The manuscripts of the Earl have been edited by him and the Countess for the Roxburghe Club.
VIII. THE ADVENTURE OF THE LADY PATRONESS
’I cannot bring myself to refuse my assent. It would break the dear child’s heart. She has never cared for anyone else, and, oh, she is quite wrapped up in him. I have heard of your wonderful cures, Mr. Merton, I mean successes, in cases which everyone has given up, and though it seems a very strange step to me, I thought that I ought to shrink from no remedy’—
‘However unconventional,’ said Merton, smiling. He felt rather as if he were being treated like a quack doctor, to whom people (if foolish enough) appeal only as the last desperate resource.
The lady who filled, and amply filled, the client’s chair, Mrs. Malory, of Upwold in Yorkshire, was a widow, obviously, a widow indeed. ’In weed’ was an unworthy calembour which flashed through Merton’s mind, since Mrs. Malory’s undying regret for her lord (a most estimable man for a coal owner) was explicitly declared, or rather was blazoned abroad, in her costume. Mrs. Mallory, in fact, was what is derisively styled ’Early Victorian’—’Middle’ would have been, historically, more accurate. Her religion was mildly Evangelical; she had been brought up on the Memoirs of the Fairchild Family, by Mrs. Sherwood, tempered by Miss Yonge and the Waverley Novels. On these principles she had trained her family. The result was that her sons had not yet brought the family library, and the family Romneys and Hoppners, to Christie’s. Not one of them was a director of any company, and the name of Malory had not yet been distinguished by decorating the annals of the Courts of Bankruptcy or of Divorce. In short, a family more deplorably not ‘up to date,’ and more ‘out of the swim’ could scarcely be found in England.
Such, and of such connections, was the lady, fair, faded, with mildly aquiline features, and an aspect at once distinguished and dowdy, who appealed to Merton. She sought him in what she, at least, regarded as the interests of her eldest daughter, an heiress under the will of a maternal uncle. Merton had met the young lady, who looked like a portrait of her mother in youth. He knew that Miss Malory, now ’wrapped up in’ her betrothed lover, would, in a few years, be equally absorbed in ‘her boys.’ She was pretty, blonde, dull, good, and cast by Providence for the part of one of the best of mothers, and the despair of what man soever happened to sit next her at a dinner party. Such women are the safeguards of society—though sneered at by the frivolous as ’British Matrons.’