They soon became the fashion. No ball or soiree, no dance or concert was considered complete without them. Artists sketched them together as "Lily and Rose," "Night and Morning," "Sunlight and Moonlight." Poets indited sonnets to them; friends and admirers thronged around them. As Beatrice said, with a deep- drawn sigh of perfect contentment, "This is life"--and she reveled in it.
That same year the Earl of Airlie attained his majority, and became the center of all fashionable interest. Whether he would marry and whom he would be likely to marry were two questions that interested every mother and daughter in Belgravia. There had not been such an eligible parti for many years. The savings of a long minority alone amounted to a splendid fortune.
The young earl had vast estates in Scotland. Lynnton Hall and Craig Castle, two of the finest seats in England, were his. His mansion in Belgravia was the envy of all who saw it.
Young, almost fabulously wealthy, singularly generous and amiable, the young Earl of Airlie was the center of at least half a hundred of matrimonial plots; but he was not easily managed. Mammas with blooming daughters found him a difficult subject. He laughed, talked, danced, walked, and rode, as society wished him to do; but no one had touched his heart, or even his fancy. Lord Airlie was heart-whole, and there seemed no prospect of his ever being anything else. Lady Constance Tachbrook, the prettiest, daintiest coquette in London, brought all her artillery of fascination into play, but without success. The beautiful brunette, Flora Cranbourne, had laid a wager that, in the course of two waltzes, she would extract three compliments from him, but she failed in the attempt. Lord Airlie was pronounced incorrigible.
The fact was that his lordship had been sensibly brought up. He intended to marry when he could find some one to love him for himself, and not for his fortune. This ideal of all that was beautiful, noble, and true in woman the earl was always searching for, but as yet had not found.
On all sides he had heard of the beauty of Lord Earle's daughters, but it did not interest him. He had been hearing of, seeing, and feeling disappointed in beautiful women for some years. Many people made the point of meeting the "new beauties," but he gave himself no particular trouble. They were like every one else, he supposed.
One morning, having nothing else to do, Lord Airlie went to a fete given in the beautiful grounds of Lady Downham. He went early, intending to remain only a short time. He found but a few guests had arrived. After paying the proper amount of homage to Lady Downham, the young earl wandered off into the grounds.
It was all very pretty and pleasant, but he had seen the same before, and was rather tired of it. The day was more Italian than English, bright and sunny, the sky blue, the air clear and filled with fragrance, the birds singing as they do sing under bright, warm skies.