PHANTASMAGORIA

Shadows of what are shadows–living once
Now naught but ghosts among a world of ghosts.
Who knows–we may but shadows be on earth
And act the other life’s realities.

Miss Cassy was greatly excited over the afternoon tea to which she had
bidden Mrs. Larcher and the rest of the vicarage inmates. It was a
long time since she had taken part in a little social festivity such
as she had been accustomed to in London, so both herself and Una
determined it should be a success. In the dreary dismal life they led
this was a little mild excitement, consequently, it was to them as
great an event as the ball of the season to a Town belle.

Reginald and Pumpkin walked over to the Grange, but Mrs. Larcher was
driven over in state by Dick Pemberton, who drove at such a speed that
he nearly rattled the vicar’s wife into hysterics. Consequently on
arriving at her destination, Mrs. Larcher was severely under the sway
of “The Affliction” and had to be at once comforted with strong tea.
Cecilia had also been invited, and arrived at the Grange under the
guardianship of Miss Busky, who bounced the blind girl so rapidly
along the road that she entered the Park in a state of exhaustion.

The party all assembled in Una’s private room, where they were shortly
afterwards joined by bluff Dr. Larcher and Beaumont. Jellicks, having
wriggled in with the tea-cake and muffins, was dismissed altogether,
as Mrs. Larcher, under the influence of “The Affliction,” declared the
old woman made her feel creepy.

“She’s so twisty, my dear,” she observed to Una, “like a sea-serpent
you know–even the vicar has noticed her.”

“_Qui siccis oculis monstra natantia_,” roared the vicar, quoting from
his favourite poet, “though to be sure, I speak of her in the
singular.”

“Of course,” said Dick slily, “she’s singular in any case:”

“So very odd,” giggled Miss Cassy, who was making the tea, “I don’t
mean Jellicks, but what you say–puns you know–like what’s his name,
Byron, had in his burlesques–not the Don Juan one you know, but the
other–so odd, wasn’t he?”

“Not half so odd as Miss Cassy,” whispered Dick to Reginald, but the
latter young gentleman, being engaged with Una, did not reply.

“I don’t know if I ought to eat muffins,” said Mrs. Larcher darkly, as
Miss Busky bounced up to her with a plate of those edibles. “So very
buttery–make me bilious–I’ve been bilious often, have I not Eleanora
Gwendoline?”

“Yes, often, Mama,” assented the obedient Pumpkin.

“I hope you’re better now?” observed Beaumont politely, seeing the
lady’s eyes fixed upon him.

“Ah, yes, now,” sighed Mrs. Larcher, stirring her tea, “but will
it last? the question is will it endure? my affliction is so
capricious–I’m very weak–quite a Hindoo.”

“Why a Hindoo, my dear?” asked the vicar, rather puzzled.

“Because they are weak–die if you look at them,” explained Mrs.
Larcher, “rice of course–they live on it and there’s no nourishment
in it.”

“By the way, Miss Challoner, how is the Squire?” asked Beaumont, who
was leaning up against the mantelpiece looking rather bored.

“He’s not at all strong,” replied Miss Cassy, taking the remark to
herself, “quite like a candle you know–so odd–might go out at any
moment–but Dr. Nestley is doing him good; but I don’t think the dear
doctor is well himself.”

Beaumont smiled slightly at this, guessing the cause of the doctor’s
illness, and glancing at Cecilia, saw the blind girl was trembling
violently.

“I hope he is not very ill,” she said in her low, clear voice.

“Oh no–he’ll be all right soon–I think it’s overwork,” said Una
hastily, anxious to avoid any discussion of the doctor’s complaint,
the cause of which she, with her feminine shrewdness, half guessed.
“Cecilia, will you play something?”

The blind girl assented, and was led by Una to the quaint old spinet
which stood in the corner. With the true feelings of an artist Cecilia
did not play anything noisy on the delicate instrument, but a dainty
old gavotte which sounded faint and clear like the sound of a silver
bell. All the company were charmed with the delicacy of the music
except Miss Cassy and Mrs. Larcher who were conversing about dress.

“I hope you like mine,” observed Miss Cassy, looking at the gown she
wore, which was of white muslin dotted with pink bows. “I was afraid
I’d make it dabby–I’m afraid I have made it dabby–do you think so?”

Mrs. Larcher eyed the production of Miss Cassy’s artistic nature with
a critical eye, and pronounced her opinion that it was dabby, thus
reducing poor Miss Cassy to the verge of tears. When Cecilia finished
the gavotte all present urged her to play something else.

“It’s like fairy music,” said Beaumont. “I love to hear those old airs
of Purcell and Arne played upon such an instrument. It’s so thoroughly
in keeping with the idea. The lyrics in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
set to the old-fashioned music and played on a spinet, gives one a
charming idea of the court of Oberon and Titania.”

“And Miss Mosser plays so charmingly,” said Reginald, gaily.

“‘O testudinis aureæ
Dulcem quæ strepitum Pieri temperas,'”

quoted the vicar, in his rolling bass.

“I prefer the sweet harmony of the spinet to the lyre,” said Beaumont,
smiling.

“Dear me, vicar,” observed Mrs. Larcher angrily. “I wish you wouldn’t
be always talking Latin. No one understands it.”

“That’s hardly a compliment to the gentlemen present, my dear,” said
Dr. Larcher in his most stately manner, “but, as Horace says, ‘Oh,
mater pulchra’—-I beg your pardon, I will refrain from the bard.”

“Now, Mr. Blake, I want you to sing something,” said Una, crossing
over to Pumpkin.

