The Dean heard of the reported arrival some days before the family did so. It was rumoured in Brotherton, and the rumour reached the deanery. But he thought that there was nothing that he could do on the spur of the moment. He perfectly understood the condition of Lord George's mind, and perceived that it would not be expedient for him to interfere quite on the first moment. As soon as the Marquis should have settled himself in the house, of course he would call; and when the Marquis had settled himself, and when the world had begun to recognise the fact that the Marquis, with his Italian Marchioness, and his little Italian, so-called Popenjoy, were living at Manor Cross, then,—if he saw his way,—the Dean would bestir himself.
And so the Marquis arrived. He reached the Brotherton station with his wife, a baby, a lady's maid, a nurse, a valet, a cook, and a courier, about three o'clock in the afternoon; and the whole crowd of them were carried off in their carriages to Manor Cross. A great many of the inhabitants of Brotherton were there to see, for this coming of the Marquis had been talked of far and wide. He himself took no notice of the gathering people,—was perhaps unaware that there was any gathering. He and his wife got into one carriage; the nurse, the lady's maid, and the baby into a second; the valet and courier, and cook into a third. The world of Brotherton saw them, and the world of Brotherton observed that the lady was very old and very ugly. Why on earth could he have married such a woman as that, and then have brought her home! That was the exclamation which was made by Brotherton in general.
It was soon ascertained by every one about Manor Cross that the Marchioness could not speak a word of English, nor could any of the newly imported servants do so with the exception of the courier, who was supposed to understand all languages. There was, therefore, an absolutely divided household. It had been thought better that the old family housekeeper, Mrs. Toff, should remain in possession. Through a long life she had been devoted to the old Marchioness and to the ladies of the family generally; but she would have been useless at their new home, and there was an idea that Manor Cross could not be maintained without her. It might also be expedient to have a friend in the enemy's camp. Other English servants had been provided,—a butler, two footmen, a coachman, and the necessary housemaids and kitchen maids. It had been stated that the Marquis would bring his own cook. There were, therefore, at once two parties, at the head of one of which was Mrs. Toff, and at the head of the other the courier,—who remained, none of the English people knew why.
For the first three days the Marchioness showed herself to no one. It was understood that the fatigues of the journey had oppressed her, and that she chose to confine herself to two or three rooms upstairs, which had been prepared for her. Mrs. Toff, strictly obeying orders which had come from Cross Hall, sent up her duty and begged to know whether she should wait upon my lady. My lady sent down word that she didn't want to see Mrs. Toff. These messages had to be filtered through the courier, who was specially odious to Mrs. Toff. His Lordship was almost as closely secluded as her Ladyship. He did, indeed, go out to the stables, wrapped up in furs, and found fault with everything he saw there. And he had himself driven round the park. But he did not get up on any of these days till noon, and took all his meals by himself. The English servants averred that during the whole of this time he never once saw the Marchioness or the baby; but then the English servants could not very well have known what he saw or what he did not see.
But this was very certain, that during those three days he did not go to Cross Hall, or see any one of his own family. Mrs. Toff in the gloaming of the evening, on the third day, hurried across the park to see—the young ladies as she still called them. Mrs. Toff thought that it was all very dreadful. She didn't know what was being done in those apartments. She had never set her eyes upon the baby. She didn't feel sure that there was any baby at all, though John,—John was one of the English servants,—had seen a bundle come into the house. Wouldn't it be natural and right that any real child should be carried out to take the air? "And then all manner of messes were," said Mrs. Toff, "prepared up in the closed room." Mrs. Toff didn't believe in anything, except that everything was going to perdition. The Marchioness was intent on asking after the health and appearance of her son, but Mrs. Toff declared that she hadn't been allowed to catch a sight of "my lord." Mrs. Toff's account was altogether very lachrymose. She spoke of the Marquis, of course, with the utmost respect. But she was sufficiently intimate with the ladies to treat the baby and its mother with all the scorn of an upturned nose. Nor was the name of Popenjoy once heard from her lips.
But what were the ladies to do? On the evening of the third day Lady Sarah wrote to her brother George, begging him to come down to them. "The matter was so serious, that he was," said Lady Sarah, "bound to lend the strength of his presence to his mother and sisters." But on the fourth morning Lady Sarah sent over a note to her brother, the Marquis.
"DEAR BROTHERTON,—We hope that you and your wife and little boy have arrived well, and have found things comfortable. Mamma is most anxious to see you,—as of course we all are. Will you not come over to us to-day. I dare say my sister-in-law may be too fatigued to come out as yet. I need not tell you that we are very anxious to see your little Popenjoy.
