That pernicious groom must have ridden home along the road nearly as quick as the Dean's cob would carry him for the express purpose of saying that there was no message. When he had been about ten minutes in the Cross Hall kitchen, he was told that there was no message, and had trotted off with most unnecessary speed. Mary was with her father when word was brought to him, saying that there was no message. "Oh, papa, he doesn't care!" she said.
"He will be sure to write," said the Dean, "and he would not allow himself to write in a hurry."
"But why doesn't he come?"
"He ought to come."
"Oh, papa;—if he doesn't care, I shall die."
"Men always care very much."
"But if he has made up his mind to quarrel with me for ever, then he won't care. Why didn't he send his love?"
"He wouldn't do that by the groom."
"I'd send him mine by a chimney-sweep if there were nobody else." Then the door was opened, and in half a second she was in her husband's arms. "Oh, George, my darling, my own, I am so happy. I thought you would come. Oh, my dear!" Then the Dean crept out without a word, and the husband and the wife were together for hours.
"Do you think she is well," said Lord George to the Dean in the course of the afternoon.
"Well? why shouldn't she be well!"
"In this condition I take it one never quite knows."
"I should say there isn't a young woman in England in better general health. I never knew her to be ill in my life since she had the measles."
"I thought she seemed flushed."
"No doubt,—at seeing you."
"I suppose she ought to see the doctor."
"See a fiddlestick. If she's not fretted she won't want a doctor till the time comes when the doctor will be with her whether she wants him or not. There's nothing so bad as coddling. Everybody knows that now. The great thing is to make her happy."
There came a cloud across Lord George's brow as this was said,—a cloud which he could not control, though, as he had hurried across the park on horseback, he had made up his mind to be happy and good-humoured. He certainly had cared very much. He had spoken no word on the subject to anyone, but he had been very much disappointed when he had been married twelve months and no hope of an heir had as yet been vouchsafed to him. When his brother had alluded to the matter, he had rebuked even his brother. He had never ventured to ask a question even of his wife. But he had been himself aware of his own bitter disappointment. The reading of his wife's letter had given him a feeling of joy keener than any he had before felt. For a moment he had been almost triumphant. Of course he would go to her. That distasteful Popenjoy up in London was sick and ailing; and after all this might be the true Popenjoy who, in coming days, would re-establish the glory of the family. But, at any rate, she was his wife, and the bairn would be his bairn. He had been made a happy man, and had determined to enjoy to the full the first blush of his happiness. But when he was told that she was not to be fretted, that she was to be made especially happy, and was so told by her father, he did not quite clearly see his way for the future. Did this mean that he was to give up everything, that he was to confess tacitly that he had been wrong in even asking his wife to go with him to Cross Hall, and that he was to be reconciled in all things to the Dean? He was quite ready to take his wife back, to abstain from accusations against her, to let her be one of the family, but he was as eager as ever to repudiate the Dean. To the eyes of his mother the Dean was now the most horrible of human beings, and her eldest born the dearest of sons. After all that he had endured he was again going to let her live at the old family house, and all those doubts about Popenjoy had, she thought, been fully satisfied. The Marquis to her thinking was now almost a model Marquis, and this dear son, this excellent head of the family, had been nearly murdered by the truculent Dean. Of course the Dean was spoken of at Cross Hall in very bitter terms, and of course those terms made impression on Lord George. In the first moments of his paternal anxiety he had been willing to encounter the Dean in order that he might see his wife; but he did not like to be told by the Dean that his wife ought to be made happy. "I don't know what there is to make her unhappy," he said, "if she will do her duty."
"That she has always done," said the Dean, "both before her marriage and since."
"I suppose she will come home now," said Lord George.
"I hardly know what home means. Your own home I take it is in Munster Court."
"My own home is at Manor Cross," said Lord George, proudly.
"While that is the residence of Lord Brotherton it is absolutely impossible that she should go there. Would you take her to the house of a man who has scurrilously maligned her as he has done?"
"He is not there or likely to be there. Of course she would come to Cross Hall first."
"Do you think that would be wise? You were speaking just now with anxiety as to her condition."
"Of course I am anxious."
"You ought to be at any rate. Do you think, that as she is now she should be subjected to the cold kindnesses of the ladies of your family?"
"What right have you to call their kindness cold?"
"Ask yourself. You hear what they say. I do not. You must know exactly what has been the effect in your mother's house of the scene between me and your brother at that hotel. I spurned him from me with violence because he had maligned your wife. I may expect you to forgive me."
"It was very unfortunate."
"I may feel sure that you as a man must exonerate me from blame in that matter, but I cannot expect your mother to see it in the same light. I ask you whether they do not regard her as wayward and unmanageable?"
He paused for a reply; and Lord George found himself obliged to say something. "She should come and show that she is not wayward or unmanageable."
"But she would be so to them. Without meaning it they would torment her, and she would be miserable. Do you not know that it would be so?" He almost seemed to yield. "If you wish her to be happy, come here for a while. If you will stay here with us for a month, so that this stupid idea of a quarrel shall be wiped out of people's minds, I will undertake that she shall then go to Cross Hall. To Manor Cross she cannot go while the Marquis is its ostensible master."
Lord George was very far from being prepared to yield in this way. He had thought that his wife in her present condition would have been sure to obey him, and had even ventured to hope that the Dean would make no further objection. "I don't think that this is the place for her," he said. "Wherever I am she should be with me."
"Then come here, and it will be all right," said the Dean.
"I don't think that I can do that."
"If you are anxious for her health you will." A few minutes ago the Dean had been very stout in his assurances that everything was well with his daughter, but he was by no means unwilling to take advantage of her interesting situation to forward his own views. "I certainly cannot say that she ought to go to Cross Hall at present. She would be wretched there. Ask yourself."
"Why should she be wretched?"
"Ask yourself. You had promised her that you would come here. Does not the very fact of your declining to keep that promise declare that you are dissatisfied with her conduct, and with mine?" Lord George was dissatisfied with his wife's conduct and with the Dean's, but at the present moment did not wish to say so. "I maintain that her conduct is altogether irreproachable; and as for my own, I feel that I am entitled to your warmest thanks for what I have done. I must desire you to understand that we will neither of us submit to blame."
Nothing had been arranged when Lord George left the deanery. The husband could not bring himself to say a harsh word to his wife. When she begged him to promise that he would come over to the deanery, he shook his head. Then she shed a tear, but as she did it she kissed him, and he could not answer her love by any rough word. So he rode back to Cross Hall, feeling that the difficulties of his position were almost insuperable.
On the next morning Mr. Price came to him. Mr. Price was the farmer who had formerly lived at Cross Hall, who had given his house up to the Dowager, and who had in consequence been told that he must quit the land at the expiration of his present term. "So, my lord, his lordship ain't going to stay very long after all," said Mr. Price.
"I don't quite know as yet," said Lord George.
"I have had Mr. Knox with me this morning, saying that I may go back to the Hall whenever I please. He took me so much by surprise, I didn't know what I was doing."
"My mother is still there, Mr. Price."
"In course she is, my lord. But Mr. Knox was saying that she is going to move back at once to the old house. It's very kind of his lordship, I'm sure, to let bygones be bygones." Lord George could only say that nothing was as yet settled, but that Mr. Price would be, of course, welcome to Cross Hall, should the family go back to Manor Cross.
This took place about the 10th of June, and for a fortnight after that no change took place in any of their circumstances. Lady Alice Holdenough called upon Lady George, and, with her husband, dined at the deanery; but Mary saw nothing else of any of the ladies of the family. No letter came from either of her sisters-in-law congratulating her as to her new hopes, and the Manor Cross carriage never stopped at the Dean's door. The sisters came to see Lady Alice, who lived also in the Close, but they never even asked for Lady George. All this made the Dean very angry, so that he declared that his daughter should under no circumstances be the first to give way. As she had not offended, she should never be driven to ask for pardon. During this time Lord George more than once saw his wife, but he had no further interview with the Dean.
LADY SARAH'S MISSION.
Towards the end of June the family at Cross Hall were in great perturbation. In the first place it had been now settled that they were to go back to the great house early in July. This might have been a source of unalloyed gratification. The old Marchioness had been made very unhappy by the change to Cross Hall, and had persisted in calling her new home a wretched farmhouse. Both Lady Susanna and Lady Amelia were quite alive to the advantages of the great mansion. Lord George had felt that his position in the county had been very much injured by recent events. This might partly have come from his residence in London; but had, no doubt, been chiefly owing to the loss of influence arising from the late migration. He was glad enough to go back again. But Lady Sarah was strongly opposed to the new movement. "I don't think that mamma should be made liable to be turned out again," she had said to her brother and sisters.
