jug, an Elizabethan sugar-bowl, and a Boadicea tea-caddy, which were, I doubt not, manufactured in Wardour Street towards the close of the nineteenth century.
Salemina came in just then, cold and tired. (Tower and National Gallery the same day. It's so much more work to go to the Tower nowadays than it used to be!) We had intended to take a sail to Richmond on a penny steamboat, but it was drizzling, so we had a cosy fire instead, slipped into our tea-gowns, and ordered tea and thin bread-and-butter, a basket of strawberries with their frills on, and a jug of Devonshire cream. Willie Beresford asked if he might stay; otherwise, he said, he should have to sit at a cold marble table on the corner of Bond Street and Piccadilly, and take his tea in bachelor solitude.
"Yes," I said severely, "we will allow you to stay; though, as you are coming to dinner, I should think you would have to go away some time, if only in order that you might get ready to come back. You've been here since breakfast-time."
"I know," he answered calmly, "and my only error in judgment was that I didn't take an earlier breakfast, in order to begin my day here sooner. One has to snatch a moment when he can, nowadays; for these rooms are so infested with British swells that a base-born American stands very little chance!"
Now I should like to know if Willie Beresford is in love with Francesca. What shall I do—that is what shall we do—if he is, when she is in love with somebody else? To be sure, she may want one lover for foreign and another for domestic service. He is too old for her, but that is always the way. When Alcides, having gone through all the fatigues of life, took a bride in Olympus, he ought to have selected Minerva, but he chose Hebe.
I wonder why so many people call him 'Willie' Beresford, at his age. Perhaps it is because his mother sets the example; but from her lips it does not seem amiss. I suppose when she looks at him she recalls the past, and is ever seeing the little child in the strong man, mother fashion. It is very beautiful, that feeling; and when a girl surprises it in any mother's eyes it makes her heart beat faster, as in the presence of something sacred, which she can understand only because she is a woman, and experience is foreshadowed in intuition.
The Honourable Arthur had sent us a dozen London dailies and weeklies, and we fell into an idle discussion of their contents over the teacups. I had found an 'exchange column' which was as interesting as it was novel, and I told Francesca it seemed to me that if we managed wisely we could rid ourselves of all our useless belongings, and gradually amass a collection of the English articles we most desired. "Here is an opportunity, for instance," I said, and I read aloud-"'S.G., of Kensington, will post 'Woman' three days old regularly for a box of cut flowers.'"
"Rather young," said Mr. Beresford, "or I'd answer that advertisement myself."
I wanted to tell him I didn't suppose that he could find anything too young for his taste, but I didn't dare.
"Salemina adores cats," I went on. "How is this, Sally, dear?— 'A handsome orange male Persian cat, also a tabby, immense coat, brushes and frills, is offered in exchange for an electro-plated revolving covered dish or an Allen's Vapour Bath.'"
"I should like the cat, but alas! I have no covered dish," sighed Salemina.
"Buy one," suggested Mr. Beresford. "Even then you'd be getting a bargain. Do you understand that you receive the male orange cat for the dish, and the frilled tabby for the bath, or do you get both in exchange for either of these articles? Read on, Miss Hamilton."
"Very well, here is one for Francesca-"'A harmonium with seven stops is offered in exchange for a really good Plymouth cockerel hatched in May.'"
"I should want to know when the harmonium was hatched," said Francesca prudently. "Now you cannot usurp the platform entirely, my dear Pen. Listen to an English marriage notice from the Times. It chances to be the longest one to-day, but there were others just as remarkable in yesterday's issue.
"'On the 17th instant, at Emmanuel Church (Countess of Padelford's connection), Weston-super-Mare, by the Rev. Canon Vernon, B.D., Rector of St. Edmund the King and Martyr, Suffolk Street, uncle of bride, assisted by the Rev. Otho Pelham, M.A., Vicar of All Saints, Upper Norwood, Dr. Philosophial Konrad Rasch, of Koetzsenbroda, Saxony, to Evelyn Whitaker Rake, widow of the late Richard Balaclava Rake, Barrister-at-law of the Inner Temple and Bombay, and third surviving daughter of George Frederic Goldspink, C.B., of Sydenham House, Craig Hill, Commissioner of Her Majesty's Customs, and formerly of the War Office.'"
By the time this was finished we were all quite exhausted, but we revived like magic when Salemina read us her contribution:—
"'A NAME ENSHRINED IN LITERATURE AND RENOWNED IN COMMERCE,—Miss Willard, Waddington, Essex. Deal with her whenever you possibly can. When you want to purchase, ask her for anything under the canopy of heaven, from jewels, bijouterie, and curios to rare books and high-class articles of utility. When you want to sell, consign only to her, from choice gems to mundane objects. All transactions embodying the germs of small profits are welcome. As a sample of her stock please note: A superlatively exquisite, essentially beautiful, and important lace flounce for sale, at a reasonable price. Also a bargain of peerlessly choice character.—Six grandly glittering paste cluster buttons, of important size, emitting dazzling rays of incomparable splendour and lustre. Don't readily forget this or her name and address,—Clara (Miss) Willard (the Lady Trader), Waddington, Essex. Immaculate promptitude and scrupulous liberality observed: therefore, on these credentials, ye must deal with her; it is the duty of intellect to be reciprocal.'"
Just here Dawson entered, evidently to lay the dinner-cloth, but, seeing that we had a visitor, he took the tea-tray and retired discreetly.
"It is five-and-thirty minutes past six, Mr. Beresford," I said. "Do you think you can get to the Metropole and array yourself and return in less than an hour? Because, even if you can, remember that we ladies have elaborate toilets in prospect,—toilets intended for the complete prostration of the British gentry. Francesca has a yellow gown which will drive Bertie Godolphin to madness. Salemina has laid out a soft, dovelike grey and steel combination, directed towards the Church of England; for you may not know that Sally has a vicar in her train, Mr. Beresford, and he will probably speak to-night. As for me-"
Before these shocking personalities were finished Salemina and Francesca had fled to their rooms, and Mr. Beresford took up my broken sentence and said, "As for you, Miss Hamilton, whatever gown you wear, you are sure to make one man speak, if you care about it; but, I suppose, you would not listen to him unless he were English"; and with that shot he departed.
I really think I shall have to give up the Francesca hypothesis, and, alas! I am not quite ready to adopt any other.
We discussed international marriages while we were at our toilets, Salemina and I prinking by the light of one small candle-end, while Francesca, as the youngest and prettiest, illuminated her charms with the six sitting-room candles and three filched from the little table in the hall.
I gave it as my humble opinion that for an American woman an English husband was at least an experiment; Salemina declared that for that matter a husband of any nationality was an experiment. Francesca ended the conversation flippantly by saying that in her judgment no husband at all was a much more hazardous experiment.