To every traveller it was a sight of beauty, but to me it was the world--the great wide free world--and my heart thrilled and fluttered as the young bird's may when it first hears the whirr of its own flight, and skims along with the blue heaven above it and the green fields beneath. The day may come when it may look back regretfully to the snug nest in the thornbush, but what does it reck of that when spring is in the air and youth in its blood, and the old hawk of trouble has not yet darkened the sunshine with the ill- boding shadow of its wings?
CHAPTER VII--THE HOPE OF ENGLAND
My uncle drove for some time in silence, but I was conscious that his eye was always coming round to me, and I had an uneasy conviction that he was already beginning to ask himself whether he could make anything of me, or whether he had been betrayed into an indiscretion when he had allowed his sister to persuade him to show her son something of the grand world in which he lived.
"You sing, don't you, nephew?" he asked, suddenly.
"Yes, sir, a little."
"A baritone, I should fancy?"
"And your mother tells me that you play the fiddle. These things will be of service to you with the Prince. Music runs in his family. Your education has been what you could get at a village school. Well, you are not examined in Greek roots in polite society, which is lucky for some of us. It is as well just to have a tag or two of Horace or Virgil: 'sub tegmine fagi,' or 'habet foenum in cornu,' which gives a flavour to one's conversation like the touch of garlic in a salad. It is not bon ton to be learned, but it is a graceful thing to indicate that you have forgotten a good deal. Can you write verse?"
"I fear not, sir."
"A small book of rhymes may be had for half a crown. Vers de Societe are a great assistance to a young man. If you have the ladies on your side, it does not matter whom you have against you. You must learn to open a door, to enter a room, to present a snuff- box, raising the lid with the forefinger of the hand in which you hold it. You must acquire the bow for a man, with its necessary touch of dignity, and that for a lady, which cannot be too humble, and should still contain the least suspicion of abandon. You must cultivate a manner with women which shall be deprecating and yet audacious. Have you any eccentricity?"
It made me laugh, the easy way in which he asked the question, as if it were a most natural thing to possess.
"You have a pleasant, catching laugh, at all events," said he. "But an eccentricity is very bon ton at present, and if you feel any leaning towards one, I should certainly advise you to let it run its course. Petersham would have remained a mere peer all his life had it not come out that he had a snuff-box for every day in the year, and that he had caught cold through a mistake of his valet, who sent him out on a bitter winter day with a thin Sevres china box instead of a thick tortoiseshell. That brought him out of the ruck, you see, and people remember him. Even some small characteristic, such as having an apricot tart on your sideboard all the year round, or putting your candle out at night by stuffing it under your pillow, serves to separate you from your neighbour. In my own case, it is my precise judgment upon matter of dress and decorum which has placed me where I am. I do not profess to follow a law. I set one. For example, I am taking you to-day to see the Prince in a nankeen vest. What do you think will be the consequence of that?"
My fears told me that it might be my own very great discomfiture, but I did not say so.
"Why, the night coach will carry the news to London. It will be in Brookes's and White's to-morrow morning. Within, a week St. James's Street and the Mall will be full of nankeen waistcoats. A most painful incident happened to me once. My cravat came undone in the street, and I actually walked from Carlton House to Watier's in Bruton Street with the two ends hanging loose.