"But mamma is particularly anxious to go," Amelia had replied.
"You can't expect mamma to think correctly about Brotherton," said Lady Sarah. "He is vicious and fickle, and I do not like to feel that any of us should be in his power." But Lady Sarah, who had never been on good terms with her elder brother, was overruled, and everybody knew that in July the family was to return to Manor Cross.
Then there came tidings from London,—unauthorised tidings, and, one may say, undignified tidings,—but still tidings which were received with interest. Mrs. Toff had connections with Scumberg's, and heard through these connections that things at Scumberg's were not going on in a happy way. Mrs. Toff's correspondent declared that the Marquis had hardly been out of his bed since he had been knocked into the fireplace. Mrs. Toff, who had never loved the Dean and had never approved of that alliance, perhaps made the most of this. But the report, which was first made to the Dowager herself, caused very great uneasiness. The old lady said that she must go up to London herself to nurse her son. Then a letter was written by Lady Amelia to her brother, asking for true information. This was the answer which Lady Amelia received;—
"DEAR A.,—I'm pretty well, thank you. Don't trouble yourselves. Yours, B."
"I'm sure he's dying," said the Marchioness, "and he's too noble-hearted to speak of his sufferings." Nevertheless she felt that she did not dare to go up to Scumberg's just at present.
Then there came further tidings. Mrs. Toff was told that the Italian Marchioness had gone away, and had taken Popenjoy with her. There was not anything necessarily singular in this. When a gentleman is going abroad with his family, he and his family need not as a matter of course travel together. Lord Brotherton had declared his purpose of returning to Italy, and there could be no reason why his wife, with the nurses and the august Popenjoy, should not go before him. It was just such an arrangement as such a man as Lord Brotherton would certainly make. But Mrs. Toff was sure that there was more in it than this. The Italian Marchioness had gone off very suddenly. There had been no grand packing up;—but there had been some very angry words. And Popenjoy, when he was taken away, was supposed to be in a very poor condition of health. All this created renewed doubts in the mind of Lord George, or rather, perhaps, renewed hopes. Perhaps, after all, Popenjoy was not Popenjoy. And even if he were, it seemed that everyone concurred in thinking that the poor boy would die. Surely the Marquis would not have allowed a sick child to be carried away by an indiscreet Italian mother if he cared much for the sick child. But then Lord George had no real knowledge of these transactions. All this had come through Mrs. Toff, and he was hardly able to rely upon Mrs. Toff. Could he have communicated with the Dean, the Dean would soon have found out the truth. The Dean would have flown up to London and have known all about it in a couple of hours; but Lord George was not active and clever as the Dean.
Then he wrote a letter to his brother;—as follows;—
"MY DEAR BROTHERTON,—We have heard through Mr. Knox that you wish us to move to Manor Cross at once, and we are preparing to do so. It is very kind of you to let us have the house, as Cross Hall is not all that my mother likes, and as there would hardly be room for us should my wife have children. I ought perhaps to have told you sooner that she is in the family way. We hear too that you are thinking of starting for Italy very soon, and that the Marchioness and Popenjoy have already gone. Would it suit you to tell us something of your future plans? It is not that I want to be inquisitive, but that I should like to know with reference to your comfort and our own whether you think that you will be back at Manor Cross next year. Of course we should be very sorry to be in your way, but we should not like to give up Cross Hall till we know that it will not be wanted again.
"I hope you are getting better. I could of course come up to town at a moment's notice, if you wished to see me.
There was nothing in this letter which ought to have made any brother angry, but the answer which came to it certainly implied that the Marquis had received it with dudgeon.
"MY DEAR GEORGE," the Marquis said,
"I can give you no guarantee that I shall not want Manor Cross again, and you ought not to expect it. If you and the family go there of course I must have rent for Cross Hall. I don't suppose I shall ever recover altogether from the injury that cursed brute did me.
"As to your coming family of course I can say nothing. You won't expect me to be very full of joy. Nevertheless, for the honour of the family, I hope it is all right."
There was a brutality about this which for a time made the expectant father almost mad. He tore the letter at once into fragments, so that he might be ready with an answer if asked to show it to his sisters. Lady Sarah had known of his writing, and did ask as to her brother's answer. "Of course he told me nothing," said Lord George. "He is not like any other brother that ever lived."
"May I see his letter?"
"I have destroyed it. It was not fit to be seen. He will not say whether he means to come back next year or not."
"I would not stir, if it were for me to determine," said Lady Sarah. "Nobody ever ought to live in another person's house as long as he has one of his own;—and of all men certainly not in Brotherton's." Nevertheless, the migration went on, and early in July the Marchioness was once more in possession of her own room at Manor Cross, and Mrs. Toff was once again in the ascendant.
But what was to be done about Mary? Had Popenjoy been reported to enjoy robust health, and had Mary been as Mary was a month or two since, the Marchioness and Lady Susanna would have been contented that the present separation should have been permanent. They would at any rate have taken no steps to put an end to it which would not have implied abject submission on Mary's part. But now things were so altered! If this Popenjoy should die, and if Mary should have a son, Mary's position would be one which they could not afford to overlook. Though Mary should be living in absolute rebellion with that horrid Dean, still her Popenjoy would in course of time be the Popenjoy, and nothing that any Germain could do would stand in her way. Her Popenjoy would be Popenjoy as soon as the present Marquis should die, and the family estates would all in due time be his! Her position had been becoming daily more honourable as these rumours were received. Everyone at Manor Cross, down to the boy in the kitchen, felt that her dignity had been immeasurably increased. Her child should now certainly be born at Manor Cross,—though the deanery would have been quite good enough had the present Popenjoy been robust. Something must be done. The Marchioness was clear that Mary should be taken into favour and made much of,—even hinted that she should not be asked to make shirts and petticoats,—if only she could be separated from the pestilential Dean. She spoke in private to her son, who declared that nothing would separate Mary from her father. "I don't think I could entertain him after what he did to Brotherton," said the Marchioness, bursting into tears.
There were great consultations at Manor Cross, in which the wisdom of Lady Sarah and Lady Susanna, and sometimes the good offices of Lady Alice Holdenough were taxed to the utmost. Lady Sarah had since the beginning of these latter troubles been Mary's best friend, though neither Mary nor the Dean had known of her good services. She had pretty nearly understood the full horror of the accusation brought by the Marquis, and had in her heart acquitted the Dean. Though she was hard she was very just. She believed no worse evil of Mary than that she had waltzed when her husband had wished her not to do so. To Lady Sarah all waltzing was an abomination, and disobedience to legitimate authority was abominable also. But then Mary had been taken to London, and had been thrown into temptation, and was very young. Lady Sarah knew that her own life was colourless, and was contented. But she could understand that women differently situated should not like a colourless existence. She had seen Adelaide Houghton and her sister-in-law together, and had known that her brother's lot had fallen in much the better place, and, to her, any separation between those whom God had bound together was shocking and wicked. Lady Susanna was louder and less just. She did not believe that Mary had done anything to merit expulsion from the family; but she did think that her return to it should be accompanied by sackcloth and ashes. Mary had been pert to her, and she was not prone to forgive. Lady Alice had no opinion,—could say nothing about it; but would be happy if, by her services, she could assuage matters.
"Does she ever talk of him," Lady Susanna asked.
"Not to me; I don't think she dares. But whenever he goes there she is delighted to see him."
"He has not been for the last ten days," said Lady Sarah.
"I don't think he will ever go again,—unless it be to fetch her," said Lady Susanna. "I don't see how he can keep on going there, when she won't do as he bids her. I never heard of such a thing! Why should she choose to live with her father when she is his wife? I can't understand it at all."
"There has been some provocation," said Lady Sarah.
"What provocation? I don't know of any. Just to please her fancy, George had to take a house in London, and live there against his own wishes."
"It was natural that she should go to the deanery for a few days; but when she was there no one went to see her."
"Why did she not come here first?" said Lady Susanna. "Why did she take upon herself to say where she would go, instead of leaving it to her husband. Of course it was the Dean. How can any man be expected to endure that his wife should be governed by her father instead of by himself? I think George has been very forbearing."
"You have hardly told the whole story," said Lady Sarah. "Nor do I wish to tell it. Things were said which never should have been spoken. If you will have me, Alice, I will go to Brotherton for a day or two, and I will then go and see her."
