Read CHAPTER II of Her Ladyship's Elephant , free online book, by David Dwight Wells, on


When Robert Allingford entered the smoking-room of his club, one afternoon early in October, he was genuinely glad to find that it had but one occupant, and that he was Harold Scarsdale. The two men had met each other for the first time at a house-party some eighteen months before, and their acquaintance had ripened into true friendship.

“Hello!” he cried, accosting that gentleman. “You’re enjoying to the full your last hours of bachelor bliss, I see.”

“Speak for yourself,” replied Scarsdale, who looked extremely bored. “You’re also on the dizzy brink.”

“It’s a fact,” admitted the Consul; “we are both to be married to-morrow. But that is all the more reason why we should make the most of our remaining freedom. You look as glum as if you’d lost your last friend. Come, cheer up, and have something to drink.”

“They say,” remarked the Englishman as he acquiesced in the Consul’s suggestion, “that a man only needs to be married to find out of how little importance he really is; but I’ve been anticipating my fate. Miss Vernon’s rooms are a wilderness of the vanities of life, and here I am, banished to the club as a stern reality.”

“Quite so,” replied the American. “I’m in the same box. The dressmakers have driven me clean out of Belgrave Square. But you, you really have my sympathy, for you are to marry one of my countrywomen, and they are apt to prove rather exacting mistresses at times like these.”

“Oh, I’m fairly well treated,” said Scarsdale; “much better than I deserve, I dare say. How is it with you?”

“Oh,” laughed Allingford, “I feel as if I were playing a game of blind man’s buff with English conventionalities: at least I seem to run foul of them most of the time. I used to imagine that getting married was a comparatively simple matter; but what with a highly complicated ceremony and an irresponsible best man, my cup of misery is well-nigh overflowing.”

“I suppose you have been doing your required fifteen days of residence in the parish? London is slow work, now every one is out of town,” remarked Scarsdale.

“My second-best hand-bag has been residing for the past fortnight in an adjacent attic, in fulfilment of the law,” returned the American; “but affairs at the consulate have kept me on post more than I could have wished.”

“I should not think you would have much business at this season of the year.”

“On the contrary, it is just the time when the migratory American, who has spent the summer in doing Europe, returns to England dead broke, and expects, nay, demands, to be helped home.”

“Do you have many cases of that sort?”

“Lots. In fact, one especially importunate fellow nearly caused me to lose my train for London yesterday. I gave him what he asked to get rid of him.”

“I suppose that sort of thing is a good deal like throwing money into the sea,” said Scarsdale. “It never comes back.”

“Not often, I regret to say; but in this case my distressed countryman put up collateral.”

“Indeed. I trust you can realise on it if need be.”

“I don’t think I want to,” said the Consul, “seeing it’s an elephant.”

“What!” cried Scarsdale.

“An elephant, or rather, to be exact, an order for one to be delivered by the Nubian and Red Sea Line of freighters in two or three days at Southampton Docks. My friend promises to redeem it before arrival, expects advices from the States, &c., but meanwhile is terribly hard up.”

“I hope he will be true to his promises, otherwise I wish you joy of your elephant. You might give it to Lady Steele,” suggested Scarsdale.

“Yes. I think I can see it tethered to the railings in Belgrave Square,” remarked the Consul; “but I am not losing sleep on that account, for, though I’ve informed the steamship people that I am, temporarily, the owner of the beast, I more than suspect that the order and the elephant are both myths. But I have been telling you of my affairs long enough; how go yours?”

“Swimmingly,” replied the Englishman. “Miss Vernon has only one relative in England, thank Heaven! but my family have settled down on me in swarms.”

“Is Lady Diana Melton in town for the occasion?” asked Allingford.

Scarsdale flushed, and for the moment did not reply.

“I beg your pardon,” said the American, “if I have asked an unfortunate question.”

“Not at all,” replied his friend. “My great-aunt, who, as you know, is a somewhat determined old person, has the bad taste to dislike Americans. So she has confined herself to a frigid refusal of our wedding invitation, and sent an impossible spoon to the bride.”

“So you are not to have her country place for your honeymoon,” said Allingford. “From what I have heard of Melton Court, it would be quite an ideal spot under the circumstances.”

“No, we are not going there. The fact is, I don’t know where we are going,” added Scarsdale.


“Yes. As you were saying just now, your countrywomen are apt to prove exacting, and the future Mrs. Scarsdale has taken it into her head that I am much too prosaic to plan a wedding trip that I would do the usual round, in fact, and that she would be bored in consequence; so she has taken the arrangements upon herself, and the whole thing is to be a surprise for me. I don’t even know the station from which we start.”

