CONCERNING LADY DURWENT’S FAMILY.
Lady Durwent was rather a large woman, of middle age, with a high forehead unruffled by thought, and a clear skin unmarred by wrinkles. She had a cheerfulness that obtruded itself, like a creditor, at unpropitious moments; and her voice, though not displeasing, gave the impression that it might become volcanic at any moment. She also possessed a considerable theatrical instinct, with which she would frequently manoeuvre to the centre of the stage, to find, as often as not, that she had neglected the trifling matter of learning any lines.
She was the daughter of an ironmonger in the north of England, whose father had been one of the last and most famous of a long line of smugglers. It was perhaps the inherited love of adventure that prompted the ironmonger, against his wife’s violent protest, to invest the savings of a lifetime in an obscure Canadian silver-mine. To the surprise of every one (including its promoters), the mine produced high-grade ore in such abundance that the ironmonger became a man of means. Thereupon, at the instigation of his wife, they moved from their little town into the city of York, where he purchased a large, stuffily furnished house, sat on Boards, became a councillor, wore evening-dress for dinner, and died a death of absolute respectability.
Before the final event he had the satisfaction of seeing his only child Sybil married to Arthur, Lord Durwent. (The evening-clothes for dinner were a direct result.) Lord Durwent was a well-behaved young man of unimpeachable character and family, and he was sincerely attracted by the agreeable expanse of lively femininity found in the fair Sybil. After a wedding that left her mother a triumphant wreck and appreciably hastened her father’s demise, she was duly installed as the mistress of Roselawn, the Durwent family seat, and its tributary farms. The tenants gave her an address of welcome; her husband’s mother gracefully retired to a villa in Sussex; the rector called and expressed gratification; the county families left their cards and inquired after her father, the ironmonger.
Unfortunately the new Lady Durwent had the temperament neither of a poet nor of a lady of the aristocracy. She failed to hear the tongues in trees, and her dramatic sense was not satisfied with the little stage of curtsying tenantry and of gentlefolk who abhorred the very thought of anything theatrical in life.
On the other hand, her husband was a man who was unhappy except on his estate. He thought along orthodox lines, and read with caution. He loved his lawns, his gardens, his horses, and his habits. He was a pillar of the church, and always read a portion of Scripture from the reading-desk on Sunday mornings. His wife he treated with simple courtesy as the woman who would give him an heir. If his mind had been a little more sensitive, Lord Durwent would have realised that he was asking a hurricane to be satisfied with the task of a zephyr.