And so it was arranged. No one in the house was told of the new plan, Lady Susanna having with difficulty been brought to promise silence. Lady Sarah's visit was of course announced, and that alone created great surprise, as Lady Sarah very rarely left home. The Marchioness had two or three floods of tears over it, and suggested that the carriage would be wanted for the entire day. This evil, however, was altogether escaped, as Lady Alice had a carriage of her own. "I'm sure I don't know who is to look after Mrs. Green," said the Marchioness. Mrs. Green was an old woman of ninety who was supported by Germain charity and was visited almost daily by Lady Sarah. But Lady Amelia promised that she would undertake Mrs. Green. "Of course I'm nobody," said the Marchioness. Mrs. Toff and all who knew the family were sure that the Marchioness would, in truth, enjoy her temporary freedom from her elder daughter's control.
Whatever might have been Lord George's suspicion, he said nothing about it. It had not been by agreement with him that the ladies of the family had abstained from calling on his wife. He had expressed himself in very angry terms as to the Dean's misconduct in keeping her in Brotherton, and in his wrath had said more than once that he would never speak to the Dean again. He had not asked any one to go there; but neither had he asked them not to do so. In certain of his moods he was indignant with his sisters for their treatment of his wife; and then again he would say to himself that it was impossible that they should go into the Dean's house after what the Dean had done. Now, when he heard that his eldest sister was going to the Close, he said not a word.
On the day of her arrival Lady Sarah knocked at the deanery door alone. Up to this moment she had never put her foot in the house. Before the marriage she had known the Dean but slightly, and the visiting to be done by the family very rarely fell to her share. The streets of Brotherton were almost strange to her, so little was she given to leave the sphere of her own duties. In the hall, at the door of his study, she met the Dean. He was so surprised that he hardly knew how to greet her. "I am come to call upon Mary," said Lady Sarah, very brusquely.
"Better late than never," said the Dean, with a smile.
"I hope so," said Lady Sarah, very solemnly. "I hope that I am not doing that which ought not to be done. May I see her?"
"Of course you can see her. I dare say she will be delighted. Is your carriage here?"
"I am staying with my sister. Shall I go upstairs?"
Mary was in the garden, and Lady Sarah was alone for a few minutes in the drawing-room. Of course she thought that this time was spent in conference by the father and daughter; but the Dean did not even see his child. He was anxious enough himself that the quarrel should be brought to an end, if only that end could be reached by some steps to be taken first by the other side. Mary, as she entered the room, was almost frightened, for Lady Sarah had certainly been the greatest of the bugbears when she was living at Manor Cross, "I am come to congratulate you," said Lady Sarah, putting her hand out straight before her.
Better late than never. Mary did not say so, as her father had done, but only thought it. "Thank you," she said, in a very low voice. "Has any one else come?"
"No,—no one else. I am with Alice, and as I have very very much to say, I have come alone. Oh! Mary,—dear Mary, is not this sad?" Mary was not at all disposed to yield, or to acknowledge that the sadness was, in any degree, her fault, but she remembered, at the moment, that Lady Sarah had never called her "dear Mary" before. "Don't you wish that you were back with George?"
"Of course I do. How can I wish anything else?"
"Why don't you go back to him?"
"Let him come here and fetch me, and be friends with papa. He promised that he would come and stay here. Is he well, Sarah?"
"Yes; he is well."
"Quite well? Give him my love,—my best love. Tell him that in spite of everything I love him better than all the world."
"I am sure you do."
"Yes;—of course I do. I could be so happy now if he would come to me."
"You can go to him. I will take you if you wish it."
"You don't understand," said Mary.
"What don't I understand?"
"Will he not let you go to your husband?"
"I suppose he would let me go;—but if I were gone what would become of him?"
Lady Sarah did not, in truth, understand this. "When he gave you to be married," she said, "of course he knew that you must go away from him and live with your husband. A father does not expect a married daughter to stay in his own house."
"But he expects to be able to go to hers. He does not expect to be quarrelled with by everybody. If I were to go to Manor Cross, papa couldn't even come and see me."
"I think he could."
"You don't know papa if you fancy he would go into any house in which he was not welcome. Of course I know that you have all quarrelled with him. You think because he beat the Marquis up in London that he oughtn't ever to be spoken to again. But I love him for what he did more dearly than ever. He did it for my sake. He was defending me, and defending George. I have done nothing wrong. If it is only for George's sake, I will never admit that I have deserved to be treated in this way. None of you have come to see me before, since I came back from London, and now George doesn't come."
"We should all have been kind to you if you had come to us first."
"Yes; and then I should never have been allowed to be here at all. Let George come and stay here, if it is only for two days, and be kind to papa, and then I will go with him to Manor Cross."
Lady Sarah was much surprised by the courage and persistence of the young wife's plea. The girl had become a woman, and was altered even in appearance. She certainly looked older, but then she was certainly much more beautiful than before. She was dressed, not richly, but with care, and looked like a woman of high family. Lady Sarah, who never changed either the colour or the material of her brown morning gown, liked to look at her, telling herself that should it ever be this woman's fate to be Marchioness of Brotherton, she would not in appearance disgrace the position. "I hope you can understand that we are very anxious about you," she said.
"I don't know."
"You might know, then. Your baby will be a Germain."
"Ah,—yes,—for that! You can't think I am happy without George. I am longing all day long, from morning to night, that he will come back to me. But after all that has happened, I must do what papa advises. If I were just to go to Manor Cross now, and allow myself to be carried there alone, you would all feel that I had been—forgiven. Isn't that true?"
"You would be very welcome."
"Susanna would forgive me, and your mother. And I should be like a girl who has been punished, and who is expected to remember ever so long that she has been naughty. I won't be forgiven, except by George,—and he has nothing to forgive. You would all think me wicked if I were there, because I would not live in your ways."
"We should not think you wicked, Mary."
"Yes, you would. You thought me wicked before."
"Don't you believe we love you, Mary?"
She considered a moment before she made a reply, but then made it very clearly: "No," she said, "I don't think you do. George loves me. Oh, I hope he loves me."
"You may be quite sure of that. And I love you."
"Yes;—just as you love all people, because the Bible tells you. That is not enough."
"I will love you like a sister, Mary, if you will come back to us."
She liked being asked. She was longing to be once more with her husband. She desired of all things to be able to talk to him of her coming hopes. There was something in the tone of Lady Sarah's voice, different from the tones of old, which had its effect. She would promise to go if only some slightest concession could be made, which should imply that neither she nor her father had given just cause of offence. And she did feel,—she was always feeling,—that her husband ought to remember that she had never brought counter-charges against him. She had told no one of Mrs. Houghton's letter. She was far too proud to give the slightest hint that she too had her grievance. But surely he should remember it. "I should like to go," she said.
"Then come back with me to-morrow." Lady Sarah had come only on this business, and if the business were completed there would be no legitimate reason for her prolonged sojourn at Brotherton.
"Would George come here for one night."
"Surely, Mary, you would not drive a bargain with your husband."
"Your father can only be anxious for your happiness."
"Therefore I must be anxious for his. I can't say that I'll go without asking him."
"Then ask him and come in and see me at Alice's house this afternoon. And tell your father that I say you shall be received with all affection."
Mary made no promise that she would do even this as Lady Sarah took her leave; but she did at once consult her father. "Of course you can go if you like it, dearest."
"Never mind me. I am thinking only of you. They will be different to you now that they think you will be the mother of the heir."
"Would you take me, and stay there, for one night?"
"I don't think I could do that, dear. I do not consider that I have been exactly asked."
"But if they will ask you?"
"I cannot ask to be asked. To tell the truth I am not at all anxious to be entertained at Manor Cross. They would always be thinking of that fireplace into which the Marquis fell."
The difficulty was very great and Mary could not see her way through it. She did not go to Dr. Holdenough's house that afternoon, but wrote a very short note to Lady Sarah begging that George might come over and talk to her.
"THAT YOUNG FELLOW IN THERE."
A day or two after this Lord George did call at the deanery, but stayed there only for a minute or two, and on that occasion did not even speak of Mary's return to Manor Cross. He was considerably flurried, and showed his wife the letter which had caused his excitement. It was from his brother, and like most of the Marquis's letters was very short.
"I think you had better come up and see me. I'm not very well. B." That was the entire letter, and he was now on his way to London.
"Do you think it is much, George?"
"He would not write like that unless he were really ill. He has never recovered from the results of that—accident."
Then it occurred to Mary that if the Marquis were to die, and Popenjoy were to die, she would at once be the Marchioness of Brotherton, and that people would say that her father had raised her to the title by—killing the late lord. And it would be so. There was something so horrible in this that she trembled as she thought of it. "Oh, George!"
"It is very—very sad."