"Your affectionate Sister,
It may be seen from this that the ladies contemplated peace, if peace were possible. But in truth the nature of the letter, though not the words, had been dictated by the Marchioness. She was intent upon seeing her son, and anxious to acknowledge her grandchild. Lady Sarah had felt her position to be very difficult, but had perceived that no temporary acceptance by them of the child would at all injure her brother George's claim, should Lord George set up a claim, and so, in deference to the old lady, the peaceful letter was sent off, with directions to the messenger to wait for an answer. The messenger came back with tidings that his Lordship was in bed. Then there was another consultation. The Marquis, though in bed, had of course read the letter. Had he felt at all as a son and a brother ought to feel, he would have sent some reply to such a message. It must be, they felt, that he intended to live there and utterly ignore his mother and sisters. What should they do then? How should they be able to live? The Marchioness surrendered herself to a paroxysm of weeping, bitterly blaming those who had not allowed her to go away and hide herself in some distant obscurity. Her son, her eldest son, had cast her off because she had disobeyed his orders! "His orders!" said Lady Sarah, in scorn, almost in wrath against her mother. "What right has he to give orders either to you or us? He has forgotten himself, and is only worthy to be forgotten." Just as she spoke the Manor Cross phaeton, with the Manor Cross ponies, was driven up to the door, and Lady Amelia, who went to the window, declared that Brotherton himself was in the carriage. "Oh, my son; my darling son," said the Marchioness, throwing up her arms.
It really was the Marquis. It seemed to the ladies to be a very long time indeed before he got into the room, so leisurely was he in divesting himself of his furs and comforters. During this time the Marchioness would have rushed into the hall had not Lady Sarah prevented her. The old lady was quite overcome with emotion, and prepared to lay at the feet of her eldest son, if he would only extend to her the slightest sign of affection. "So, here you all are," he said as he entered the room. "It isn't much of a house for you, but you would have it so." He was of course forced to kiss his mother, but the kiss was not very fervent in its nature. To each of his sisters he merely extended his hand. This Amelia received with empressement; for, after all, severe though he was, nevertheless he was the head of the family. Susanna measured the pressure which he gave, and returned back to him the exact weight. Lady Sarah made a little speech. "We are very glad to see you; Brotherton. You have been away a long time."
"A deuced long time."
"I hope your wife is well;—and the little boy. When will she wish that we should go and see her?" The Marchioness during this time had got possession of his left hand, and from her seat was gazing up into his face. He was a very handsome man, but pale, worn, thin, and apparently unhealthy. He was very like Lord George, but smaller in feature, and wanting full four inches of his brother's height. Lord George's hair was already becoming grey at the sides. That of the Marquis, who was ten years older, was perfectly black;—but his Lordship's valet had probably more to do with that than nature. He wore an exquisite moustache, but in other respects was close shaven. He was dressed with great care, and had fur even on the collar of his frock coat, so much did he fear the inclemency of his native climate.
"She doesn't speak a word of English, you know," he said, answering his sister's question.
"We might manage to get on in French," said Lady Sarah.
"She doesn't speak a word of French either. She never was out of Italy till now. You had better not trouble yourselves about her."
This was dreadful to them all. It was monstrous to them that there should be a Marchioness of Brotherton, a sister-in-law, living close to them, whom they were to acknowledge to be the reigning Marchioness, and that they should not be allowed to see her. It was not that they anticipated pleasure from her acquaintance. It was not that they were anxious to welcome such a new relation. This marriage, if it were a marriage, was a terrible blow to them. It would have been infinitely better for them all that, having such a wife, he should have kept her in Italy. But, as she was here in England, as she was to be acknowledged,—as far as they knew at present,—it was a fearful thing that she should be living close to them and not be seen by them. For some moments after his last announcement they were stricken dumb. He was standing with his back to the fire, looking at his boots. The Marchioness was the first to speak. "We may see Popenjoy!" she exclaimed through her sobs.
"I suppose he can be brought down,—if you care about it."
"Of course we care about it," said Lady Amelia.
"They tell me he is not strong, and I don't suppose they'll let him come out such weather as this. You'll have to wait. I don't think any body ought to stir out in this weather. It doesn't suit me, I know. Such an abominable place as it is I never saw in my life. There is not a room in the house that is not enough to make a man blow his brains out."
Lady Sarah could not stand this, nor did she think it right to put up with the insolence of his manner generally. "If so," she said, "it is a pity that you came away from Italy."
He turned sharply round and looked at her for an instant before he answered. And as he did so she remembered the peculiar tyranny of his eyes,—the tyranny to which, when a boy, he had ever endeavoured to make her subject, and all others around him. Others had become subject because he was the Lord Popenjoy of the day, and would be the future Marquis; but she, though recognising his right to be first in every thing, had ever rebelled against his usurpation of unauthorized power. He, too, remembered all this, and almost snarled at her with his eyes. "I suppose I might stay if I liked, or come back if I liked, without asking you," he said.
"But you are the same as ever you were."
"Oh, Brotherton," said the Marchioness, "do not quarrel with us directly you have come back."
"You may be quite sure, mother, that I shall not take the trouble to quarrel with any one. It takes two for that work. If I wanted to quarrel with her or you, I have cause enough."
"I know of none," said Lady Sarah.
"I explained to you my wishes about this house, and you disregarded them altogether." The old lady looked up at her eldest daughter as though to say, "There,—that was your sin." "I knew what was better for you and better for me. It is impossible that there should be pleasant intercourse between you and my wife, and I recommended you to go elsewhere. If you had done so I would have taken care that you were comfortable." Again the Marchioness looked at Lady Sarah with bitter reproaches in her eyes.
