After I had made my bow she told me she had seen me at Court in the morning, and that without knowing who I was she had been desirous of making my acquaintance. Our conversation lasted three-quarters of an hour, and was composed of those frivolous observations and idle questions which are commonly addressed to a traveller.
The lady was forty, but she was still handsome. She was well known for her gallantries and her influence at Court. She introduced me to her husband and her four daughters, charming girls of a marriageable age. She asked me why I had come to London when everybody was on the point of going out of town. I told her that as I always obeyed the impulse of the moment, I should find it difficult to answer her question; besides, I intended staying for a year, so that the pleasure would be deferred but not lost.
My reply seemed to please her by its character of English independence, and she offered with exquisite grace to do all in her power for me.
"In the meanwhile," said she, "we will begin by letting you see all the nobility at Madame Cornelis's on Thursday next. I can give you a ticket to admit to ball and supper. It is two guineas."
I gave her the money, and she took the ticket again, writing on it, "Paid.--Harrington."
"Is this formality necessary, my lady?"
"Yes; or else they would ask you for the money at the doors."
I did not think it necessary to say anything about my connection with the lady of Soho Square.
While Lady Harrington was making up a rubber at whist, she asked me if I had any other letters for ladies.
"Yes," said I, "I have one which I intend to present to-morrow. It is a singular letter, being merely a portrait."
"Have you got it about you?"
"Yes, my lady."
"May I see it?"
"Certainly. Here it is."
"It is the Duchess of Northumberland. We will go and give it her."
"Just wait till they have marked the game."
Lord Percy had given me this portrait as a letter of introduction to his mother.
"My dear duchess," said Lady Harrington, "here is a letter of introduction which this gentleman begs to present to you."
"I know, it is M. de Seingalt. My son has written to me about him. I am delighted to see you, Chevalier, and I hope you will come and see me. I receive thrice a week."
"Will your ladyship allow me to present my valuable letter in person?"
"Certainly. You are right."
I played a rubber of whist for very small stakes, and lost fifteen guineas, which I paid on the spot. Directly afterwards Lady Harrington took me apart, and gave me a lesson which I deem worthy of record.
"You paid in gold," said she; "I suppose you had no bank notes about you?"
"Yes, my lady, I have notes for fifty and a hundred pounds."
"Then you must change one of them or wait till another time to play, for in England to pay in gold is a solecism only pardonable in a stranger. Perhaps you noticed that the lady smiled?"
"Yes; who is she?"
"Lady Coventry, sister of the Duchess of Hamilton."
"Ought I to apologize?"
"Not at all, the offence is not one of those which require an apology. She must have been more surprised than offended, for she made fifteen shillings by your paying her in gold."
I was vexed by this small mischance, for Lady Coventry was an exquisitely beautiful brunette. I comforted myself, however, without much trouble.
The same day I made the acquaintance of Lord Hervey, the nobleman who conquered Havana, a pleasant an intelligent person. He had married Miss Chudleigh, but the marriage was annulled. This celebrated Miss Chudleigh was maid of honour to the Princess Dowager of Wales, and afterwards became Duchess of Kingston. As her history is well known I shall say something more of her in due course. I went home well enough pleased with my day's work.
The next day I began dining at home, and found my cook very satisfactory; for, besides the usual English dishes, he was acquainted with the French system of cooking, and did fricandeaus, cutlets, ragouts, and above all, the excellent French soup, which is one of the principal glories of France.