"It was his fault; wasn't it? I would give all the world that he were well; but it was his fault." Lord George was silent. "Oh, George, dear George, acknowledge that. Was it not so? Do you not think so? Could papa stand by and hear him call me such names as that? Could you have done so?"
"A man should not be killed for an angry word."
"Papa did not mean to kill him!"
"I can never be reconciled to the man who has taken the life of my brother."
"Do you love your brother better than me?"
"You and your father are not one."
"If this is to be said of him I will always be one with papa. He did it for my sake and for yours. If they send him to prison I will go with him. George, tell the truth about it."
"I always tell the truth," he said angrily.
"Did he not do right to protect his girl's name? I will never leave him now; never. If everybody is against him, I will never leave him."
No good was to be got from the interview. Whatever progress Lady Sarah may have made was altogether undone by the husband's sympathy for his injured brother. Mary declared to herself that if there must be two sides, if there must be a real quarrel, she could never be happy again, but that she certainly would not now desert her father. Then she was left alone. Ah, what would happen if the man were to die. Would any woman ever have risen to high rank in so miserable a manner! In her tumult of feelings she told her father everything, and was astonished by his equanimity. "It may be so," he said, "and if so, there will be considerable inconvenience."
"There will be a coroner's inquest, and perhaps some kind of trial. But when the truth comes out no English jury will condemn me."
"Who will tell the truth, papa?"
The Dean knew it all, and was well aware that there would be no one to tell the truth on his behalf,—no one to tell it in such guise that a jury would be entitled to accept the telling as evidence. A verdict of manslaughter with punishment, at the discretion of the judge, would be the probable result. But the Dean did not choose to add to his daughter's discomfort by explaining this. "The chances are that this wretched man is dying. No doubt his health is bad. How should the health of such a man be good? But had he been so hurt as to die from it, the doctor would have found something out long since. He may be dying, but he is not dying from what I did to him." The Dean was disturbed, but in his perturbation he remembered that if the man were to die there would be nothing but that little alien Popenjoy between his daughter and the title.
Lord George hurried up to town, and took a room for himself at an hotel in Jermyn Street. He would not go to Scumberg's, as he did not wish to mix his private life with that of his brother. That afternoon he went across, and was told that his brother would see him at three o'clock the next day. Then he interrogated Mrs. Walker as to his brother's condition. Mrs. Walker knew nothing about it, except that the Marquis lay in bed during the most of his time, and that Dr. Pullbody was there every day. Now Dr. Pullbody was an eminent physician, and had the Marquis been dying from an injury in his back an eminent surgeon would have been required. Lord George dined at his club on a mutton chop and a half a pint of sherry, and then found himself terribly dull. What could he do with himself? Whither could he betake himself? So he walked across Piccadilly and went to the old house in Berkeley Square.
He had certainly become very sick of the woman there. He had discussed the matter with himself and had found out that he did not care one straw for the woman. He had acknowledged to himself that she was a flirt, a mass of affectation, and a liar. And yet he went to her house. She would be soft to him and would flatter him, and the woman would trouble herself to do so. She would make him welcome, and in spite of his manifest neglect would try, for the hour, to make him comfortable.
He was shown up into the drawing-room and there he found Jack De Baron, Guss Mildmay;—and Mr. Houghton, fast asleep. The host was wakened up to bid him welcome, but was soon slumbering again. De Baron and Guss Mildmay had been playing bagatelle,—or flirting in the back drawing-room, and after a word or two returned to their game. "Ill is he?" said Mrs. Houghton, speaking of the Marquis, "I suppose he has never recovered from that terrible blow."
"I have not seen him yet, but I am told that Dr. Pullbody is with him."
"What a tragedy,—if anything should happen! She has gone away; has she not."
"I do not know. I did not ask."
"I think she has gone, and that she has taken the child with her; a poor puny thing. I made Houghton go there to enquire, and he saw the child. I hear from my father that we are to congratulate you."
"Things are too sad for congratulation."
"It is horrible; is it not? And Mary is with her father."
"Yes, she's at the deanery."
"Is that right?—when all this is going on?"
"I don't think anything is right," he said, gloomily.
"Has she—quarrelled with you, George?" At the sound of his Christian name from the wife's lips he looked round at the sleeping husband. He was quite sure that Mr. Houghton would not like to hear his wife call him George. "He sleeps like a church," said Mrs. Houghton, in a low voice. The two were sitting close together and Mr. Houghton's arm-chair was at a considerable distance. The occasional knocking of the balls, and the continued sound of voices was to be heard from the other room. "If you have separated from her I think you ought to tell me."
"I saw her to-day as I came through."
"But she does not go to Manor Cross?"
"She has been at the deanery since she went down."
Of course this woman knew of the quarrel which had taken place in London. Of course she had been aware that Lady George had stayed behind in opposition to her husband's wishes. Of course she had learned every detail as to the Kappa-kappa. She took it for granted that Mary was in love with Jack De Baron, and thought it quite natural that she should be so. "She never understood you as I should have done, George," whispered the lady. Lord George again looked at the sleeping man, who grunted and moved, "He would hardly hear a pistol go off."
"Shouldn't I?" said the sleeping man, rubbing away the flies from his nose. Lord George wished himself back at his club.
"Come out into the balcony," said Mrs. Houghton. She led the way and he was obliged to follow her. There was a balcony to this house surrounded with full-grown shrubs, so that they who stood there could hardly be seen from the road below. "He never knows what any one is saying." As she spoke she came close up to her visitor. "At any rate he has the merit of never troubling me or himself by any jealousies."
"I should be very sorry to give him cause," said Lord George.
"What's that you say?" Poor Lord George had simply been awkward, having intended no severity. "Have you given him no cause?"
"I meant that I should be sorry to trouble him."
"Ah—h! That is a different thing. If husbands would only be complaisant, how much nicer it would be for everybody." Then there was a pause. "You do love me, George?" There was a beautiful moon that was bright through the green foliage, and there was a smell of sweet exotics, and the garden of the Square was mysteriously pretty as it lay below them in the moonlight. He stood silent, making no immediate answer to this appeal. He was in truth plucking up his courage for a great effort. "Say that you love me. After all that is passed you must love me." Still he was silent. "George, will you not speak?"
"Yes; I will speak."
"I do not love you."
"What! But you are laughing at me. You have some scheme or some plot going on."
"I have nothing going on. It is better to say it. I love my wife."
"Psha! love her;—yes, as you would a doll or any pretty plaything. I loved her too till she took it into her stupid head to quarrel with me. I don't grudge her such love as that. She is a child."
It occurred to Lord George at the moment that his wife had certainly more than an infantine will of her own. "You don't know her," he said.
"And now, after all, you tell me to my face that you do not love me! Why have you sworn so often that you did?" He hadn't sworn it often. He had never sworn it at all since she had rejected him. He had been induced to admit a passion in the most meagre terms. "Do you own yourself to be false?" she asked.
"I am true to my wife."
"Your wife! One would think you were the curate of the parish. And is that to be all?"
"Yes, Mrs. Houghton; that had better be all."
"Then why did you come here? Why are you here now?" She had not expected such courage from him, and almost thought more of him now than she had ever thought before. "How dare you come to this house at all?"
"Perhaps I should not have come."
"And I am nothing to you?" she asked in her most plaintive accents. "After all those scenes at Manor Cross you can think of me with indifference?" There had been no scenes, and as she spoke he shook his head, intending to disclaim them. "Then go!" How was he to go? Was he to wake Mr. Houghton? Was he to disturb that other loving couple? Was he to say no word of farewell to her? "Oh, stay," she added, "and unsay it all—unsay it all and give no reason, and it shall be as though it were never said." Then she seized him by the arm and looked passionately up into his eyes. Mr. Houghton moved restlessly in his chair and coughed aloud. "He'll be off again in half a moment," said Mrs. Houghton. Then he was silent, and she was silent, looking at him. And he heard a word or two come clearly from the back drawing-room. "You will, Jack; won't you, dear Jack?"
The ridicule of the thing touched even him. "I think I had better go," he said.
"Good-night, Mrs. Houghton."
"I will not say good-night. I will never speak to you again. You are not worth speaking to. You are false. I knew that men could be false, but not so false as you. Even that young fellow in there has some heart. He loves your—darling wife, and will be true to his love." She was a very devil in her wickedness. He started as though he had been stung, and rushed inside for his hat. "Halloa, Germain, are you going?" said the man of the house, rousing himself for the moment.
"Yes, I am going. Where did I leave my hat?"
"You put it on the piano," said Mrs. Houghton in her mildest voice, standing at the window. Then he seized his hat and went off. "What a very stupid man he is," she said, as she entered the room.