"What interest in life would we have had in a distant home?" said Lady Sarah.
"Why not you as well as other people?"
"Because, unlike other people, we have become devoted to one spot. The property belongs to you."
"I hope so."
"But the obligations of the property have been, at any rate, as near to us as to you. Society, I suppose, may be found in a new place, but we do not care much for society."
"Then it would have been so much the easier."
"But it would have been impossible for us to find new duties."
"Nonsense," said the Marquis, "humbug; d——d trash."
"If you cannot speak otherwise than like that before your mother, Brotherton, I think you had better leave her," said Lady Sarah, bravely.
"Don't, Sarah,—don't!" said the Marchioness.
"It is trash and nonsense, and humbug. I told you that you were better away, and you determined to stay. I knew what was best for you, but you chose to be obstinate. I have not the slightest doubt as to who did it."
"We were all of the same mind," said Lady Susanna. "Alice said it would be quite cruel that mamma should be moved." Alice was now the wife of Canon Holdenough.
"It would have been very bad for us all to go away," said Lady Amelia.
"George was altogether against it," said Lady Susanna.
"And the Dean," said Lady Amelia, indiscreetly.
"The Dean!" exclaimed the Marquis. "Do you mean to say that that stable boy has been consulted about my affairs? I should have thought that not one of you would have spoken to George after he had disgraced himself by such a marriage."
"There was no need to consult any one," said Lady Sarah. "And we do not think George's marriage at all disgraceful."
"Mary is a very nice young person," said the Marchioness.
"I dare say. Whether she is nice or not is very little to me. She has got some fortune, and I suppose that was what he wanted. As you are all of you fixed here now, and seem to have spent a lot of money, I suppose you will have to remain. You have turned my tenant out——"
"Mr. Price was quite willing to go," said Lady Susanna.
"I dare say. I trust he may be as willing to give up the land when his lease is out. I have been told that he is a sporting friend of the Dean's. It seems to me that you have, all of you, got into a nice mess here by yourselves. All I want you to understand is that I cannot now trouble myself about you."
"You don't mean to give us up," said the afflicted mother. "You'll come and see me sometimes, won't you?"
"Certainly not, if I am to be insulted by my sister."
"I have insulted no one," said Lady Sarah, haughtily.
"It was no insult to tell me that I ought to have stayed in Italy, and not have come to my own house!"
"Sarah, you ought not to have said that," exclaimed the Marchioness.
"He complained that everything here was uncomfortable, and therefore I said it. He knows that I did not speak of his return in any other sense. Since he settled himself abroad there has not been a day on which I have not wished that he would come back to his own house and his own duties. If he will treat us properly, no one will treat him with higher consideration than I. But we have our own rights as well as he, and are as well able to guard them."
"Sarah can preach as well as ever," he said.
"Oh! my children,—oh! my children!" sobbed the old lady.
"I have had about enough of this. I knew what it would be when you wrote to me to come to you." Then he took up his hat, as though he were going.
"And am I to see nothing more of you?" asked his mother.
"I will come to you, mother,—once a-week if you wish it. Every Sunday afternoon will be as good a time as any other. But I will not come unless I am assured of the absence of Lady Sarah. I will not subject myself to her insolence, nor put myself in the way of being annoyed by a ballyragging quarrel."
"I and my sisters are always at Church on Sunday afternoons," said Lady Sarah.
In this way the matter was arranged, and then the Marquis took himself off. For some time after he left the room the Marchioness sat in silence, sobbing now and again, and then burying her face in her handkerchief. "I wish we had gone away when he told us," she said, at last.
"No, mamma," said her eldest daughter. "No,—certainly no. Even though all this is very miserable, it is not so bad as running away in order that we might be out of his way. No good can ever be got by yielding in what is wrong to any one. This is your house; and as yours it is ours."
"And here we can do something to justify our lives. We have a work appointed to us which we are able to perform. What will his wife do for the people here? Why are we not to say our prayers in the Church which we all know and love? Why are we to leave Alice—and Mary? Why should he, because he is the eldest of us,—he, who for so many years has deserted the place,—why is he to tell us where to live, and where not to live. He is rich, and we are poor, but we have never been pensioners on his bounty. The park, I suppose, is now closed to us; but I am prepared to live here in defiance of him." This she said walking up and down the room as she spoke, and she said it with so much energy that she absolutely carried her sisters with her and again partly convinced her mother.
THE MARQUIS AMONG HIS FRIENDS.
There was, of course, much perturbation of mind at Brotherton as to what should be done on this occasion of the Marquis's return. Mr. Knox had been consulted by persons in the town, and had given it as his opinion that nothing should be done. Some of the tradesmen and a few of the tenants living nearest to the town had suggested a triumphal entry,—green boughs, a bonfire, and fire works. This idea, however, did not prevail long. The Marquis of Brotherton was clearly not a man to be received with green boughs and bonfires. All that soon died away. But there remained what may be called the private difficulty. Many in Brotherton and around Brotherton had of course known the man when he was young, and could hardly bring themselves to take no notice of his return. One or two drove over and simply left their cards. The bishop asked to see him, and was told that he was out. Dr. Pountner did see him, catching him at his own hall door, but the interview was very short, and not particularly pleasant. "Dr. Pountner. Well; I do remember you, certainly. But we have all grown older, you know."