“I’m afraid I can’t commiserate you,” returned Allingford, laughing, “for I’m guilty of doing the very same thing myself, and my bride elect has no idea of our destination. She spends most of her spare time in trying to guess it.”

At this moment a card was handed to Allingford, who said: “Why, here is my best man, Jack Carrington. You know him, don’t you? I wonder what can have started him on my trail,” and he requested the page to show him up.

A moment later Carrington entered the room. He was one of the best-dressed, most perfect-mannered young men in London, the friend of every one who knew him, a thoroughly delightful and irresponsible creature. To-day, however, there was a seriousness about his face that proclaimed his mission to be of no very pleasant character.

After greeting his friends, he asked for a few words in private with his principal, and as a result of this colloquy Allingford excused himself to Scardsdale, saying that he must return to his lodgings at once, as Carrington had brought him news that his brother Dick had arrived unexpectedly from America, and was awaiting him there.

“What a delightful surprise for you!” exclaimed Scarsdale.

“Yes, very of course,” returned Allingford drily; and after a mutual interchange of congratulations on the events of the morrow, and regrets that neither could be at the wedding of the other, the Consul and his best man left the club.

“He did not seem over-enthusiastic at Carrington’s news,” mused Scarsdale, and then his mind turned to his own affairs.

It was not astonishing that Robert Allingford received the news of his brother’s arrival without any show of rejoicing. A family skeleton is never an enjoyable possession, but when it is not even decently interred, but very much alive, and in the shape of a brother who has attained notoriety as a black sheep of an unusually intense dye, it may be looked upon as little less than a curse.

Yet there were redeeming qualities about Dick Allingford. In spite of his thoroughly bad name, he was one of the most kind-hearted and engaging of men, while the way in which he had managed his own and his brother’s property left nothing to be desired. Moreover, he was quite in his element among his miners. Indeed his qualities, good and bad, were of a kind that endeared him to them. He loved the good things of this life, however, in a wholly uncontrollable manner, and, as his income afforded almost unlimited scope for these desires, his achievements would have put most yellow-covered novels to the blush. Dick’s redeeming virtue was a blind devotion to his elder brother, from whom he demanded unlimited advice and assistance in extricating him from a thousand-and-one scrapes, and inexhaustible patience and forgiveness for those peccadilloes. When Robert had taken a public office in England it was on the distinct understanding that Richard should confine his attentions to America, and so far he had not violated the contract. The Consul had taken care that his brother should not be informed of the day of his marriage until it was too late for him to attend in person, for he shuddered to think of the rig that Richard would run in staid and conventional English society. Accordingly he hastened to his lodgings, full of anxious fore-bodings. On arrival his worst fears were fulfilled. Dick received him with open arms, very affectionate, very penitent, and very drunk. From that gentleman’s somewhat disconnected description the Consul obtained a lurid inkling of what seemed to have been a triumphal progress of unrestrained dissipation from Southampton to London, of which indignant barmaids and a wrecked four-in-hand formed the most redeeming features.

“Now explain yourself!” cried Robert in wrath, at the conclusion of his brother’s recital. “What do you mean by this disgraceful conduct, and why are you in England at all?”

“Saw ’proaching marriage newspaper,” hiccoughed Dick “took first steamer.”

“What did you come for?” demanded Allingford sternly.

“Come? Congratulate you see the bride.”

“Not on your life!” exclaimed the Consul. “You are beastly drunk and not fit for decent society.”

“Fault railroad company bad whisky,” explained the unregenerate one.

“I’ll take your word for it,” replied his brother. “You ought to be a judge of whisky. But you won’t go to my wedding unless you are sober.” And he rang for his valet.

“This is my brother, Parsons,” he remarked to that individual when he entered. “You may put him to bed at once. Use my room for the purpose, and engage another for me for to-night.”

“Yes, sir,” replied his valet, who was too well trained to betray any emotion.

“When you have got him settled,” continued the Consul, “lock him in, and let him stay till morning.” With which he straightway departed, leaving his stupefied brother to the tender mercies of the shocked and sedate Parsons.

Allingford stood a good deal in awe of his valet, and dreaded to see the reproachful look of outraged dignity which he knew would greet him on his return. So he again sought the club, intending to find Scarsdale and continue their conversation; but that gentleman had departed, and the Consul was forced to console himself with a brandy and soda, and settle down to a quiet hour of reflection.