"A very good sort of fellow," said Mr. Houghton.
"He's a gentleman all round," said Jack De Baron. Jack knew pretty well how the land lay and could guess what had occurred.
"I am not so sure of that," said the lady. "If he were a gentleman as you say all round, he would not be so much afraid of his elder brother. He has come up to town now merely because Brotherton sent to him, and when he went to Scumberg's the Marquis would not see him. He is just like his sisters,—priggish, punctilious and timid."
"He has said something nasty to you," remarked her husband, "or you would not speak of him like that."
She had certainly said something very nasty to him. As he returned to his club he kept on repeating to himself her last words;—"He loves your darling wife." Into what a mass of trouble had he not fallen through the Dean's determination that his daughter should live in London! He was told on all sides that this man was in love with his wife, and he knew,—he had so much evidence for knowing,—that his wife liked the man. And now he was separated from his wife, and she could go whither her father chose to take her. For aught that he could do she might be made to live within the reach of this young scoundrel. No doubt his wife would come back if he would agree to take her back on her own terms. She would again belong to him if he would agree to take the Dean along with her. But taking the Dean would be to put himself into the Dean's leading strings. The Dean was strong and imperious; and then the Dean was rich. But anything would be better than losing his wife. Faulty as he thought her to be, she was sweet as no one else was sweet. When alone with him she would seem to make every word of his a law. Her caresses were full of bliss to him. When he kissed her her face would glow with pleasure. Her voice was music to him; her least touch was joy. There was a freshness about the very things which she wore which pervaded his senses. There was a homeliness about her beauty which made her more lovely in her own room than when dressed for balls and parties. And yet he had heard it said that when dressed she was declared to be the most lovely woman that had come to London that season. And now she was about to become the mother of his child. He was thoroughly in love with his wife. And yet he was told that his wife was "Jack De Baron's darling!"
THE MARQUIS MAKES A PROPOSITION.
The next morning was very weary with him, as he had nothing to do till three o'clock. He was most anxious to know whether his sister-in-law had in truth left London, but he had no means of finding out. He could not ask questions on such a subject from Mrs. Walker and her satellites; and he felt that it would be difficult to ask even his brother. He was aware that his brother had behaved to him badly, and he had determined not to be over courteous,—unless, indeed, he should find his brother to be dangerously ill. But above all things he would avoid all semblance of inquisitiveness which might seem to have a reference to the condition of his own unborn child. He walked up and down St. James' Park thinking of all this, looking up once at the windows of the house which had brought so much trouble on him, that house of his which had hardly been his own, but not caring to knock at the door and enter it. He lunched in solitude at his club, and exactly at three o'clock presented himself at Scumberg's door. The Marquis's servant was soon with him, and then again he found himself alone in that dreary sitting-room. How wretched must his brother be, living there from day to day without a friend, or, as far as he was aware, without a companion!
He was there full twenty minutes, walking about the room in exasperated ill-humour, when at last the door was opened and his brother was brought in between two men-servants. He was not actually carried, but was so supported as to appear to be unable to walk. Lord George asked some questions, but received no immediate answers. The Marquis was at the moment thinking too much of himself and of the men who were ministering to him to pay any attention to his brother. Then by degrees he was fixed in his place, and after what seemed to be interminable delay the two men went away. "Ugh!" ejaculated the Marquis.
"I am glad to see that you can at any rate leave your room," said Lord George.
"Then let me tell you that it takes deuced little to make you glad."
The beginning was not auspicious, and further progress in conversation seemed to be difficult. "They told me yesterday that Dr. Pullbody was attending you."
"He has this moment left me. I don't in the least believe in him. Your London doctors are such conceited asses that you can't speak to them? Because they can make more money than their brethren in other countries they think that they know everything, and that nobody else knows anything. It is just the same with the English in every branch of life. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the greatest priest going, because he has the greatest income, and the Lord Chancellor the greatest lawyer. All you fellows here are flunkies from top to bottom."
Lord George certainly had not come up to town merely to hear the great dignitaries of his country abused. But he was comforted somewhat as he reflected that a dying man would hardly turn his mind to such an occupation. When a sick man criticises his doctor severely he is seldom in a very bad way. "Have you had anybody else with you, Brotherton?"
"One is quite enough. But I had another. A fellow named Bolton was here, a baronet, I believe, who told me I ought to walk a mile in Hyde Park every day. When I told him I couldn't he said I didn't know till I tried. I handed him a five-pound note, upon which he hauled out three pounds nineteen shillings change and walked off in a huff. I didn't send for him any more."
"Sir James Bolton has a great reputation."
"No doubt. I daresay he could cut off my leg if I asked him, and would then have handed out two pounds eighteen with the same indifference."
"I suppose your back is better?"
"No, it isn't,—not a bit. It gets worse and worse."
"What does Dr. Pullbody say?"
"Nothing that anybody can understand. By George! he takes my money freely enough. He tells me to eat beefsteaks and drink port-wine. I'd sooner die at once. I told him so, or something a little stronger, I believe, and he almost jumped out of his shoes."
"He doesn't think there is any——danger?"
"He doesn't know anything about it. I wish I could have your father-in-law in a room by ourselves, with a couple of loaded revolvers. I'd make better work of it than he did."
"I daresay he won't give me the chance. He thinks he has done a plucky thing because he's as strong as a brewer's horse. I call that downright cowardice."
"It depends on how it began, Brotherton."
"Of course there had been words between us. Things always begin in that way."
"You must have driven him very hard."
"Are you going to take his part? Because, if so, there may as well be an end of it. I thought you had found him out and had separated yourself from him. You can't think that he is a gentleman?"
"He is a very liberal man."
"You mean to sell yourself, then, for the money that was made in his father's stables?"
"I have not sold myself at all. I haven't spoken to him for the last month."
"So I understood; therefore I sent for you. You are all back at Manor Cross now?"
"Yes;—we are there."
"You wrote me a letter which I didn't think quite the right thing. But, however, I don't mind telling you that you can have the house if we can come to terms about it."
"You can have the house and the park, and Cross Hall Farm, too, if you'll pledge yourself that the Dean shall never enter your house again, and that you will never enter his house or speak to him. You shall do pretty nearly as you please at Manor Cross. In that event I shall live abroad, or here in London if I come to England. I think that's a fair offer, and I don't suppose that you yourself can be very fond of the man." Lord George sat perfectly silent while the Marquis waited for a reply. "After what has passed," continued he, "you can't suppose that I should choose that he should be entertained in my dining-room."
"You said the same about my wife before."
"Yes, I did; but a man may separate himself from his father-in-law when he can't very readily get rid of his wife. I never saw your wife."
"No;—and therefore cannot know what she is."
"I don't in the least want to know what she is. You and I, George, haven't been very lucky in our marriages."
"Do you think so? You see I speak more frankly of myself. But I am not speaking of your wife. Your wife's father has been a blister to me ever since I came back to this country, and you must make up your mind whether you will take his part or mine. You know what he did, and what he induced you to do about Popenjoy. You know the reports that he has spread abroad. And you know what happened in this room. I expect you to throw him off altogether." Lord George had thrown the Dean off altogether. For reasons of his own he had come to the conclusion that the less he had to do with the Dean the better for himself; but he certainly could give no such pledge as this now demanded from him. "You won't make me this promise?" said the Marquis.
"No; I can't do that."
"Then you'll have to turn out of Manor Cross," said the Marquis, smiling.
"You do not mean that my mother must be turned out?"
"You and my mother, I suppose, will live together?"
"It does not follow. I will pay you rent for Cross Hall."
"You shall do no such thing. I will not let Cross Hall to any friend of the Dean's."
"You cannot turn your mother out immediately after telling her to go there?"
"It will be you who turn her out,—not I. I have made you a very liberal offer," said the Marquis.
"I will have nothing to do with it," said Lord George. "In any house in which I act as master I will be the judge who shall be entertained and who not."
"The first guests you will ask, no doubt, will be the Dean of Brotherton and Captain De Baron." This was so unbearable that he at once made a rush at the door. "You'll find, my friend," said the Marquis, "that you'll have to get rid of the Dean and of the Dean's daughter as well." Then Lord George swore to himself as he left the room that he would never willingly be in his brother's company again.
He was rushing down the stairs, thinking about his wife, swearing to himself that all this was calumny, yet confessing to himself that there must have been terrible indiscretion to make the calumny so general, when he was met on the landing by Mrs. Walker in her best silk gown. "Please, my lord, might I take the liberty of asking for one word in my own room?" Lord George followed her and heard the one word. "Please, my lord, what are we to do with the Marquis?"