"I came," said the doctor, with a face redder than ever, "to pay my respects to your Lordship, and to leave my card on your wife."
"We are much obliged to you,—very much obliged. Unfortunately we are both invalids." Then the doctor, who had not got out of his carriage, was driven home again. The doctor had been a great many years at Brotherton, and had known the old Marquis well. "I don't know what you and Holdenough will make of him," the doctor said to the Dean. "I suppose you will both be driven into some communion with him. I shan't try it again."
The Dean and Canon Holdenough had been in consultation on the subject, and had agreed that they would each of them act as though the Marquis had been like any other gentleman, and his wife like any other newly married lady. They were both now connected with the family, and even bound to act on the presumption that there would be family friendship. The Dean went on his errand first, and the Dean was admitted into his sitting-room. This happened a day or two after the scene at Cross Hall. "I don't know that I should have troubled you so soon," said the Dean, "had not your brother married my daughter." The Dean had thought over the matter carefully, making up his mind how far he would be courteous to the man, and where he would make a stand if it were necessary that he should make a stand at all. And he had determined that he would ask after the new Lady Brotherton, and speak of the child as Lord Popenjoy, the presumption being that a man is married when he says so himself, and that his child is legitimate when declared to be so. His present acknowledgment would not bar any future proceedings.
"There has been a good deal of marrying and giving in marriage since I have been away," replied the Marquis.
"Yes, indeed. There has been your brother, your sister, and last, not least, yourself."
"I was not thinking of myself. I meant among you here. The church seems to carry everything before it."
It seemed to the Dean, who was sufficiently mindful of his daughter's fortune, and who knew to a penny what was the very liberal income of Canon Holdenough, that in these marriages the church had at least given as much as it had got. "The church holds its own," said the Dean, "and I hope that it always will. May I venture to express a hope that the Marchioness is well."
"Not very well."
"I am sorry for that. Shall I not have the pleasure of seeing her to-day?"
The Marquis looked as though he were almost astounded at the impudence of the proposition; but he replied to it by the excuse that he had made before. "Unless you speak Italian I'm afraid you would not get on very well with her."
"She will not find that I have the Tuscan tongue or the Roman mouth, but I have enough of the language to make myself perhaps intelligible to her ladyship."
"We will postpone it for the present, if you please, Mr. Dean."
There was an insolence declared in the man's manner and almost declared in his words, which made the Dean at once determine that he would never again ask after the new Marchioness, and that he would make no allusion whatever to the son. A man may say that his wife is too unwell to receive strangers without implying that the wish to see her should not have been expressed. The visitor bowed, and then the two men both sat silent for some moments. "You have not seen your brother since you have been back?" the Dean said at last.
"I have not seen him. I don't know where he is, or anything about him."
"They live in London,—in Munster Court."
"Very likely. He didn't consult me about his marriage, and I don't know anything about his concerns."
"He told you of it,—before it took place."
"Very likely,—though I do not exactly see how that concerns you and me."
"You must be aware that he is married to—my daughter."
"That would, generally, be supposed to give a common interest."
"Ah! I dare say. You feel it so, no doubt. I am glad that you are satisfied by an alliance with my family. You are anxious for me to profess that it is reciprocal."
"I am anxious for nothing of the kind," said the Dean, jumping up from his chair. "I have nothing to get and nothing to lose by the alliance. The usual courtesies of life are pleasant to me."
"I wish that you would use them then on the present occasion by being a little quieter."
"Your brother has married a lady, and my daughter has married a gentleman."
"Yes; George is a great ass; in some respects the greatest ass I know; but he is a gentleman. Perhaps if you have anything else that you wish to say you will do me the honour of sitting down."
The Dean was so angry that he did not know how to contain himself. The Marquis had snubbed him for coming. He had then justified his visit by an allusion to the connection between them, and the Marquis had replied to this by hinting that though a Dean might think it a very fine thing to have his daughter married into the family of a Marquis, the Marquis probably would not look at it in the same light. And yet what was the truth? Whence had come the money which had made the marriage possible? In the bargain between them which party had had the best of it? He was conscious that it would not become him to allude to the money, but his feeling on the subject was very strong. "My lord," he said, "I do not know that there is anything to be gained by my sitting down again."
"Perhaps not. I dare say you know best."
"I came here intent on what I considered to be a courtesy due to your lordship. I am sorry that my visit has been mistaken."
"I don't see that there is anything to make a fuss about."
"It shall not be repeated, my lord." And so he left the room.
Why on earth had the man come back to England, bringing a foreign woman and an Italian brat home with him, if he intended to make the place too hot to hold him by insulting everybody around him? This was the first question the Dean asked himself, when he found himself outside the house. And what could the man hope to gain by such insolence? Instead of taking the road through the park back to Brotherton, he went on to Cross Hall. He was desirous of learning what were the impressions, and what the intentions, of the ladies there. Did this madman mean to quarrel with his mother and sisters as well as with his other neighbours? He did not as yet know what intercourse there had been between the two houses, since the Marquis had been at Manor Cross. And in going to Cross Hall in the midst of all these troubles, he was no doubt actuated in part by a determination to show himself to be one of the family. If they would accept his aid, no one would be more loyal than he to these ladies. But he would not be laid aside. If anything unjust were intended, if any fraud was to be executed, the person most to be injured would be that hitherto unborn grandson of his for whose advent he was so anxious. He had been very free with his money, but he meant to have his money's worth.
