Lapsing then out of date and being considered to bore mankind by her vocal performances in the Spanish language, she retired to Bath, where she lives slenderly on an annual present from Sir Leicester and whence she makes occasional resurrections in the country houses of her cousins. She has an extensive acquaintance at Bath among appalling old gentlemen with thin legs and nankeen trousers, and is of high standing in that dreary city. But she is a little dreaded elsewhere in consequence of an indiscreet profusion in the article of rouge and persistency in an obsolete pearl necklace like a rosary of little bird's-eggs.
In any country in a wholesome state, Volumnia would be a clear case for the pension list. Efforts have been made to get her on it, and when William Buffy came in, it was fully expected that her name would be put down for a couple of hundred a year. But William Buffy somehow discovered, contrary to all expectation, that these were not the times when it could be done, and this was the first clear indication Sir Leicester Dedlock had conveyed to him that the country was going to pieces.
There is likewise the Honourable Bob Stables, who can make warm mashes with the skill of a veterinary surgeon and is a better shot than most gamekeepers. He has been for some time particularly desirous to serve his country in a post of good emoluments, unaccompanied by any trouble or responsibility. In a well- regulated body politic this natural desire on the part of a spirited young gentleman so highly connected would be speedily recognized, but somehow William Buffy found when he came in that these were not times in which he could manage that little matter either, and this was the second indication Sir Leicester Dedlock had conveyed to him that the country was going to pieces.
The rest of the cousins are ladies and gentlemen of various ages and capacities, the major part amiable and sensible and likely to have done well enough in life if they could have overcome their cousinship; as it is, they are almost all a little worsted by it, and lounge in purposeless and listless paths, and seem to be quite as much at a loss how to dispose of themselves as anybody else can be how to dispose of them.
In this society, and where not, my Lady Dedlock reigns supreme. Beautiful, elegant, accomplished, and powerful in her little world (for the world of fashion does not stretch ALL the way from pole to pole), her influence in Sir Leicester's house, however haughty and indifferent her manner, is greatly to improve it and refine it. The cousins, even those older cousins who were paralysed when Sir Leicester married her, do her feudal homage; and the Honourable Bob Stables daily repeats to some chosen person between breakfast and lunch his favourite original remark, that she is the best-groomed woman in the whole stud.
Such the guests in the long drawing-room at Chesney Wold this dismal night when the step on the Ghost's Walk (inaudible here, however) might be the step of a deceased cousin shut out in the cold. It is near bed-time. Bedroom fires blaze brightly all over the house, raising ghosts of grim furniture on wall and ceiling. Bedroom candlesticks bristle on the distant table by the door, and cousins yawn on ottomans. Cousins at the piano, cousins at the soda-water tray, cousins rising from the card-table, cousins gathered round the fire. Standing on one side of his own peculiar fire (for there are two), Sir Leicester. On the opposite side of the broad hearth, my Lady at her table. Volumnia, as one of the more privileged cousins, in a luxurious chair between them. Sir Leicester glancing, with magnificent displeasure, at the rouge and the pearl necklace.
"I occasionally meet on my staircase here," drawls Volumnia, whose thoughts perhaps are already hopping up it to bed, after a long evening of very desultory talk, "one of the prettiest girls, I think, that I ever saw in my life."
"A PROTEGEE of my Lady's," observes Sir Leicester.
"I thought so. I felt sure that some uncommon eye must have picked that girl out.