This dark presentiment also haunted Lord Steyne. He tried to lay the horrid bedside ghost in Red Seas of wine and jollity, and lost sight of it sometimes in the crowd and rout of his pleasures. But it always came back to him when alone, and seemed to grow more threatening with years. "I have taken your son," it said, "why not you? I may shut you up in a prison some day like your son George. I may tap you on the head to-morrow, and away go pleasure and honours, feasts and beauty, friends, flatterers, French cooks, fine horses and houses — in exchange for a prison, a keeper, and a straw mattress like George Gaunt's." And then my lord would defy the ghost which threatened him, for he knew of a remedy by which he could baulk his enemy.
So there was splendour and wealth, but no great happiness perchance, behind the tall caned portals of Gaunt House with its smoky coronets and ciphers. The feasts there were of the grandest in London, but there was not overmuch content therewith, except among the guests who sat at my lord's table. Had he not been so great a Prince very few possibly would have visited him; but in Vanity Fair the sins of very great personages are looked at indulgently. "Nous regardons a deux fois" (as the French lady said) before we condemn a person of my lord's undoubted quality. Some notorious carpers and squeamish moralists might be sulky with Lord Steyne, but they were glad enough to come when he asked them.
"Lord Steyne is really too bad," Lady Slingstone said, "but everybody goes, and of course I shall see that my girls come to no harm." "His lordship is a man to whom I owe much, everything in life," said the Right Reverend Doctor Trail, thinking that the Archbishop was rather shaky, and Mrs. Trail and the young ladies would as soon have missed going to church as to one of his lordship's parties. "His morals are bad," said little Lord Southdown to his sister, who meekly expostulated, having heard terrific legends from her mamma with respect to the doings at Gaunt House; "but hang it, he's got the best dry Sillery in Europe!" And as for Sir Pitt Crawley, Bart. — Sir Pitt that pattern of decorum, Sir Pitt who had led off at missionary meetings — he never for one moment thought of not going too. "Where you see such persons as the Bishop of Ealing and the Countess of Slingstone, you may be pretty sure, Jane," the Baronet would say, "that we cannot be wrong. The great rank and station of Lord Steyne put him in a position to command people in our station in life. The Lord Lieutenant of a County, my dear, is a respectable man. Besides, George Gaunt and I were intimate in early life; he was my junior when we were attaches at Pumpernickel together."
In a word everybody went to wait upon this great man — everybody who was asked, as you the reader (do not say nay) or I the writer hereof would go if we had an invitation.