I have carefully avoided describing Lord Leycester Wyndward as a “good” man

I have carefully avoided describing Lord Leycester Wyndward as a “good” man. If to be generous, single-minded, impatient of wrong and pitiful of the wronged; if to be blessed, cursed with the capacity for loving madly and passionately; if to be without fear, either moral or physical, be heroic, then he was a hero; but I am afraid it cannot be said that he was “good.”
Before many weeks had elapsed since his parting with Stella, the world had decided that he was indeed very bad. It is scarcely too much to say that his name was the red rag which was flourished in the eyes of those righteous, indignant bulls whose mission in life it is to talk over their fellow-creatures’ ill deeds and worry them.
One mad exploit after another was connected with his name, and it soon came to pass that no desperate thing was done within the circle of the higher class, but he was credited with being the ringleader, or at least with having a hand in it.
It was said that at that select and notorious club, “The Rookery,” Lord Leycester was the most desperate of gamblers and persistent of losers. Rumor went so far as to declare that even the Wyndward estates could not stand the inroads which his[227] losses at the gaming table were making. It was rumored, and not contradicted, that he had “plunged” on the turf, and that his stud was one of the largest and most expensive in England.
The society papers were full of insinuating paragraphs hinting at the wildness of his career, and prophesying its speedy and disastrous termination. He was compared with the lost characters of past generations—likened to Lord Norbury, the Marquis of Waterford, and similar dissipated individuals. His handsome face and tall, thin, but still stalwart figure, had become famous, and people nudged each other and pointed him out when he passed along the fashionably-frequented thoroughfares.
His rare appearance in the haunts of society occasioned the deepest interest and curiosity.
One enterprising photographer had managed, by the exercise of vast ingenuity, to procure his likeness, and displayed copies in his window; but they were speedily and promptly withdrawn.
There was no reckless hardihood with which he was not credited. Men were proud of possessing a horse that he had ridden, because their capability of riding it proved their courage.
Scandal seized upon his name and made a hearty and never-ending meal of it; and yet, by some strange phenomenal chance, no one heard it connected with that of a woman.
Some said that he drank hard, rode hard, and played hard, and that he was fast rushing headlong to ruin, but no one ever hinted that he was dragging a member of the fair sex with him.
He was seen occasionally in drags bound to Richmond, or at Bohemian parties in St. John’s Wood, but no woman could boast that he was her special conquest.
It was even said that he had suddenly acquired a distinct distaste for female society, and that he had been heard to declare that, but for the women, the world would still be worth living in.
It was very sad; society was shocked as well as curious, dismayed as well as intensely interested. Mothers with marriageable daughters openly declared that something ought to be done, that it was impossible that such a man, the heir to such a title and estates should be allowed to throw himself away. The deepest pity was expressed for Lady Wyndward, and one or two of the aforesaid mammas had ventured, with some tremors, to mention his case to that august lady. But they got little for their pains, save a calm, dignified, and haughty rebuff. Never, by word, look, or sign did the countess display the sorrow which was imbittering her life.
The stories of his ill-doings could not fail to reach her ears, seeing that they were common talk, but she never flushed or even winced. She knew when she entered a crowded room, and a sudden silence fell, to be followed by a spasmodic attempt at conversation, that those assembled were speaking of her son, but by no look or word did she confess to that knowledge.
Only in the secrecy of her own chamber did she let loose the floodgates of her sorrow and admit her despair. The time had[228] come when she felt almost tempted to regret that he had not married “the little girl—-the painter’s niece,” and settled down in his own way.
She knew that it was broken off; she knew, or divined that some plot had brought about the separation, but she had asked no questions, not even of Lenore, who was now her constant companion and chosen friend.
Between them Leycester’s name was rarely mentioned. Not even from her husband would she hear aught of accusation against the boy who had ever been the one darling of her life.
Once old Lady Longford had pronounced his name, had spoken a couple of words or so, but even she could not get the mother to unburden her heart.
“What is to be done?” the old lady had asked, one morning when the papers had appeared with an account of a mad exploit in which the well-known initials Lord Y—— W—— had clearly indicated his complicity.
“I do not know,” she had replied. “I do not think there is anything to be done.”
“Do you mean that he is to be allowed to go on like this, to drift to ruin without a hand to stay him?” demanded the old lady almost wrathfully; and the countess had turned on her angrily.
“Who can do anything to stay him? Have you yourself not said that it is impossible, that he must be left alone?”
“I did, yes, I did,” admitted the old countess, “but things were not so bad then, not nearly. All this is different. There is a woman in the case, Ethel!”
“Yes,” said the countess, bitterly, “there is,” and she felt tempted to echo the assertion which Leycester had been reputed to utter, “that if there had been no women the world would have been worth living in.”