At Cross Hall he found Canon Holdenough's wife and the Canon. At the moment of his entrance old Lady Brotherton was talking to the clergyman, and Lady Alice was closeted in a corner with her sister Sarah. "I would advise you to go just as though you had heard nothing from us," Lady Sarah had said. "Of course he would be readier to quarrel with me than with any one. For mamma's sake I would go away for a time if I had anywhere to go to."
"Come to us," Lady Alice had said. But Lady Sarah had declared that she would be as much in the way at Brotherton as at Cross Hall, and had then gone on to explain that it was Lady Alice's duty to call on her sister-in-law, and that she must do so,—facing the consequences whatever they might be. "Of course mamma could not go till he had been here," Lady Sarah added; "and now he has told mamma not to go at all. But that is nothing to you."
"I have just come from the house," said the Dean.
"Did you see him?" asked the old woman with awe.
"Yes; I saw him."
"I must say that he was not very civil to me, and that I suppose I have seen all of him that I shall see."
"It is only his manner," said her ladyship.
"An unfortunate manner, surely."
Then the Canon said a word. "Of course no one wants to trouble him. I can speak at least for myself. I do not,—certainly. I have requested her ladyship to ask him whether he would wish me to call or not. If he says that he does, I shall expect him to receive me cordially. If he does not—there's an end of it."
"I hope you won't all of you turn against him," said the Marchioness.
"Turn against him!" repeated the Dean. "I do not suppose that there is any one who would not be both kind and courteous to him, if he would accept kindness and courtesy. It grieves me to make you unhappy, Marchioness, but I am bound to let you know that he treated me very badly." From that moment the Marchioness made up her mind that the Dean was no friend of the family, and that he was, after all, vulgar and disagreeable. She undertook, however, to enquire from her son on next Sunday whether he would wish to be called upon by his brother-in-law, the Canon.
On the following day Lady Alice went alone to Manor Cross,—being the first lady who had gone to the door since the new arrivals,—and asked for Lady Brotherton. The courier came to the door and said "not at home," in a foreign accent, just as the words might have been said to any chance caller in London. Then Lady Alice asked the man to tell her brother that she was there. "Not at home, miladi," said the man, in the same tone. At that moment Mrs. Toff came running through the long hall to the carriage door. The house was built round a quadrangle, and all the ground floor of the front and of one of the sides consisted of halls, passages, and a billiard-room. Mrs. Toff must have been watching very closely or she could hardly have known that Lady Alice was there. She came out and stood beside the carriage, and leaning in, whispered her fears and unhappinesses. "Oh! my lady, I'm afraid it's very bad. I haven't set eyes on the—the—his wife, my lady, yet; nor the little boy."
"Are they in now, Mrs. Toff?"
"Of course they're in. They never go out. He goes about all the afternoon in a dressing-gown, smoking bits of paper, and she lies in bed or gets up and doesn't do,—nothing at all, as far as I can see, Lady Alice. But as for being in, of course they're in; they're always in." Lady Alice, however, feeling that she had done her duty, and not wishing to take the place by storm, had herself driven back to Brotherton.
On the following Sunday afternoon the Marquis came, according to his promise, and found his mother alone. "The fact is, mother," he said, "you have got a regular church set around you during the last year or two, and I will have nothing to do with them. I never cared much for Brotherton Close, and now I like it less than ever." The Marchioness moaned and looked up into his face imploringly. She was anxious to say something in defence, at any rate, of her daughter's marriage, but specially anxious to say nothing that should not anger him. Of course he was unreasonable, but, according to her lights, he, being the Marquis, had a right to be unreasonable. "The Dean came to me the other day," continued he, "and I could see at a glance that he meant to be quite at home in the house, if I didn't put him down."
"You'll see Mr. Holdenough, won't you? Mr. Holdenough is a very gentlemanlike man, and the Holdenoughs were always quite county people. You used to like Alice."
"If you ask me, I think she has been a fool at her age to go and marry an old parson. As for receiving him, I shan't receive anybody,—in the way of entertaining them. I haven't come home for that purpose. My child will have to live here when he is a man."
"God bless him!" said the Marchioness.
"Or at any rate his property will be here. They tell me that it will be well that he should be used to this damnable climate early in life. He will have to go to school here, and all that. So I have brought him, though I hate the place."
"It is so nice to have you back, Brotherton."
"I don't know about its being nice. I don't find much niceness in it. Had I not got myself married I should never have come back. But it's as well that you all should know that there is an heir."
"God bless him!" said the Marchioness, again. "But don't you think that we ought to see him?"
"See him! Why?" He asked the question sharply, and looked at her with that savageness in his eyes which all the family remembered so well, and which she specially feared.