"Do with him!"
"About his going."
"Why should he go? He pays his bills, I suppose?"
"Oh yes, my lord; the Marquis pays his bills. There ain't no difficulty there, my lord. He's not quite himself."
"You mean in health?"
"Yes, my lord;—in health. He don't give himself,—not a chance. He's out every night,—in his brougham."
"I thought he was almost confined to his room?"
"Out every night, my lord,—and that Courier with him on the box. When we gave him to understand that all manner of people couldn't be allowed to come here, we thought he'd go."
"The Marchioness has gone?"
"Oh yes;—and the poor little boy. It was bad enough when they was here, because things were so uncomfortable; but now——. I wish something could be done, my lord." Lord George could only assure her that it was out of his power to do anything. He had no control over his brother, and did not even mean to come and see him again. "Dearie me!" said Mrs. Walker; "he's a very owdacious nobleman, I fear,—is the Marquis."
All this was very bad. Lord George had learned, indeed, that the Marchioness and Popenjoy were gone, and was able to surmise that the parting had not been pleasant. His brother would probably soon follow them. But what was he to do himself! He could not, in consequence of such a warning, drag his mother and sisters back to Cross Hall, into which house Mr. Price, the farmer, had already moved himself. Nor could he very well leave his mother without explaining to her why he did so. Would it be right that he should take such a threat, uttered as that had been, as a notice to quit the house? He certainly would not live in his brother's house in opposition to his brother. But how was he to obey the orders of such a madman?
When he reached Brotherton he went at once to the deanery and was very glad to find his wife without her father. He did not as yet wish to renew his friendly relations with the Dean, although he had refused to pledge himself to a quarrel. He still thought it to be his duty to take his wife away from her father, and to cause her to expiate those calumnies as to De Baron by some ascetic mode of life. She had been, since his last visit, in a state of nervous anxiety about the Marquis. "How is he, George?" she asked at once.
"I don't know how he is. I think he's mad."
"He's leading a wretched life."
"But his back? Is he;—is he—? I am afraid that papa is so unhappy about it! He won't say anything, but I know he is unhappy."
"You may tell your father from me that as far as I can judge his illness, if he is ill, has nothing to do with that."
"Oh, George, you have made me so happy."
"I wish I could be happy myself. I sometimes think that we had better go and live abroad."
"Abroad! You and I?"
"Yes. I suppose you would go with me?"
"Of course I would. But your mother?"
"I know there is all manner of trouble about it." He could not tell her of his brother's threat about the house, nor could he, after that threat, again bid her come to Manor Cross. As there was nothing more to be said he soon left her, and went to the house which he had again been forbidden to call his home.
But he told his sister everything. "I was afraid," she said, "that we should be wrong in coming here."
"It is no use going back to that now."
"Not the least. What ought we to do? It will break mamma's heart to be turned out again."
"I suppose we must ask Mr. Knox."
"It is unreasonable;—monstrous! Mr. Price has got all his furniture back again into the Hall! It is terrible that any man should have so much power to do evil."
"I could not pledge myself about the Dean, Sarah."
"Certainly not. Nothing could be more wicked than his asking you. Of course, you will not tell mamma."
"I should take no notice of it whatever. If he means to turn us out of the house let him write to you, or send word by Mr. Knox. Out every night in London! What does he do?" Lord George shook his head. "I don't think he goes into society." Lord George could only shake his head again. There are so many kinds of society! "They said he was coming down to Mr. De Baron's in August."
"I heard that too. I don't know whether he'll come now. To see him brought in between two servants you'd think that he couldn't move."
"But they told you he goes out every night?"
"I've no doubt that is true."
"I don't understand it all," said Lady Sarah. "What is he to gain by pretending. And so they used to quarrel."
"I tell you what the woman told me."
"I've no doubt it's true. And she has gone and taken Popenjoy? Did he say anything about Popenjoy?"
"Not a word," said Lord George.
"It's quite possible that the Dean may have been right all through. What terrible mischief a man may do when he throws all idea of duty to the winds! If I were you, George, I should just go on as though I had not seen him at all."
That was the decision to which Lord George came, but in that he was soon shaken by a letter which he received from Mr. Knox. "I think if you were to go up to London and see your brother it would have a good effect," said Mr. Knox. In fact Mr. Knox's letter contained little more than a petition that Lord George would pay another visit to the Marquis. To this request, after consultation with his sister, he gave a positive refusal.
"MY DEAR MR. KNOX," he said,
"I saw my brother less than a week ago, and the meeting was so unsatisfactory in every respect that I do not wish to repeat it. If he has anything to say to me as to the occupation of the house he had better say it through you. I think, however, that my brother should be told that though I may be subject to his freaks, we cannot allow that my mother should be annoyed by them.
At the end of another week Mr. Knox came in person. The Marquis was willing that his mother should live at Manor Cross,—and his sisters. But he had,—so he said,—been insulted by his brother, and must insist that Lord George should leave the house. If this order were not obeyed he should at once put the letting of the place into the hands of a house agent. Then Mr. Knox went on to explain that he was to take back to the Marquis a definite reply. "When people are dependent on me I choose that they shall be dependent," the Marquis had said.
Now, after a prolonged consultation to which Lady Susanna was admitted,—so serious was the thing to be considered,—it was found to be necessary to explain the matter to the Marchioness. Some step clearly must be taken. They must all go, or Lord George must go. Cross Hall was occupied, and Mr. Price was going to be married on the strength of his occupation. A lease had been executed to Mr. Price, which the Dowager herself had been called upon to sign. "Mamma will never be made to understand it," said Lady Susanna.
"No one can understand it," said Lord George. Lord George insisted that the ladies should continue to live at the large house, insinuating that, for himself, he would take some wretched residence in the most miserable corner of the globe, which he could find.
The Marchioness was told and really fell into a very bad way. She literally could not understand it, and aggravated matters by appearing to think that her younger son had been wanting in respect to his elder brother. And it was all that nasty Dean! And Mary must have behaved very badly or Brotherton would not have been so severe! "Mamma," said Lady Sarah, moved beyond her wont, "you ought not to think such things. George has been true to you all his life, and Mary has done nothing. It is all Brotherton's fault. When did he ever behave well? If we are to be miserable, let us at any rate tell the truth about it." Then the Marchioness was put to bed and remained there for two days.
At last the Dean heard of it,—first through Lady Alice, and then directly from Lady Sarah, who took the news to the deanery. Upon which he wrote the following letter to his son-in-law;—
"MY DEAR GEORGE,—I think your brother is not quite sane. I never thought that he was. Since I have had the pleasure of knowing you, especially since I have been connected with the family, he has been the cause of all the troubles that have befallen it. It is to be regretted that you should ever have moved back to Manor Cross, because his temper is so uncertain, and his motives so unchristian!
"I think I understand your position now, and will therefore not refer to it further than to say, that when not in London I hope you will make the deanery your home. You have your own house in town, and when here will be close to your mother and sisters. Anything I can do to make this a comfortable residence for you shall be done; and it will surely go for something with you, that a compliance with this request on your part will make another person the happiest woman in the world.
"In such an emergency as this am I not justified in saying that any little causes of displeasure that may have existed between you and me should now be forgotten? If you will think of them they really amount to nothing. For you I have the esteem of a friend and the affection of a father-in-law. A more devoted wife than my daughter does not live. Be a man and come to us, and let us make much of you.
"She knows I am writing, and sends her love; but I have not told her of the subject lest she should be wild with hope.
The letter as he read it moved him to tears, but when he had finished the reading he told himself that it was impossible. There was one phrase in the letter which went sorely against the grain with him. The Dean told him to be a man. Did the Dean mean to imply that his conduct hitherto had been unmanly?
"WOULDN'T YOU COME HERE—FOR A WEEK?"
Lord George Germain was very much troubled by the nobility of the Dean's offer. He felt sure that he could not accept it, but he felt at the same time that it would be almost as difficult to decline to accept it. What else was he to do? where was he to go? how was he now to exercise authority over his wife? With what face could he call upon her to leave her father's house, when he had no house of his own to which to take her? There was, no doubt, the house in London, but that was her house, and peculiarly disagreeable to him. He might go abroad; but then what would become of his mother and sisters? He had trained himself to think that his presence was necessary to the very existence of the family; and his mother, though she ill-treated him, was quite of the same opinion. There would be a declaration of a break up made to all the world if he were to take himself far away from Manor Cross. In his difficulty, of course he consulted Lady Sarah. What other counsellor was possible to him?