“Certainly–some old English melody, I suppose, to match the spinet.
‘Phyllida flouts me,’ or ‘Mistress mine where are you roaming?'”

“Let us have them both,” said Beaumont, lazily. “Very likely the
ghosts of the old Elizabethan lyrists will come and listen.”

“You’ll see a real ghost shortly,” said Una mysteriously, as she and
Pumpkin, after a whispered consultation, moved to the door.

“The ghost of whom?” asked Reginald, who was standing by the spinet.

“Lady Betty Modish or Sophia Western–which ever you like–town or
country,” replied Una, laughing, and thereupon vanished with Miss
Larcher.

“What does she mean?” demanded the vicar in astonishment.

“Something very odd,” said Miss Cassy, shaking her girlish head. “Yes,
quite like a play. The School for what’s-it’s-name. Sheridan, you
know–quite lovely.”

And now Reginald began to sing the quaint old song “Phyllida flouts
me,” while Cecilia, who knew the music off by heart, played the
accompaniment. The night was beginning to close in, and the room was
full of shadows, lighted in a fantastic manner by the red glare of the
fire, which flashed on the tarnished gilded frames of the pictures and
the sombre faces looking from the walls. Beaumont, leaning his elbow
on the mantelpiece, listened quietly, while opposite to him the vicar,
ensconced in a great arm-chair, crossed his legs and kept time to the
music with his spectacles.

So gay and charming the old song sounded. Nothing of the sickly
sentimentality of the modern drawing-room ballad–nothing of the
florid passion of the Italian school–but all fresh and wholesome,
like a gentle wind blowing freely over an English meadow, white with
daisies. Reginald sang the complaint of the unhappy lover charmingly,
and ended amid a subdued murmur of satisfaction, even Mrs. Larcher
being pleased.

“So simple,” she said, nodding her head. “Quite soothing, like a
cradle. Ah, there are no songs now-a-days like the old ones.”

“My dear, we are past the age of Corydon and Chloe,” replied the
vicar. “Virgil and Horace would find no Arcady to sing about now.”

“Well, I don’t suppose that Imperial Rome was more Arcadian than
London,” said Beaumont, lazily, “but I’m afraid we’ve lost the charm
of simplicity.”

“Ah, you’ve never heard ‘Lady Bell,'” said Dick wisely.

“No. I must confess my ignorance,” replied the artist. “Who or what is
Lady Bell?”

“It’s a song–simplicity, if you like. Reggy found it among some old
music at the vicarage.”

“Did he indeed?” observed the vicar placidly. “No doubt it belonged to
my grandfather. I thought that music was all burnt. _Damnosa quid non
imminuit dies?_”

“He spared this, sir, at all events,” said Reginald gaily. “Miss
Mosser, you can play ‘Lady Bell’?”

“Yes, I think so,” replied Cecilia, striking a chord. “It haunted me
when I first heard it. Sing it now, Mr. Blake.”

Whereupon she played a prelude of silvery-sounding chords, and
Reginald sang the old ballad of “Lady Bell.” How, despising all the
beaux, she gave her heart to a plain young country squire, and left
the delights of Ranelagh for the quiet of a village. So dainty and
crisp rang the music to the simple story with its Arcadian end.

“My Lady Bell in gold brocade,
Looked not so fair or trim a maid
As when in linsey woollen gown,
She left for love the noisy town.”


And then the door opened as Reginald ended the delightful old song,
and surely on the threshold stood my Lady Bell as she appeared at
Ranelagh, in powdered hair, in shimmer of gold brocade, with wide
hoops and patches on her arch-looking face, with dainty red-heeled
shoes and skilfully manipulated fan. It was surely Lady Bell that
stepped so stately into the room in the red glare of the fire to the
melodious clearness of the gavotte played by Cecilia, who, being
whispered to by Reginald, at once seized the spirit of the jest. Or
perchance one of the old Garsworth dames had stepped down from her
gilt frame, and, attracted by the familiar tinkle of the spinet, come
to look at what gay company were assembled in the oak parlour; but no,
it was to their eyes Lady Bell, fair and dainty as of old, who swept
into the firelight with tapping of high heels and sweep of stiff
brocade.

“We must have lights to see this,” cried Dick, jumping up from his
chair.

“No, no, I protest!” said Beaumont, lifting up his hand. “It will
spoil all. This is not Miss Challoner, but Lady Bell–a ghost from the
days of powder and patches come to visit us. She moves in mysterious
shadows–a light will cause her to melt away.”

“I’m too substantial for that, I’m afraid,” laughed Una, waving her
fan. “But isn’t this a charming dress? I found it the other day, and
thought I would give you all a fright.”

“I don’t think you could give any one a fright,” whispered Reginald,
whereupon she flashed a saucy look at him out of the shadows. The
sweet, clear music was still stealing through the room, and Beaumont,
in his low, languid voice, talked idly.

“Lady Bell, I admire you vastly. How have you left London and the
modish company at Soho? Surely no highwayman stayed you on the way
hither in your coach and six? And what of my Lord Mohun? Is there any
news at Will’s coffee-house, and do the belles admire the new opera of
Mr. Handel? Come, tell us the news.”‘

“I would need to be a gazette to do so.”

“And you are not–only a fair dead woman from the perished past, come
to show us what wit and beauty went out with powder and patches. Ah,
my dear Lady Bell—-”

At this moment he was interrupted, for a wild shriek rang through the
house, and all present sprang to their feet, looking at one another in
wild surmise.