That question of the legitimacy of the boy had never been distinctly discussed at Cross Hall, and the suspicious hints on the subject which had passed between the sisters, the allusions to this and the other possibility which had escaped them, had been kept as far as possible from their mother. They had remarked among themselves that it was very odd that the marriage should have been concealed, and almost more than odd that an heir to the title should have been born without any announcement of such a birth. A dread of some evil mystery had filled their thoughts, and shown itself in their words and looks to each other. And, though they had been very anxious to keep this from their mother, something had crept through which had revealed a suspicion of the suspicion even to her. She, dear old lady, had resolved upon no line of conduct in the matter. She had conceived no project of rebelling against her eldest daughter, or of being untrue to her youngest son. But now that she was alone with her eldest son, with the real undoubted Marquis, with him who would certainly be to her more than all the world beside if he would only allow it, there did come into her head an idea that she would put him on his guard.
"Because what? Speak out, mother."
"Because, perhaps they'll say that—that——"
"What will they say?"
"If they don't see him, they may think he isn't Popenjoy at all."
"Oh! they'll think that, will they? How will seeing help them?"
"It would be so nice to have him here, if it's only for a little," said the Marchioness.
"So that's it," he said, after a long pause. "That's George's game, and the Dean's; I can understand."
"No, no, no; not George," said the unhappy mother.
"And Sarah, I dare say, is in a boat with them. I don't wonder that they should choose to remain here and watch me."
"I am sure George has never thought of such a thing."
"George will think as his father-in-law bids him. George was never very good at thinking for himself. So you fancy they'll be more likely to accept the boy if they see him."
"Seeing is believing, Brotherton."
"There's something in that, to be sure. Perhaps they don't think I've got a wife at all, because they haven't seen her."
"Oh, yes; they believe that."
"How kind of them. Well, mother, you've let the cat out of the bag."
"Don't tell them that I said so."
"No; I won't tell. Nor am I very much surprised. I thought how it would be when I didn't announce it all in the old-fashioned way. It's lucky that I have the certificated proof of the date of my marriage, isn't it?"
"It's all right, of course. I never doubted it, Brotherton."
"But all the others did. I knew there was something up when George wasn't at home to meet me."
"He is coming."
"He may stay away if he likes it. I don't want him. He won't have the courage to tell me up to my face that he doesn't intend to acknowledge my boy. He's too great a coward for that."
"I'm sure it's not George, Brotherton."
"Who is it, then?"
"Perhaps it's the Dean."
"D—— his impudence. How on earth among you could you let George marry the daughter of a low-bred ruffian like that,—a man that never ought to have been allowed to put his foot inside the house?"
"She had such a very nice fortune! And then he wanted to marry that scheming girl, Adelaide De Baron,—without a penny."
"The De Barons, at any rate, are gentlefolk. If the Dean meddles with me, he shall find that he has got the wrong sow by the ear. If he puts his foot in the park again I'll have him warned off as a trespasser."
"But you'll see Mr. Holdenough?"
"I don't want to see anybody. I mean to hold my own, and do as I please with my own, and live as I like, and toady no one. What can I have in common with an old parson like that?"
"You'll let me see Popenjoy, Brotherton?"
"Yes," he said, pausing a moment before he answered her. "He shall be brought here, and you shall see him. But mind, mother, I shall expect you to tell me all that you hear."
"Indeed, I will."
"You will not rebel against me, I suppose."
"Oh, no;—my son, my son!" Then she fell upon his neck, and he suffered it for a minute, thinking it wise to make sure of one ally in that house.
THE MARQUIS SEES HIS BROTHER.
When Lord George was summoned down to Manor Cross,—or rather, to Cross Hall, he did not dare not to go. Lady Sarah had told him that it was his duty, and he could not deny the assertion. But he was very angry with his brother, and did not in the least wish to see him. Nor did he think that by seeing him he could in any degree render easier that horrible task which would, sooner or later, be imposed upon him, of testing the legitimacy of his brother's child. And there were other reasons which made him unwilling to leave London. He did not like to be away from his young wife. She was, of course, a matron now, and entitled to be left alone, according to the laws of the world; but then she was so childish, and so fond of playing bagatelle with Jack De Baron! He had never had occasion to find fault with her; not to say words to her which he himself would regard as fault-finding words though she had complained more than once of his scolding her. He would caution her, beg her to be grave, ask her to read heavy books, and try to impress her with the solemnity of married life. In this way he would quell her spirits for a few hours. Then she would burst out again, and there would be Jack De Baron and the bagatelle. In all these sorrows he solaced himself by asking advice from Mrs. Houghton. By degrees he told Mrs. Houghton almost everything. The reader may remember that there had been a moment in which he had resolved that he would not again go to Berkeley Square. But all that was very much altered now. He was there almost every day, and consulted the lady about every thing. She had induced him even to talk quite openly about this Italian boy, to express his suspicions, and to allude to most distressing duties which might be incumbent on him. She strenuously advised him to take nothing for granted. If the Marquisate was to be had by careful scrutiny she was quite of opinion that it should not be lost by careless confidence. This sort of friendship was very pleasant to him, and especially so, because he could tell himself that there was nothing wicked in it. No doubt her hand would be in his sometimes for a moment, and once or twice his arm had almost found its way round her waist. But these had been small deviations, which he had taken care to check. No doubt it had occurred to him, once or twice, that she had not been careful to check them. But this, when he thought of it maturely, he attributed to innocence.