He had been engaged upwards of three months, and, it is needless to say, had learned much in that space of time. An engagement is a liberal education to any man, for it presents a series of entirely new problems to be solved. He ceases to think of and for himself alone, and the accuracy with which he can adjust himself to these novel conditions determines the success or failure of his married life. Robert Allingford, however, was engaged to a woman of another nation; of his own race, indeed, and speaking his own tongue, but educated under widely differing standards and ideals, and on a plane of comparative simplicity when viewed in the light of her complex American sister. The little English girl was an endless mystery to him, and it was only in later life that he discovered that he was constantly endowing her with a complicated nature which she did not possess. He could not understand a woman who generally I do not say invariably, for Marion Steele was human after all, but who generally meant what she said, whose pleasures were healthy and direct, and who was really simple and genuinely ignorant of most things pertaining to the world worldly. He knew that world well enough ten years of mining had taught him that and he had been left to its tender mercies when still a boy, with no relatives except his younger brother, who, as may well be imagined, was rather a burden than a help.

But if Robert Allingford had seen the rough side of life, it had taught him to understand human nature, and, as he had been blessed with a large heart and a considerable measure of adaptability, he managed to get on very well on both sides of the Atlantic. True, he seldom appreciated what the British mind held to contain worth; but he was tolerant, and his tolerance begat, unconsciously, sympathy. On the other hand, the Consul was as much of a mystery to his fiancee as she had ever been to him. In her eyes he was always doing the unexpected. For one thing, she never knew when to take him seriously, and was afraid of what he might do or say; but she soon learned to trust him implicitly, and to estimate him at his true sterling worth.

In short, both had partially adjusted themselves to each other, and were likely to live very happily, with enough of the unknown in their characters to keep them from becoming bored. Allingford had never spoken definitely to his fiancee concerning his younger brother, and she knew instinctively that it was a subject to be avoided. To her father she had said something, but Sir Peter had little interest in his children’s affairs beyond seeing that they were suitably married; and since he was satisfied with the settlements and the man, was content to leave well enough alone.

The Consul, therefore, thought himself justified in saying nothing about the unexpected arrival of his brother, especially as the chances of that gentleman’s being in a fit state to appear at the wedding seemed highly problematical.

Next morning there were no signs of repentance or of Dick; for if a deserted bed, an open window, and the smashed glass of a neighbouring skylight signified anything, it was that Mr. Richard Allingford was still unregenerate and at large.

The bridal day dawned bright and clear, and Carrington lunched with the Consul just before the ceremony, which, thanks to English law, took place at that most impossible hour of the day, 2.30 P.M.

The bridegroom floundered through the intricacies of the service, signed his name in the vestry, and achieved his carriage in a kind of dream; but woke up sufficiently to the realities of life at the reception, to endure with fortitude the indiscriminate kissing of scores of new relations. Then he drank his own health and the healths of other people, and at last escaped upstairs to prepare for the journey and have a quiet fifteen minutes with his best man.

“Now remember,” he said to that irresponsible individual, “you are the only one who knows our destination this evening, and if you breathe it to a soul I’ll come back and murder you.”

“My dear fellow,” replied Carrington, “you don’t suppose, after I’ve endured weeks of cross-questioning and inquisitorial advances from the bride and her family, that I am going to strike my colours and give the whole thing away at the eleventh hour.”

“You have been a trump, Jack,” rejoined the Consul, “and I only wish you may be as happy some time as I am to-day.”

“It is your day; don’t worry about my affairs,” returned Carrington, with a forced laugh which gave colour to the popular report that the only vulnerable point in his armour of good nature lay in his impecunious condition and the consequent impossibility of his marrying on his own account.

It was only a passing cloud, however, and he hastened to change the subject, saying: “Come, you are late already, and a bride must not be kept waiting.”

Allingford was thereupon hustled downstairs, and wept upon from all quarters, and his life was threatened with rice and old shoes; but he reached the street somehow with Mrs. Robert in tow, and, barring the circumstance that in his agitation he had embraced the butler instead of Sir Peter, he acquitted himself very well under the trying ordeal.

As they drove to the station his wife was strangely quiet, and he rallied her on the fact.

“Why,” he said, “you haven’t spoken since we started.”

Her face grew troubled. “I was wondering” she began.

“If you would be happy?” he asked. “I’ll do my best.”

“No, no, I’m sure of that, only do tell me where we are going.”

The Consul laughed. “You women are just the same all the world over,” he replied, but otherwise did not commit himself; but his wife noticed that he looked worried and anxious, and that he breathed a sigh of unmistakable relief as their train drew out of Waterloo Station. She did not know that the one cloud which he had feared might darken his wedding day had now been dispelled: he had seen nothing of his brother.