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6. Lady Janet's Companion
IT is a glorious winter's day. The sky is clear, the frost is hard, the ice bears for skating.
The dining-room of the ancient mansion called Mablethorpe House, situated in the
London suburb of Kensington, is famous among artists and other persons of taste for the
carved wood-work, of Italian origin, which covers the walls on three sides. On the fourth
side the march of modern improvement has broken in, and has va ried and brightened the
scene by means of a conservatory, forming an entrance to the room through a winter-
garden of rare plants and flowers. On your right hand, as you stand fronting the
conservatory, the monotony of the paneled wall is relieved by a quaintly patterned door
of old inlaid wood, leading into the library, and thence, across the great hall, to the other
reception-rooms of the house. A corresponding door on the left hand gives access to the
billiard-room, to the smoking-room next to it, and to a smaller hall commanding one of
the secondary entrances to the building. On the left side also is the ample fireplace,
surmounted by its marble mantelpiece, carved in the profusely and confusedly ornate
style of eighty years since. To the educated eye the dining-room, with its modern
furniture and conservatory, its ancient walls and doors, and its lofty mantelpiece (neither
very old nor very new), presents a startling, almost a revolutionary, mixture of the
decorative workmanship of widely differing schools. To the ignorant eye the one result
produced is an impression of perfect luxury and comfort, united in the friendliest
combination, and developed on the largest scale.
The clock has just struck two. The table is spread for luncheon.
The persons seated at the table are three in number. First, Lady Janet Roy. Second, a
young lady who is her reader and companion. Third, a guest staying in the house, who
has already appeared in these pages under the name of Horace Holmcroft--attached to the
German army as war correspondent of an English newspaper.
Lady Janet Roy needs but little introduction. Everybody with the slightest pretension to
experience in London society knows Lady Janet Roy.
Who has not heard of her old lace and her priceless rubies? Who has not admired her
commanding figure, her beautifully dressed white hair, her wonderful black eyes, which
still preserve their youthful brightness, after first opening on the world seventy years
since? Who has not felt the charm of her frank, easily flowing talk, her inexhaustible
spirits, her good-humored, gracious sociability of manner? Where is the modern hermit
who is not familiarly acquainted, by hearsay at least, with the fantastic novelty and humor
of her opinions; with her generous encouragement of rising merit of any sort, in all ranks,
high or low; with her charities, which know no distinction between abroad and at home;
with her large indulgence, which no ingratitude can discourage, and no servility pervert?
Everybody has heard of the popular old lady--the childless widow of a long-forgotten
lord. Everybody knows Lady Janet Roy.