beggared. The effect of your telling him what you propose would
be but to give him false hopes and to make him importunate. I
hope, dear mamma, you will respect my wishes.'
MOTHER AND DAUGHTER.
* Why shouldn't the poor boy know what belongs to him ? ' in-
quired Mrs. Conway in a tone of irritation.
* Nay, he has only three months to wait ; and since you have
concealed the intelligence from him so long, why divulge it now ?
Besides, there may be some mistake ; your authority may have
' He certainly would have, if there had been anything to gain
by deceiving me, for it was Ealph Pennicuick himself.'
' What ! Did Mr. Pennicuick make you his confidant, mamma ? '
* Oh, yes : when little Eaymond was in my charge, matters
were very different,' observed Mrs. Conway drily.
' But you never liked Mr. Pennicuick even then, did you?'
' Never. And I hate him now more than ever,' added she
with vehemence, 'because he stands between my daughter and
her happiness. Why is it that such men live on, and prosper ? I
never hear those words in the Litany, " From plague, pestilence,
and famine, from battle, murder, and sudden death," without
wondering which evil fate will overtake him. It must be so at
some time, surely. Let us hope he will meet with his deserts in
China, where men, they say, are hard and cruel — like himself.'
' Oh, mamma, mamma ! ' cried Nelly, appalled by the passionate
violence of her mother's manner even more than by her words, ' do
not talk like that, lest you bring some judgment down upon our-
selves. Think if anything should happen to dear papa instead.'
' There is Mrs. Wardlaw coming down the road,' retiu-ned the
elder lady, who was seated by the window ; ' she intends, no doubt,
to call upon us. Pray go upstairs, and wash away those tears.'
Mrs. Conway's manner had become indifferent at once at the
mention of her husband ; the topic had always a chilling, nay, a
90 BY PROXY.
refrigerating effect upon her ; so much so, indeed, that Nelly some-
times thought or hoped that it was to some extent exaggerated and
artificial ; that the coldness between her parents was not quite so
intense as one of them at least would have it to be believed.
To-day, above all days, in which it had lain in her power to have
won a husband for herself had she been so minded, did the sense
of this estrangement between her father and mother cause Nelly
an especial pain. It seemed more shocking even than at other
times that such a state of things could ever come about between
man and wife ; they had been lovers once, she knew, in days when
they were young ; but the days were gone by for ever, and their
love, it seemed, likewise. It was very, very sad ; so sad, that ere
she could wash away her tears, as directed, others came ; and it
was many minutes before she could present herself in the little
drawing-room with the bright face and the suimy smile that were
as fit and proper a welcome for good Mrs. Wardlaw as a salute of
twenty-one guns is for crowned lieads.
MJ^S. WARDLAW. 91
It is notoriously the custom with the best story-tellers to let
their characters speak for themselves : to Mcket them with ad-
jectives such as * good,' for example, instead of making them estab-
lish their own right to it, is the same sorry device as is adopted by
early painters (not the ' old masters,' but the very young ones)
who scrawl ' man,' ' woman,' ' tree,' below their counterfeit present-
ments of those objects, in order to prevent mistakes arising from
their own defects of execution. But I have written ' good ' Mrs
Wardlaw on our first introduction to that personage, because you
had only to look at her to be convinced at once that she had a
title to that epithet, if good humour, good temper, and good nature
combined have any claim to it. It is curious that in the system
of Lavater the point of ' age ' is so slightly dwelt upon, when it is
in fact the keynote of the whole of it. Just as an artist finds it
easier to take the set and pronounced features of elderly persons
than the comparatively unformed faces of the young, so it is with
the student of character; he can, in fact, only judge with certainty
of men's minds from their faces when they have passed life's meridian.
By that time the habitual smile or frown has become stereotyped ;
greed or generosity, duplicity or frankness, and even to some ex-
92 BY PROXY.
tent wisdom or folly, have written their autographs upon their
possessors with more or less of distinctness. Care and toil, indeed,
may cause us to pass a harsh judgment ; for we sometimes ascribe
their work to that of moroseness ; but after forty it is very difficult
for any gentleman who is a scoundrel to appear like an honest man.
The kind heart, too, glows through the genial countenance no
matter how coarse the grain, how weather-beaten the skin, like
the light through a horn lantern.
