The Household were very hard pressed through the season—a crowded and brilliant one; and Cecil was in request most of all. Bertie, somehow or other, was the fashion—marvelous and indefinable word, that gives a more powerful crown than thrones, blood, beauty, or intellect can ever bestow. And no list was “the thing” without his name; no reception, no garden party, no opera-box, or private concert, or rose-shadowed boudoir, fashionably affiche without being visited by him. How he, in especial, had got his reputation it would have been hard to say, unless it were that he dressed a shade more perfectly than anyone, and with such inimitable carelessness in the perfection, too, and had an almost unattainable matchlessness in the sangfroid of his soft, languid insolence, and incredible, though ever gentle, effrontery. However gained, he had it; and his beautiful hack Sahara, his mail-phaeton with two blood grays dancing in impatience over the stones, or his little dark-green brougham for night-work, were, one or another of them, always seen from two in the day till four or five in the dawn about the park or the town.
And yet this season, while he made a prima donna by a bravissima, introduced a new tie by an evening’s wear, gave a cook the cordon with his praise, and rendered a fresh-invented liqueur the rage by his recommendation, Bertie knew very well that he was ruined.
The breach between his father and himself was irrevocable. He had left Royallieu as soon as his guests had quitted it and young Berkeley was out of all danger. He had long known he could look for no help from the old lord, or from his elder brother, the heir; and now every chance of it was hopelessly closed; nothing but the whim or the will of those who held his floating paper, and the tradesmen who had his name on their books at compound interest of the heaviest, stood between him and the fatal hour when he must “send in his papers to sell,” and be “nowhere” in the great race of life.