Then Lady Longford had attempted to “get at” Leycester through his companion Lord Charles, but Lord Charles had plainly intimated his helplessness.
“Going wrong,” he said, shaking his head. “If Leycester’s going wrong, so am I, because, don’t you see, I’m bound to go with him. Always did, you know, and can’t leave him now; too late in the day.”
tumblr_ogitjgppw41s5yh68o1_1280“And so you’ll let your bosom friend go to the dogs”—the old lady had almost used a stronger word—”rather than say a word to stop him?”
“Say a word!” retorted Lord Charles, ruefully. “I’ve said twenty. Only yesterday I told him the pace couldn’t last; but he only laughed and told me that was his business, and that it would last long enough for him.”
“Lord Charles, you are a fool!” exclaimed the old lady.
And Lord Charles had shook his head.
“I daresay I am,” he said, not a whit offended. “I always was where Leycester was concerned.”
The one creature in the world—excepting Stella—who could have influenced him, knew nothing of what was going on.
The excitement of her visit to Stella, and her terrible interview[229] during it, had utterly prostrated the delicate girl, and Lilian lay in her room in the mansion in Grosvenor Square, looking more like the flower namesake than ever.
The doctor had insisted that no excitement of any kind was to be permitted to approach her, and they had kept the rumors and stories of Leycester’s doings from her knowledge.
He came to see her sometimes, and even in the darkened room she could see the ravages which the last few months had made with him; but he was always gentle and considerate toward her, and in response to her loving inquiries always declared that he was well—quite well. Stella’s name, by mutual consent, was never mentioned between them. It was understood that that page of his life was closed for ever; but after every visit, when he had left her, she lay and wept over the knowledge that he had not forgotten her. She could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. As Stella had said, Leycester was not one to love and unlove in a day—in a week—in a month!
So the Summer had crept on to the Autumn. Not one word has he heard of Stella. Though she was in his thoughts day and night, alike in the hour of the wildest dissipation, and in the silent watches of the night, he had heard no word of her. All his efforts were directed towards forgetting her. And yet if he picked up a paper or a book and chanced to come upon her name—Stella!—a pang shot through his heart, and the blood fled from his face.
The Autumn had come, and London was almost deserted, but there were some who clung on still. There are some to whom the shady side of Pall Mall and their clubs are the only Paradise; and the card-rooms of the Rookery are by no means empty.
In the middle of September, when half “the town” was in the country popping at the birds, Leycester and Lord Charles were still haunting Pall Mall.
“Better go down and look at the birds,” said Lord Charles one night, morning rather, for it was in the small hours. “What do you say to running down to my place, Ley?”
“My place” was Vernon Grange, a noble Elizabethan mansion, standing right in the center of one of the finest shooting districts. The grange was at present shut up, the birds running wild, the keepers in despair, all because Lord Leycester could not forget Stella, and his friend would not desert him!
“Suppose we start to-morrow morning,” went on Lord Charles, struggling into his light over-coat and yawning. “We can take some fellows down!—plenty of birds, you know. Had a letter from the head keeper yesterday; fellow quite broken-hearted, give you my word! Come on, Ley! I’m sick of this, I am, indeed. I hate the place,” and he glanced sleepily at the dimly lit hall of the Rookery. “What’s the use of playing ecarte and baccarat night after night; it doesn’t amuse you even if you win!”
Leycester was striding on, scarcely appearing to hear, but the word “amuse” roused him.
“Nothing ‘amuses,’ Charles,” he said, quietly. “Nothing.[230] Everything is a bore. The only thing is to forget, and the cards help me to do that, for a little while, at least—a little while.”
Lord Charles nearly groaned.
“They’ll make you forget you’ve anything to lose shortly,” he said. “We’ve been going it like the very deuce, lately, Ley!”
Leycester stopped and looked at him, wearily, absently.
“I suppose we have, Charles,” he said; “why don’t you cut it? I don’t mind it; it is a matter of indifference to me. But you! you can cut it. You shall go down to-morrow morning, and I’ll stay.”
“Thanks,” said the constant friend. “I’m in the same boat, Ley, and I’ll pull while you do. When you are tired of this foolery, we’ll come to shore and be sensible human beings again. I shan’t leave the boat till you do.”
“You’ll wait till it goes down?”
“Yes, I suppose I shall,” was the quiet response, “if down it must go.”
Leycester walked on in silence for a minute.
“What a mockery it all is!” he said, with a half smile.
“Yes,” assented Lord Charles, slowly; “some people would call it by a stronger name, I suppose. I don’t see the use of it. The use—why it’s the very ruination. Ley, you are killing yourself.”
“And you.”
“No,” said Lord Charles, coolly, “I’m all right—I’ve got nothing on my mind. I’m bored and used-up while it lasts, but when it’s over I can turn in and get to sleep. You can’t—or you don’t.”