Mrs. Wardlaw's ruddy face was the incarnation of kindness.;
and, though her majestic proportions forbad any approach to
sprightliness, she had a dancing eye. Judged by a Mayfair
standard, her appearance might have been set down as vulgar ;
(between ourselves, I have seen leaders of fashion quite as un-
fortunate in that respect, but in them it is called ' a majestic
appearance ') ; she looked, said her enemies (for in this wicked world
how could so excellent a soul be without them ?) ' like a house-
keeper : ' but what is better than a good housekeeper, I should like
to know, except indeed a good cook ? It was a matter of surprise
among some who had the privilege of Mrs. Conway's acquaintance
how so exclusive and lady-like a being could have got to know so
stout and florid a personage as Mrs. Wardlaw, who was also (and
by no means distantly) ' connected with trade.'
The captain's wife had always held her head up — metaphorically
— very high, and when circumstances had prevented her from
continuing to move in the best circles, had kept herself to herself,
and ceased to move at all. Lodgings in Grower Street (however
convenient with regard to omnibuses) are not adapted for this sort
of motion, and while residing in them she had therefore been station-
ary. Yet it was during that period, and now some years ago, that
MRS. IVARBLAW. 93
the acquaintance with Mrs. Wardlaw had been formed, not indeed by
Mrs. Conway, but by Nelly herself.
Wearied with reading, and practising on the piano, the girl was
amusing herself one day during the absence of her mother by
looking out of the dining-room window — her pretty chin resting
on the top of the blind, her little nose flattened against the pane
— when an accident occurred just opposite the door. An omnibus
had stopped to ' drop ' a lady passenger, and not stopping long
enough had dropped her in the road, from which, with an obstinacy
which the conductor denoimced as ' cussed,' sh^ refused to stir.
When one weighs sixteen stone, and sprains an ankle, it is diffi-
cult to put even one's best leg foremost. The stout lady was
evidently helpless, and in great pain, and promised a gratuitous
entertainment to the public more gratifying, because less fleeting,
than Punch, or organs ; but as the sudden crowd closed around
her, a young girl followed by a maid-of-all-work appeared upon
the scene : * Bring the lady into our house,' cried she excitedly.
' Who's to do it, miss, without a windlass ? '
'I have got a shilling,' said Xelly (of which she was quite
certain, it being her whole stock of pocket-money), and she held
it between her small finger and thumb. The power of the lever
is as nothing compared with that of a visible coin. Four sturdy
men seized the prostrate lady and carried her like a feather into
Nelly's parlour, and retired with the price of four quarts of beer
' Where is it you are hurt, madam ? ' inquired Nelly tenderly.
' I have broken my leg, my dear ; send for my doctor — Dr.
Walsh, of Russell Square.'
Short as was the distance, and quickly as the doctor took to
94 BY PROXY.
traverse it, he found the patient and her little hostess already on
' You have had a bad fall, but it is into good hands, I see,'
said he, when he had made his examination of the ankle, round
which Nelly had wrapped some wet rags.
« She is a little angel,' exclaimed Mrs. Wardlaw rapturously.
* She is a little doctor, which is almost the same thing,' an-
swered he smiling. ' We shall get you home in half an hour.'
But Mrs. Wardlaw remained on the sofa for a much longer time,
awaiting Mrs. Conway's return home.
' I could not leave your roof,' she said when that lady arrived,
' without expressing my sense of the kindness with which I have
been treated by your sweet little daughter. I am sure John also
— that is my husband : we live in the square close by — will never
rest till he has thanked you.'
' There is nothing to thank us for, madam,' replied Mrs. Conway
with stiffness. Her visitor's appearance did not impress her favour-
ably ; the ' h ' in the word ' husband ' had not been so distinct as
could be wished ; the name of John had a plebeian sound ; more-
over, it was annoying — though quite in consonance with the un-
satisfactoriness of things in general — that a person of this descrip-
tion should live in the square, while she, Mrs. Conway, to whom
the first circles had once been open, lived in the street, and in
Poor Mrs. Wardlaw perceived that she was snubbed.
' I take the liberty to kiss your dear little daughter,' said she,
' because I have no words to speak my gratitude to her, Mrs.
Conway, and of course no other means of expressing it. If there
were any such means, or if a time should ever arrive when John
MRS. WARDLAIV. 95
Wardlaw — he is in the timber trade, ma'ani, at present, but is
about to retire — I should know what to be about ; it will be as
much as I can do, I know, to keep him from stepping round and
thanking her in person.'
