At last a bell rang; the maid came in and invited Lady Bassett to follow her. She opened the glass folding-doors and took them into a small conservatory, walled like a grotto, with ferns sprouting out of rocky fissures, and spars sparkling, water dripping. Then she opened two more glass folding-doors, and ushered them into an empty room, the like of which Lady Bassett had never seen; it was large in itself, and multiplied tenfold by great mirrors from floor to ceiling, with no frames but a narrow oak beading; opposite her, on entering, was a bay window, all plate glass, the central panes of which opened, like doors, upon a pretty little garden that glowed with color, and was backed by fine trees belonging to the nation; for this garden ran up to the wall of Hyde Park.
The numerous and large mirrors all down to the ground laid hold of the garden and the flowers, and by double and treble reflection filled the room with delightful nooks of verdure and color.
Here are the words in which Reade describes himself as he looked when between fifty and sixty years of age:
He looked neither like a poet nor a drudge, but a great fat country farmer. He was rather tall, very portly, smallish head, commonplace features, mild brown eye not very bright, short beard, and wore a suit of tweed all one color.
Such was the house and such was the man over both of which Laura Seymour held sway until her death in 1879. What must be thought of their relations? She herself once said to Mr. John Coleman:
“As for our positions—his and mine—we are partners, nothing more. He has his bank-account, and I have mine. He is master of his fellowship and his rooms at Oxford, and I am mistress of this house, but not his mistress! Oh, dear, no!”
At another time, long after Mr. Seymour’s death, she said to an intimate friend:
“I hope Mr. Reade will never ask me to marry him, for I should certainly refuse the offer.”
There was no reason why he should not have made this offer, because his Oxford fellowship ceased to be important to him after he had won fame as a novelist. Publishers paid him large sums for everything he wrote. His debts were all paid off, and his income was assured. Yet he never spoke of marriage, and he always introduced his friend as “the lady who keeps my house for me.”
As such, he invited his friends to meet her, and as such, she even accompanied him to Oxford. There was no concealment, and apparently there was nothing to conceal. Their manner toward each other was that of congenial friends. Mrs. Seymour, in fact, might well have been described as “a good fellow.” Sometimes she referred to him as “the doctor,” and sometimes by the nickname “Charlie.” He, on his side, often spoke of her by her last name as “Seymour,” precisely as if she had been a man. One of his relatives rather acutely remarked about her that she was not a woman of sentiment at all, but had a genius for friendship; and that she probably could not have really loved any man at all.