Leycester thrust his hands in his pockets in silence, he could not deny it.
“I don’t believe you sleep one night out of three,” said Lord Charles. “You’ve got the mad fever, Ley. I wish it could be altered.”
Leycester walked on still more quickly.
“You shall go down to-morrow, Charles,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll come.”
“Why not?”
Leycester stopped and put his hand on his arm, and looked at him with a feverish smile on his face.
“Simply because I cannot—I cannot. I hate the sight of a green field. I hate the country. Heaven! go down there! Charlie, you know dogs can’t bear the sight of water when they are queer. You’ve got a river down there, haven’t you? Well, the sight of that river, the sound of that stream, would drive me mad! I cannot go, but you shall.”
Lord Charles shook his head.
“Very well. Where now! Let us go home.”
Leycester stopped short.
“Good-night,” he said. “Go home. Don’t be foolish, Charlie—go home.”
“And you!”
Leycester put his hand on his arm slowly, and looked round.
“Not home,” he said—”not yet. I’m wakeful to-night.”
And he smiled grimly.
“The thought of the meadow and the river has set me thinking. I’ll go back to the ‘Rookery.'”
Lord Charles turned without a word, and they went back.
The tables were still occupied, and the entrance of the two men was noticed and greeted with a word here and there. Lord Charles dropped on to a chair and called for some coffee—a great deal of coffee was drank at the “Rookery”—but Leycester wandered about from table to table.
Presently he paused beside some men who were playing baccarat.
They had been playing since midnight, and piles of notes, and gold, and I O U’s told pretty plainly of the size of the stakes.
Leycester stood leaning on the back of a chair, absently watching the play, but his thoughts were wandering back to the meadows of Wyndward, and he stood once more beside the weir stream, with the lovely face upon his breast.
But suddenly a movement of one of the players opposite him attracted his attention, and he came back to the present with a start.
A young fellow—a mere boy—the heir to a marquisate, Lord Bellamy—the reader will not have forgotten him—had dropped suddenly across the table, his outstretched hands still clutching the cards. There was an instant stir, the men started to their feet, the servants crowded up; all stood aghast.
Leycester was the first to recover presence of mind, and, hurrying round the table, picked the boy up in his strong arms.
“What’s the matter, Bell?” he said; then, as he glanced at the white face, with the dark lines round the eyes, he said in his quiet, composed voice: “He has fainted; fetch a doctor, some of you.”
And lifting him easily in his arms, he carried him in to an adjoining room.
Lord Charles followed with a glass of water, but Leycester put it aside with the one word—
Lord Charles brought some brandy and closed the door, the others standing outside aghast and frightened. Leycester poured some of the spirit through his closed teeth, and the boy came back to life—to what was left for him of life—and smiled up at him.
“The room was hot, Bell,” said Leycester, in his gentle way; he could be gentle even now. “I wanted you to go home two—three—hours ago! Why didn’t you go?”
“You—stayed——” gasped the boy.
Leicester’s lips twitched.
“I!” he said. “That is a different matter.”
The boy’s head drooped, and fell back on Leycester’s arm.
“Tell them not to stop the game,” he said; “let somebody play for me!” then he went off again.
The doctor came, a fashionable, hardworked man, a friend both of Leycester’s and Guildford’s, and bent over the lad as he lay.
“It’s a faint,” said Lord Charles, nervously; “nothing else, eh, doctor?”
The doctor looked up.
“My brougham is outside,” he said. “I will take him home.”
Leycester nodded, and carried the slight frame through the hall and placed it in the brougham. The doctor followed. The cool air revived the boy, and he made an effort to sit up, looking round as if in search of something; at last his wandering sight fell on Leycester’s, and he smiled.
“That’s right, Bell!” said Leycester; “you will be well to-morrow; but mind, no more of this!” and he took the small white hand.
The heir to a marquisate clung to the hand, and smiled again.
“No, there will be no more of it, Leycester,” he breathed, painfully. “There will be no more of anything for me; I have seen the last of the Rookery—and of you all. Leycester, I am dying!”
Leycester forced a smile to his white face.
“Nonsense, Bell,” he said.
The boy raised a weak, trembling finger, and pointed to the doctor’s face.
“Look at him,” he said. “He never told a lie in his—life. Ask him.”
“Tell them to drive on, my lord,” said the doctor.
The boy laughed, an awful laugh; then his face changed, and even as the brougham moved on, he clung to Leycester’s hand, and bending forward, panted:
Leycester stood, white and motionless as a statue, for the space of a minute; then he turned to Lord Charles, who stood biting his pale lips and looking after the brougham.
“I will go with you to-morrow,” he said, hoarsely.