' I am sure my Nelly has been thanked enough, Mrs. Ward-
' John will not think so, ma'am ; and he is so fond of children,
though unhappily we have none of our own, and wh^ I come to
tell him of your daughter's kindness and of the good sense beyond
her years '
' Indeed, you will make her vain,' put in her hostess peremp-
torily ; ' children are so easily spoilt.'
' And how I should like to spoil you, my darling ! ' exclaimed
Mrs. Wardlaw, putting her arms about the child in farewell.
' No, I don't want your help, little one : I should br^ak you all
to pieces, if I leant upon you. Jessie's arm will do.' And so
with the maid's support she hobbled to the hired brougham that
had been waiting for her hours ago, as though time had not been
money ; and departed, leaving the aforesaid Jessie in possession of
a glittering medallion, which, upon consulting with more experi-
enced friends, she discovered to be a half-sovereign piece.
No news came from their late patient to the dwellers in
Grower Street, far less any personal visit from her ' John ; ' and
Mrs. Conway rather repented of the sharp way in which she had
put a stop to any such communication ; a few messages, backwards
and forwards, would not have injmed her own quondam position
in the fashionable world; nor was it, on the whole, a wise
proceeding to have thus quenched the incipient liking of their
wealthy neighbour for Nelly. This last consideration, however.
96 BY PROXY.
weighed but little with Mrs. Conway ; no material reasons ever
did when set in the balance against her prejudices. Moreover^
though it is possible that, in a future state of existence, this lady
might possibly be induced, under pressure of Ehadamanthus, to
admit that on one or two occasions she had committed during her life
— say — an error of judgment; as to allowing that she was wrong,
there were no imaginable conditions, either of circumstance or
being, under which she could have been brought to such a con-
In all probability the relations between Mrs. Wardlaw and the
Conways would have ended with that first interview, but that in a
few days Nelly asked permission to make inquiry after the wounded
lady at her house ; nor would the intimacy have gone far perhaps
even then but that the child went unaccompanied by her mother,
though bearing from her a pretty gift in the shape of a posy of
hothouse flowers. That Mrs. Conway should have thought of
them, and given half-a-crown for them, and arranged them with
her own tasteful hands, notwithstanding her previous discourtesy,
was quite in keeping with her character ; it was not done with
the least feeling of making amends ; but since the visit was to be,
it was well that the obligation which had already proceeded from
her side should remain there — nay, be intensified. The lady in the
square had her advantages ; and that was all the more reason why
she should not have the whip-hand of the lady in the street.
Unconscious of these subtle and philosophic reasons, little Nelly
took her nosegay to the big house in Eussell Square, where the
invalid was lying, in the immensity of the back drawing-room, on
a sofa which, compared with that in Grower Street, was a very Bed
MRS. WARDLAW.. 97
' You look more like a good fairy than ever,' cried Mrs.
Wardlaw, which, as to size, in contrast to those spacious surround-
ings, she did indeed. ' You cannot be flesh and blood, but some
lovely little ornament for the mantel-piece in china.'
* Papa's in China,' returned Nelly roguishly, ' not I.'
' And so ready too with her little tong-ue ! ' exclaimed her
hostess rapturously. ' What a pretty nosegay ! and with your ma's
compliments, is it ? Well, I'm sure it's very kind o^ your ma.
Yes, my ankle's better ; all the better for seeing you, I do believe ;
you're as welcome as the spring vi'lets. Won't she be a pocket
Venus when she's full-growed, John ? ' Xelly looked round, and
saw a jolly-looking old gentleman, stouter and iiiddier even than
Mrs. Wardlaw, regarding her with approving eyes ; he had come
out of the front drawing-room, while she had been talking with
his wife, and it evidenced well indeed to the deep pile of the
carpet that his steps had not been heard. ' So that's your young
friend, is it ! ' said he, rattling the loose silver in his capacious
pocket with one hand, and laying the other lightly upon Nelly's
head. 'She's a very nice little lot.'
' Lot, indeed. A very much nicer one than you ever saw in auy
of your auction-rooms, I reckon,' returned his lady, with what
seemed somewhat uncalled-for severity.