It was at last, by her advice, that he begged that one of his sisters might come up to town, as a companion to Mary during his absence at Cross Hall. This counsel she had given to him after assuring him half-a-dozen times that there was nothing to fear. He had named Amelia, Mary having at once agreed to the arrangement, on condition that the younger of the three sisters should be invited. The letter was of course written to Lady Sarah. All such letters always were written to Lady Sarah. Lady Sarah had answered, saying, that Susanna would take the place destined for Amelia. Now Susanna, of all the Germain family, was the one whom Mary disliked the most. But there was no help for it. She thought it hard, but she was not strong enough in her own position to say that she would not have Susanna, because Susanna had not been asked. "I think Lady Susanna will be the best," said Lord George, "because she has so much strength of character."
"Strength of character! You speak as if you were going away for three years, and were leaving me in the midst of danger. You'll be back in five days, I suppose. I really think I could have got on without Susanna's—strength of character!" This was her revenge; but, all the same, Lady Susanna came.
"She is as good as gold," said Lord George, who was himself as weak as water. "She is as good as gold; but there is a young man comes here whom I don't care for her to see too often." This was what he said to Lady Susanna.
"Oh, indeed! Who is he?"
"Captain De Baron. You are not to suppose that she cares a straw about him."
"Oh, no; I am sure there can be nothing of that," said Lady Susanna, feeling herself to be as energetic as Cerberus, and as many-eyed as Argus.
"You must take care of yourself now, master Jack," Mrs. Houghton said to her cousin. "A duenna has been sent for."
"Duennas always go to sleep, don't they; and take tips; and are generally open to reason?"
"Oh, heavens! Fancy tipping Lady Susanna! I should think that she never slept in her life with both eyes at the same time, and that she thinks in her heart that every man who says a civil word ought to have his tongue cut out."
"I wonder how she'd take it if I were to say a civil word to herself?"
"You can try; but as far as Madame is concerned, you had better wait till Monsieur is back again."
Lord George, having left his wife in the hands of Lady Susanna, went down to Brotherton and on to Cross Hall. He arrived on the Saturday after that first Sunday visit paid by the Marquis to his mother. The early part of the past week had been very blank down in those parts. No further personal attempts had been made to intrude upon the Manor Cross mysteries. The Dean had not been seen again, even at Cross Hall. Mr. Holdenough had made no attempt after the reception,—or rather non-reception,—awarded to his wife. Old Mr. De Baron had driven over, and had seen the Marquis, but nothing more than that fact was known at Cross Hall. He had been there for about an hour, and as far as Mrs. Toff knew, the Marquis had been very civil to him. But Mr. De Baron, though a cousin, was not by any means one of the Germain party. Then, on Saturday there had been an affair. Mrs. Toff had come to the Hall, boiling over with the importance of her communication, and stating that she had been—turned out of the house. She, who had presided over everything material at Manor Cross for more than thirty years, from the family pictures down to the kitchen utensils, had been absolutely desired to—walk herself off. The message had been given to her by that accursed Courier, and she had then insisted on seeing the Marquis. "My Lord," she said, only laughed at her. "'Mrs. Toff,' he had said, 'you are my mother's servant, and my sisters'. You had better go and live with them.'" She had then hinted at the shortness of the notice given her, upon which he had offered her anything she chose to ask in the way of wages and board wages. "But I wouldn't take a penny, my Lady; only just what was due up to the very day." As Mrs. Toff was a great deal too old a servant to be really turned away, and as she merely migrated from Manor Cross to Cross Hall, she did not injure herself much by refusing the offers made to her.
It must be held that the Marquis was justified in getting rid of Mrs. Toff. Mrs. Toff was, in truth, a spy in his camp, and, of course, his own people were soon aware of that fact. Her almost daily journeys to Cross Hall were known, and it was remembered, both by the Marquis and his wife, that this old woman, who had never been allowed to see the child, but who had known all the preceding generation as children, could not but be an enemy. Of course it was patent to all the servants, and to every one connected with the two houses, that there was war. Of course, the Marquis, having an old woman acting spy in his stronghold, got rid of her. But justice would shortly have required that the other old woman, who was acting spy in the other stronghold, should be turned out, also. But the Marchioness, who had promised to tell everything to her son, could not very well be offered wages and be made to go.
In the midst of the ferment occasioned by this last piece of work Lord George reached Cross Hall. He had driven through the park, that way being nearly as short as the high road, and had left word at the house that he would call on the following morning, immediately after morning church. This he did, in consequence of a resolution which he had made,—to act on his own judgment. A terrible crisis was coming, in which it would not be becoming that he should submit himself either to his eldest sister, or to the Dean. He had talked the matter over fully with Mrs. Houghton, and Mrs. Houghton had suggested that he should call on his way out to the Hall.
