And the world offered her sign-posts. This must you do and thus must you talk; hither shall you go and here remain: these are the Arts with which you may enjoy a very slight acquaintance, but do not aspire to genuine accomplishment—leave that to common people; be lady-like, be calm and reserved; behold your brothers, how they swank!—but they are men, and this is England; desire nought but the protected privileges of your class, and in good season some youth of the same social stratum as yourself will marry you, and, lo! in place of being a daughter in a landed gentleman’s house, you will be a wife.
Into this little world of a kind-hearted, chivalrous aristocracy (whose greatest fault was their ignorance of the fact that the smallest upheaval in humanitarianism, no matter what distance away, registers on the seismograph of human destiny the world over) Elise Durwent found her path laid. Increasingly resentful, she trod it until she was fourteen years of age, when her mother, who had long been bored with country life, made an important decision—and purchased a town house.
Having done this, Lady Durwent sent her daughter to a convent, a move which enabled her to get rid of the governess discreetly, and left her without family cares at all, as both boys were now at school. Unencumbered, therefore, she said au revoir to Roselawn, and set her compass for No. 8 Chelmsford Gardens, London.
Chelmsford Gardens is a row of dignified houses on Oxford Street—yet not on Oxford Street. A miniature park, some forty feet in depth, acts as a buffer-state between the street itself and the little group of town houses. It is an oasis in the great plains of London’s dingy dwelling-places, a spot where the owners are rarely seen unless the season is at its height, when gaily cloaked women and stiff-bosomed men emerge at theatre-hour and are driven to the opera. Throughout the day the Gardens (probably so styled on account of the complete absence of horticultural embellishments) are as silent as the tomb; there is no sign of life except in the mornings, when a solemn butler or a uniformed parlour-maid appears for a moment at the door like some creature of the sea coming up for air, then unobtrusively retires.
No. 8 was exactly like its neighbours, consisting of an exterior boasting a huge oak door, with cold, stone steps leading up to it, and an interior composed of rooms with very high ceilings, an insufficient and uncomfortable supply of furniture, large pictures and small grates, terrific beds and meagre chairs, and a general air of so much marble and bare floor that one could almost imagine that house-cleaning could be accomplished by turning on the hose.
After Lady Durwent had taken possession she sent for her husband, but that gentleman reminded her that he was much happier at Roselawn, though he would be glad if she would keep a room for him when business at the ‘House’ or with his lawyers necessitated his presence in town. Unhampered, therefore, by a husband, Lady Durwent prepared to invade London Society, only to receive a shock at the very opening of the campaign.