' Yes, a rare article,' continued the old gentleman critically ;
' quite unique, I should say ; late the property of — but her father's
alive, ain't he ? '
* Of course he is ; didn't you hear the dear child say he was in
' That's a long way off,' observed Mr. Wardlaw gravely, as
though hesitating to admit even the existence of a gentleman at so
VOL. I. H
98 BY PROXY.
great a distance. *But then her mother's in Grower Street,'
added he cheerfully ; ' that's close enough, anyway ; and there's not
a better neighbourhood for chance " finds " in London.'
If Nelly was at a loss to perceive the opportuneness of these
observations of her host, she was not the first person who had been
thus puzzled. Mr. Wardlaw's weakness was attendance at sales by
auction, at which he spent most of his leisure time, and most of
his surplus money. They had the same attraction for him which
the billiard- room and the racecourse have for another class of men,
though without any evil result save an infinity of bad bargains.
His purchases, indeed, would have been cheap at the money, had
he wanted them, but, being continuous and of a wildly miscella-
neous character, his accumulations could be scarcely considered as
good investments. He would buy sables enough to set up a fur shop,
and which got the moth before he got a purchaser for them ; or
French clocks by the dozen, which remained on his hands till their
year's warranty had expired, and with it their powers of motion ; or
claret by the hogshead, which ' only wanted keeping to be a first-
class wine,' but which somehow went sour during the process. An
advertisement of a great sale was an irresistible invitation to him ;
the roving eye of the auctioneer had a fascination for him such as
that of the snake is said to exercise over his feathered prey ; and the
fall of the hammer was as the rattle that immediately precedes
After all, as Mrs. Wardlaw was well aware, her husband's
weakness was one for which most wives would be very willing to
compound, and more especially since he could afford it.
If he made a few bad bargains, there were some very good ones
MRS. WARDLAW. 99
made for him by the house in the City wherein he was a nominal
The phrase ' a nice little lot ' he had applied to Nelly was a
great compliment from him, and his good opinion was confirmed on
further acquaintance. Nobody could say, considering how often
he bid for things which were not desiderated by other people, that
Mr. Wardlaw had no opinion of his own ; and, once foiined, he
stuck to it.
And so it came about that the girl made to herself two warm
and faithful friends in this honest couple.
Even Mrs. Conway was in time brought to endure them, though
she never forgot her own superior position, or permitted poor ^Irs.
Wardlaw to forget it. As to the old gentleman, it was difficult
to make him understand how his wife should be inferior to any
living woman ; but he was all the easier to patronise from his
very obtuseness. Moreover, he won Mrs. Conway's heart by a
characteristic criticism he passed upon Mr. Pennicuick, the elder,
with whom he became (very distantly) acquainted through his
new friends. He pronounced him to be ' rather a scratch lot,' and
more likely to be ' bought in ' than to awaken public competition.
On the other hand, he took to Raymond Pennicuick from the first,
and would have put him up to many good things at ' Grarraway's '
and ' Christie's,' but for his wife's veto, who looked upon those
respectable establishments as haunts of temptation to which no
young man should be exposed. As time rolled on, so did Mr.
Wardlaw's wealth — increasing like a snow-ball, till at length it
enabled him to retire from business, when he took a country-house
at Richmond, a fact which had formed a very strong inducement
to the Conways to pitch their tent in the same locality.
loo BY PROXY.
Both families were new-comers, but the latter was the later
arrival, which had permitted Mrs. Wardlaw to pay the first call
upon Mrs. Conway ; if their positions had been reversed, that lady
would have probably taken advantage of it to delay her visit in
order to make it evident that she was not dependent upon the
other's acquaintance, or in any way ' eaten up with those Wardlaws.'
Notwithstanding all which rubbish, the two elder ladies had a
sincere regard for one another, not to mention the common bond
of affection which Nelly formed between them.
The present occasion was only the second visit which Mrs.
Wardlaw had paid Mrs. Conway and her daughter since they had
been installed in their new home, but she had been obliged to wait
for Mrs. Conway's return call, and had replied to it on the very
' Why, how is it you have not come in your carriage ? ' inquired
that lady condescendingly. ' Nelly and I were quite looking for-
ward to seeing you come in " state." '
' Well, the fact was, it seemed too ridiculous, Mrs. Conway,
considering what a short distance I had to come ; and I want to
get used to the thing — which I can't do j ust yet — before I call on
you. It is very kind of John, of course, to give me such a fine
coach and horses, not to mention the coachman (who has got a wig,
my dear Nelly, made I believe of spun silk), but at present I
don't feel much to enjoy them. Thursday — that was the first
day — was a great trial to me, dear Mrs. Conway.'