He was very fair with his sister, trying to explain everything to her—everything, with one or two exceptions. Of course he said nothing of the Houghton correspondence, nor did he give exactly a true account of the scene at Mrs. Montacute Jones' ball; but he succeeded in making Lady Sarah understand that though he accused his wife of nothing, he felt it to be incumbent on him to make her completely subject to his own authority. "No doubt she was wrong to waltz after what you told her," said Lady Sarah.
"But it was simply high spirits, I suppose."
"I don't think she understands how circumspect a young married woman ought to be," said the anxious husband. "She does not see how very much such high spirits may injure me. It enables an enemy to say such terrible things."
"Why should she have an enemy, George?" Then Lord George merely whispered his brother's name. "Why should Brotherton care to be her enemy?"
"Because of the Dean."
"She should not suffer for that. Of course, George, Mary and I are very different. She is young and I am old. She has been brought up to the pleasures of life, which I disregard, perhaps because they never came in my way. She is beautiful and soft,—a woman such as men like to have near them. I never was such a one. I see the perils and pitfalls in her way; but I fancy that I am prone to exaggerate them, because I cannot sympathise with her yearnings. I often condemn her frivolity, but at the same time I condemn my own severity. I think she is true of heart,—a loving woman. And she is at any rate your wife."
"You don't suppose that I wish to be rid of her?"
"Certainly not; but in keeping her close to you you must remember that she has a nature of her own. She cannot feel as you do in all things any more than you feel as she does."
"One must give way to the other."
"Each must give way to the other if there is to be any happiness."
"You don't mean to say she ought to waltz, or dance stage dances?"
"Let all that go for the present. She won't want to dance much for a time now, and when she has a baby in her arms she will be more apt to look at things with your eyes. If I were you I should accept the Dean's offer."
There was a certain amount of comfort in this, but there was more pain. His wife had defied him, and it was necessary to his dignity that she should be brought to submission before she was received into his full grace. And the Dean had encouraged her in those acts of defiance. They had, of course, come from him. She had been more her father's daughter than her husband's wife, and his pride could not endure that it should be so. Everything had gone against him. Hitherto he had been able to desire her to leave her father and to join him in his own home. Now he had no home to which to take her. He had endeavoured to do his duty,—always excepting that disagreeable episode with Mrs. Houghton,—and this was the fruit of it. He had tried to serve his brother, because his brother was Marquis of Brotherton, and his brother had used him like an enemy. His mother treated him, with steady injustice. And now his sister told him that he was to yield to the Dean! He could not bring himself to yield to the Dean. At last he answered the Dean's letter as follows;—
"MY DEAR DEAN,—
"Your offer is very kind, but I do not think that I can accept it just at present. No doubt I am very much troubled by my brother's conduct. I have endeavoured to do my duty by him, and have met with but a poor return. What arrangements I shall ultimately make as to a home for myself and Mary, I cannot yet say. When anything is settled I shall, of course, let her know at once. It will always be, at any rate, one of my chief objects to make her comfortable, but I think that this should be done under my roof and not under yours. I hope to be able to see her in a day or two, when perhaps I shall have been able to settle upon something.
"Yours always affectionately,
Then, upon reading this over and feeling that it was cold and almost heartless, he added a postscript. "I do feel your offer to be very generous, but I think you will understand the reasons which make it impossible that I should accept it." The Dean as he read this declared to himself that he knew the reasons very well. The reasons were not far to search. The man was pigheaded, foolish, and obstinately proud. So the Dean thought. As far as he himself was concerned Lord George's presence in the house would not be a comfort to him. Lord George had never been a pleasant companion to him. But he would have put up with worse than Lord George for the sake of his daughter.
On the very next day Lord George rode into Brotherton and went direct to the deanery. Having left his horse at the inn he met the Dean in the Close, coming out of a side door of the Cathedral close to the deanery gate. "I thought I would come in to see Mary," he said.
"Mary will be delighted."
"I did not believe that I should be able to come so soon when I wrote yesterday."
"I hope you are going to tell her that you have thought better of my little plan."
"Well;—no; I don't think I can do that. I think she must come to me first, sir."
"I have not yet quite made up my mind. Of course there is a difficulty. My brother's conduct has been so very strange."
"Your brother is a madman, George."
"It is very easy to say so, but that does not make it any better. Though he be ever so mad the house is his own. If he chooses to turn me out of it he can. I have told Mr. Knox that I would leave it within a month,—for my mother's sake; but that as I had gone there at his express instance, I could not move sooner. I think I was justified in that."
"I don't see why you should go at all."
"He would let the place."
"Or, if you do go, why you should not come here. But, of course, you know your own business best. How d'ye do, Mr. Groschut? I hope the Bishop is better this morning."
At this moment, just as they were entering the deanery gate, the Bishop's chaplain had appeared. He had been very studious in spreading a report, which he had no doubt believed to be true, that all the Germain family, including Lord George, had altogether repudiated the Dean, whose daughter, according to his story, was left upon her father's hands because she would not be received at Manor Cross. For Mr. Groschut had also heard of Jack De Baron, and had been cut to the soul by the wickedness of the Kappa-kappa. The general iniquity of Mary's life in London had been heavy on him. Brotherton, upon the whole, had pardoned the Dean for knocking the Marquis into the fireplace, having heard something of the true story with more or less correctness. But the Chaplain's morals were sterner than those of Brotherton at large, and he was still of opinion that the Dean was a child of wrath, and poor Mary, therefore, a grandchild. Now, when he saw the Dean and his son-in-law apparently on friendly terms, the spirit of righteousness was vexed within him as he acknowledged this to be another sign that the Dean was escaping from that punishment which alone could be of service to him in this world. "His Lordship is better this morning. I hope, my Lord, I have the pleasure of seeing your Lordship quite well." Then Mr. Groschut passed on.
"I'm not quite sure," said the Dean, as he opened his own door, "whether any good is ever done by converting a Jew."
"But St. Paul was a converted Jew," said Lord George.
"Well—yes; in those early days Christians were only to be had by converting Jews or Pagans; and in those days they did actually become Christians. But the Groschuts are a mistake." Then he called to Mary, and in a few minutes she was in her husband's arms on the staircase. The Dean did not follow them, but went into his own room on the ground floor; and Lord George did not see him again on that day.
Lord George remained with his wife nearly all the afternoon, going out with her into the town as she did some little shopping, and being seen with her in the market-place and Close. It must be owned of Mary that she was proud thus to be seen with him again, and that in buying her ribbons and gloves she referred to him, smiling as he said this, and pouting and pretending to differ as he said that, with greater urgency than she would have done had there been no breach between them. It had been terrible to her to think that there should be a quarrel,—terrible to her that the world should think so. There was a gratification to her in feeling that even the shopkeepers should see her and her husband together. And when she met Canon Pountner and stopped a moment in the street while that worthy divine shook hands with her husband, that was an additional pleasure to her. The last few weeks had been heavy to her in spite of her father's affectionate care,—heavy with a feeling of disgrace from which no well-minded young married woman can quite escape, when she is separated from her husband. She had endeavoured to do right. She thought she was doing right. But it was so sad! She was fond of pleasure, whereas he was little given to any amusement; but no pleasures could be pleasant to her now unless they were in some sort countenanced by him. She had never said such a word to a human being, but since that dancing of the Kappa-kappa she had sworn to herself a thousand times that she would never waltz again. And she hourly yearned for his company, having quite got over that first difficulty of her married life, that doubt whether she could ever learn to love her husband. During much of this day she was actually happy in spite of the great sorrow which still weighed so heavily upon them both.
And he liked it also in his way. He thought that he had never seen her looking more lovely. He was sure that she had never been more gracious to him. The touch of her hand was pleasant to his arm, and even he had sufficient spirit of fun about him to enjoy something of the mirth of her little grimaces. When he told her what her father had said about Mr. Groschut, even he laughed at her face of assumed disgust. "Papa doesn't hate him half as much as I do," she said. "Papa always does forgive at last, but I never can forgive Mr. Groschut."
"What has the poor man done?"
"He is so nasty! Don't you see that his face always shines. Any man with a shiny face ought to be hated." This was very well to give as a reason, but Mary entertained a very correct idea as to Mr. Groschut's opinion of herself.
Not a word had been said between the husband and wife as to the great question of residence till they had returned to the deanery after their walk. Then Lord George found himself unable to conceal from her the offer which the Dean had made. "Oh, George,—why don't you come?"
"It would not be—fitting."
"Fitting! Why not fitting? I think it would fit admirably. I know it would fit me." Then she leaned over him and took his hand and kissed it.
"It was very good of your father."
"I am sure he meant to be good."
