Well!—in spite of Watson’s rude remark, what human being knew he was writing those articles in the Mirror? He threw out his challenge to the darkness, and so fell asleep.
Fenwick had never spent a more arduous hour than that which he devoted to the business of dressing for Lord Findon’s dinner-party. It was his first acquaintance with dress-clothes. He had, indeed, dined once or twice at the tables of the Westmoreland gentry in the course of his portrait-painting experiences. But there had been no ‘party,’ and it had been perfectly understood that for the Kendal bookseller’s son a black Sunday coat was sufficient. Now, however, he was to meet the great world on its own terms; and though he tried hard to disguise his nervousness from his sponsor, Philip Cuningham, he did not succeed. Cuningham instructed him where to buy a second-hand dress-suit that very nearly fitted him, and he had duly provided himself with gloves and tie. When all was done he put his infinitesimal looking-glass on the floor of his attic, flanked it with two guttering candles, and walked up and down before it in a torment, observing his own demeanour and his coat’s, saying ‘How d’ye do?’ and ‘Good-bye’ to an imaginary host, or bending affably to address some phantom lady across the table.
When at last he descended the stairs, he felt as though he were just escaped from a wrestling-match. He followed Cuningham into the omnibus with nerves all on edge. He hated the notion, too, of taking an omnibus to go and dine in St. James’s Square. But Cuningham’s Scotch thriftiness scouted the proposal of a hansom.
On the way Fenwick suddenly asked his companion whether there was a Lady Findon. Cuningham, startled by the ignorance of his protege, drew out as quickly as he could la carte du pays.
Lady Findon, the second wife, fat, despotic, and rich, rather noisy, and something of a character, a political hostess, a good friend, and a still better hater; two sons, silent, good-looking and clever, one in the brewery that provided his mother with her money, the other in the Hussars; two daughters not long ’introduced’—one pretty—the other bookish and rather plain; so ran the catalogue.
’I believe there is another daughter by the first wife—married—something queer about the husband. But I’ve never seen her. She doesn’t often appear—Hullo—here we are.’
They alighted at the Haymarket, and as they walked down the street Fenwick found himself in the midst of the evening whirl of the West End. The clubs were at their busiest; men passed them in dress-suits and overcoats like themselves, and the street was full of hansoms, whence the faces of well-dressed women, enveloped in soft silks and furs, looked out.
Fenwick felt himself treading a new earth. At such an hour he was generally wending his way to a Bloomsbury eating-house, where he dined for eighteenpence; he was a part of the striving, moneyless student-world.