' A trial ? Why a trial, Mrs. Wardlaw ? ' inquired the other
sweetly ; though knowing perfectly well to what her friend was
' Well, I dare say to you who have been brought up among
MRS. WARDLAW. loi
carriage-people, and are used to all their ways, it would have been
nothing ; but it was not only that the thing was strange to me,
but everybody about me ]i-(iQiij that it was strange. I felt all of a
twitter at the grandeur and novelty of it, but still more so because
Jane and Susan, who had lived with a mistress without a carriage
all these days, must have known I was in a twitter. When
Charles (that's the new footman) came into the room with his
" ]Ma'am, the carriage is at the door," it was something so dreadful
that I had almost a mind to say, " Then send it away again."
^^^lat I did say, however, was "Very good," with a quiet wave of
the hand that I had practised in my own apartment before the
pier-glass. I knew that Jane and Susan would be looking out of
window at the new carriage, but I was not prepared for what I did
see, over the dining-room blind, which was nothing less than
Charles himself performing a dance like a wild Indian before the
two girls in the area, to express his sense of enjoyment of the
whole proceeding. The coachman sat immovable except for a
slight wobble w^hich pervaded his frame and extended to his wig.
When I appeared at the front door you might have taken them
both for graven images ; and I hope I looked grave and dignified
myself. Only unhappily, in my hurry and nervousness, and also
because of my fine train (which is longer than the long clothes I
wore as a baby), I put my foot in my gown as I stepped into the
carriage, and fell flat on the floor of it.'
For Nelly this narrative had nothing but amusement, but
Mrs. Conway received it austerely : she did not like jokes upon
any subject ; and felt it deplorable that a person unaccustomed to
keeping a carriage should find in her own incompetence to assume
the ways of ' society ' a theme for mirth.
102 BY PROXY.
' You will become used to your new position in time, no doubt,'
said she ; ' but in the mean while you must be careful to maintain
your dignity before your servants.'
' But it is so difficult to do that upon all-fours,' pleaded the
good lady, still shaking with laughter at the recollection of her
late catastrophe ; 'and after all, when one does meet with misfor-
tunes, the best plan, I do believe, is to laugh at them.'
' Indeed ! ' said Mrs. Conway, who had never tried that plan.
' You must have been exceptionally fortunate, I think, to have
been able to do so.'
' Well, yes ; I have no reason to complain,' assented Mrs.
Wardlaw simply. ' Though sometimes John is very trying. What
do you think he did only yesterday, for example ? He brought
down to be stored away in our new house — which, if somewhat
larger than we need, is certainly not meant for a dry-goods store —
a gross of tambourines.'
' Of tambourines ! ' echoed Nelly, laughing. ' Is Uncle John '
[she used to call him uncle as a child, notwithstanding some
opposition upon the part of her mamma, and still continued so
to do because she knew that to drop the assumed relationship
would pain him] ' going to learn that instrument ? '
' Of course not, my dear ; and if he was , he could not practise
on one hundred and forty-four at once. He has bought them be-
cause he says they were an excellent bargain. Now, what would
you do, Mrs. Conway, if your husband were to bring you home
twelve dozen of tambourines ? '
• I should burn them ; but he would never venture,' added the
other haughtily, ' to commit such an act of folly.'
' Well, of course it is foolish of John ; but then, on the other
MRS. WARDLA W. 103
hand, he is no sort of trouble to me as some husbands are ; he never
interferes with matters of the house, and though he worries me
sometimes with his insisting on my doing this and that — on my
having this carriage, for instance, which I didn't want, and which
will only make me fatter, yet I know it was meant in nothing but
kindness, and to save my old legs.'
Mrs. Conway shrugged her shoulders ; the expression, ' to save
my old legs,' was very distasteful to her ; a woman who could use it
was certainly unworthy of a carriage.
' Dear Uncle John ! ' said Nelly softly, ' he is always thinking
how to please people.'
' Yes, my dear, he is not clever, but he is kind. I only hope
you will have as good a husband. He is never away from home ;
we have not been separated for twenty-four hours since we married.
Of course,' added Mrs. Wardlaw, with precipitation, for she saw the