"It was very good of your father," Lord George repeated,—"very good indeed; but it cannot be. A married woman should live in her husband's house and not in her father's."
Mary gazed into his face with a perplexed look, not quite understanding the whole question, but still with a clear idea as to a part of it. All that might be very true, but if a husband didn't happen to have a house then might not the wife's father's house be a convenience? They had indeed a house, provided no doubt with her money, but not the less now belonging to her husband, in which she would be very willing to live if he pleased it,—the house in Munster Court. It was her husband that made objection to their own house. It was her husband who wished to live near Manor Cross, not having a roof of his own under which to do so. Were not these circumstances which ought to have made the deanery a convenience to him? "Then what will you do?" she asked.
"I cannot say as yet." He had become again gloomy and black-browed.
"Wouldn't you come here—for a week?"
"I think not, my dear."
"Not when you know how happy it would make me to have you with me once again. I do so long to be telling you everything." Then she leant against him and embraced him, and implored him to grant her this favour. But he would not yield. He had told himself that the Dean had interfered between him and his wife, and that he must at any rate go through the ceremony of taking his wife away from her father. Let it be accorded to him that he had done that, and then perhaps he might visit the deanery. As for her, she would have gone with him anywhere now, having fully established her right to visit her father after leaving London.
There was nothing further settled, and very little more said, when Lord George left the deanery and started back to Manor Cross. But with Mary there had been left a certain comfort. The shopkeepers and Dr. Pountner had seen her with her husband, and Mr. Groschut had met Lord George at the deanery door.
Lord George had undertaken to leave Manor Cross by the middle of August, but when the first week of that month had passed away he had not as yet made up his mind what he would do with himself. Mr. Knox had told him that should he remain with his mother the Marquis would not, as Mr. Knox thought, take further notice of the matter; but on such terms as these he could not consent to live in his brother's house.
On a certain day early in August Lord George had gone with a return ticket to a town but a few miles distant from Brotherton to sit on a committee for the distribution of coals and blankets, and in the afternoon got into a railway carriage on his way home. How great was his consternation when, on taking his seat, he found that his brother was seated alongside of him! There was one other old gentleman in the carriage, and the three passengers were all facing the engine. On two of the seats opposite were spread out the Marquis's travelling paraphernalia,—his French novel, at which he had not looked, his dressing bag, the box in which his luncheon had been packed, and his wine flask. There was a small basket of strawberries, should he be inclined to eat fruit, and an early peach out of a hothouse, with some flowers. "God Almighty, George;—is that you?" he said. "Where the devil have you been?"
"I've been to Grumby."
"And what are the people doing at Grumby?"
"Much the same as usual. It was the coal and blanket account."
"Oh!—the coal and blanket account! I hope you liked it." Then he folded himself afresh in his cloaks, ate a strawberry, and looked as though he had taken sufficient notice of his brother.
But the matter was very important to Lord George. Nothing ever seemed to be of importance to the Marquis. It might be very probable that the Marquis, with half-a-dozen servants behind him, should drive up to the door at Manor Cross without having given an hour's notice of his intention. It seemed to be too probable to Lord George that such would be the case now. For what other reason could he be there? And then there was his back. Though they had quarrelled he was bound to ask after his brother's back. When last they two had met, the Marquis had been almost carried into the room by two men. "I hope you find yourself better than when I last saw you," he said, after a pause of five minutes.
"I've not much to boast of. I can just travel, and that's all."
"And how is—Popenjoy?"
"Upon my word I can't tell you. He has never seemed to be very well when I've seen him."
"I hope the accounts have been better," said Lord George, with solicitude.
"Coal and blanket accounts!" suggested the Marquis. And then the conversation was again brought to an end for five minutes.
But it was essential that Lord George should know whither his brother was going. If to Manor Cross, then, thought Lord George, he himself would stay at an inn at Brotherton. Anything, even the deanery, would be better than sitting at table with his brother, with the insults of their last interview unappeased. At the end of five minutes he plucked up his courage, and asked his brother another question. "Are you going to the house, Brotherton?"
"The house! What house? I'm going to a house, I hope."
"I mean to Manor Cross."
"Not if I know it. There is no house in this part of the country in which I should be less likely to show my face." Then there was not another word said till they reached the Brotherton Station, and there the Marquis, who was sitting next the door, requested his brother to leave the carriage first. "Get out, will you?" he said. "I must wait for somebody to come and take these things. And don't trample on me more than you can help." This last request had apparently been made, because Lord George was unable to step across him without treading on the cloak.
"I will say good-bye, then," said Lord George, turning round on the platform for a moment.
"Ta, ta," said the Marquis, as he gave his attention to the servant who was collecting the fruit, and the flowers, and the flask. Lord George then passed on out of the station, and saw no more of his brother.
"Of course he is going to Rudham," said Lady Susanna, when she heard the story. Rudham Park was the seat of Mr. De Baron, Mrs. Houghton's father, and tidings had reached Manor Cross long since that the Marquis had promised to go there in the autumn. No doubt other circumstances had seemed to make it improbable that the promise should be kept. Popenjoy had gone away ill,—as many said, in a dying condition. Then the Marquis had been thrown into a fireplace, and report had said that his back had been all but broken. It had certainly been generally thought that the Marquis would go nowhere after that affair in the fireplace, till he returned to Italy. But Lady Susanna was, in truth, right. His Lordship was on his way to Rudham Park.
Mr. De Baron, of Rudham Park, though a much older man than the Marquis, had been the Marquis's friend,—when the Marquis came of age, being then the Popenjoy of those days and a fast young man known as such about England. Mr. De Baron, who was a neighbour, had taken him by the hand. Mr. De Baron had put him in the way of buying and training race-horses, and had, perhaps, been godfather to his pleasures in other matters. Rudham Park had never been loved at Manor Cross by others than the present Lord, and for that reason, perhaps, was dearer to him. He had promised to go there soon after his return to England, and was now keeping his promise. On his arrival there the Marquis found a houseful of people. There were Mr. and Mrs. Houghton, and Lord Giblet, who, having engaged himself rashly to Miss Patmore Green, had rushed out of town sooner than usual that he might devise in retirement some means of escaping from his position; and, to Lord Giblet's horror, there was Mrs. Montacute Jones, who, he well knew, would, if possible, keep him to the collar. There was also Aunt Julia, with her niece Guss, and of course, there was Jack De Baron. The Marquis was rather glad to meet Jack, as to whom he had some hope that he might be induced to run away with Lord George's wife, and thus free the Germain family from that little annoyance. But the guest who surprised the Marquis the most, was the Baroness Banmann, whose name and occupation he did not at first learn very distinctly.
"All right again, my lord?" asked Mr. De Baron, as he welcomed his noble guest.
"Upon my word I'm not, then. That coal-heaving brute of a parson pretty nearly did for me."
"A terrible outrage it was."
"Outrage! I should think so. There's nothing so bad as a clerical bully. What was I to do with him? Of course he was the stronger. I don't pretend to be a Samson. One doesn't expect that kind of thing among gentlemen?"
"I wish I could have him somewhere with a pair of foils with the buttons off. His black coat shouldn't save his intestines. I don't know what the devil the country is come to, when such a fellow as that is admitted into people's houses."
"You won't meet him here, Brotherton."
"I wish I might. I think I'd manage to be even with him before he got away. Who's the Baroness you have got?"
"I don't know much about her. My daughter Adelaide,—Mrs. Houghton, you know,—has brought her down. There's been some row among the women up in London. This is one of the prophets, and I think she is brought here to spite Lady Selina Protest who has taken an American prophetess by the hand. She won't annoy you, I hope?"
"Not in the least. I like strange wild beasts. And so that is Captain De Baron, of whom I have heard?"
"That is my nephew, Jack. He has a small fortune of his own, which he is spending fast. As long as it lasts one has to be civil to him."
"I am delighted to meet him. Don't they say he is sweet on a certain young woman?"
"A dozen, I believe."
"Ah,—but one I know something of."
"I don't think there is anything in that, Brotherton;—I don't, indeed, or I shouldn't have brought him here."
"I do, though. And as to not bringing him here, why shouldn't you bring him? If she don't go off with him, she will with somebody else, and the sooner the better, according to my ideas." This was a matter upon which Mr. De Baron was not prepared to dilate, and he therefore changed the subject.
"My dear Lord Giblet, it is such a pleasure to me to meet you here," old Mrs. Jones said to that young nobleman. "When I was told you were to be at Rudham, it determined me at once." This was true, for there was no more persistent friend living than old Mrs. Jones, though it might be doubted whether, on this occasion, Lord Giblet was the friend on whose behalf she had come to Rudham.