The ladies had at first to justify their request that he should come to them, and there was a difficulty in doing this, as he was received in presence of their mother. Lady Sarah had not probably told herself that the Marchioness was a spy, but she had perceived that it would not be wise to discuss everything openly in her mother's presence. "It is quite right that you should see him," said Lady Sarah.
"Quite right," said the old lady.
"Had he sent me even a message I should have been here, of course," said the brother. "He passed through London, and I would have met him there had he not kept everything concealed."
"He isn't like anybody else, you know. You mustn't quarrel with him. He is the head of the family. If we quarrel with him, what will become of us?"
"What will become of him if everybody falls off from him. That's what I am thinking of," said Lady Sarah.
Soon after this all the horrors that had taken place,—horrors which could not be entrusted to a letter,—were narrated him. The Marquis had insulted Dr. Pountner, he had not returned the Bishop's visit, he had treated the Dean with violent insolence, and he had refused to receive his brother-in-law, Mr. Holdenough, though the Holdenoughs had always moved in county society! He had declared that none of his relatives were to be introduced to his wife. He had not as yet allowed the so-called Popenjoy to be seen. He had said none of them were to trouble him at Manor Cross, and had explained his purpose, of only coming to the Hall when he knew that his sister Sarah was away. "I think he must be mad," said the younger brother.
"It is what comes of living in a godless country like Italy," said Lady Amelia.
"It is what comes of utterly disregarding duty," said Lady Sarah.
But what was to be done? The Marquis had declared his purpose of doing what he liked with his own, and certainly none of them could hinder him. If he chose to shut himself and his wife up at the big house, he must do so. It was very bad, but it was clear that they could not interfere with his eccentricities. How was anybody to interfere? Of course, there was present in the mind of each of them a feeling that this woman might not be his wife, or that the child might not be legitimate. But they did not like with open words among themselves to accuse their brother of so great a crime. "I don't see what there is to be done," said Lord George.
The Church was in the park, not very far from the house, but nearer to the gate leading to Brotherton. On that Sunday morning the Marchioness and her youngest daughter went there in the carriage, and in doing so, had to pass the front doors. The previous Sunday had been cold, and this was the first time that the Marchioness had seen Manor Cross since her son had been there. "Oh, dear! if I could only go in and see the dear child," she said.
"You know you can't, mamma," said Amelia.
"It is all Sarah's fault, because she would quarrel with him."
After Church the ladies returned in the carriage, and Lord George went to the house according to his appointment. He was shown into a small parlour, and in about half an hour's time luncheon was brought to him. He then asked whether his brother was coming. The servant went away, promising to enquire, but did not return. He was cross and would eat no lunch,—but after awhile rang the bell, loudly, and again asked the same question. The servant again went away and did not return. He had just made up his mind to leave the house and never to return to it, when the Courier, of whom he had heard, came to usher him into his brother's room. "You seem to be in a deuce of a hurry, George," said the Marquis, without getting out of his chair. "You forget that people don't get up at the same hour all the world over."
"It's half-past two now."
"Very likely; but I don't know that there is any law to make a man dress himself before that hour."
"The servant might have given me a message."
"Don't make a row now you are here, old fellow. When I found you were in the house I got down as fast as I could. I suppose your time isn't so very precious."
Lord George had come there determined not to quarrel if he could help it. He had very nearly quarrelled already. Every word that his brother said was in truth an insult,—being, as they were, the first words spoken after so long an interval. They were intended to be insolent, probably intended to drive him away. But if anything was to be gained by the interview he must not allow himself to be driven away. He had a duty to perform,—a great duty. He was the last man in England to suspect a fictitious heir,—would at any rate be the last to hint at such an iniquity without the strongest ground. Who is to be true to a brother if not a brother? Who is to support the honour of a great family if not its own scions? Who is to abstain from wasting the wealth and honour of another, if not he who has the nearest chance of possessing them? And yet who could be so manifestly bound as he to take care that no surreptitious head was imposed upon the family. This little child was either the real Popenjoy, a boy to be held by him as of all boys the most sacred, to the promotion of whose welfare all his own energies would be due,—or else a brat so abnormously distasteful and abominable as to demand from him an undying enmity, till the child's wicked pretensions should be laid at rest. There was something very serious in it, very tragic,—something which demanded that he should lay aside all common anger, and put up with many insults on behalf of the cause which he had in hand. "Of course I could wait," said he; "only I thought that perhaps the man would have told me."
"The fact is, George, we are rather a divided house here. Some of us talk Italian and some English. I am the only common interpreter in the house, and I find it a bore."
"I dare say it is troublesome."
"And what can I do for you now you are here?"
Do for him! Lord George didn't want his brother to do anything for him. "Live decently, like an English nobleman, and do not outrage your family." That would have been the only true answer he could have made to such a question. "I thought you would wish to see me after your return," he said.
"It's rather lately thought of; but, however, let that pass. So you've got a wife for yourself."
"As you have done also."
"Just so. I have got a wife too. Mine has come from one of the oldest and noblest families in Christendom."
"Mine is the granddaughter of a livery-stable keeper," said Lord George, with a touch of real grandeur; "and, thank God, I can be proud of her in any society in England."
"I dare say;—particularly as she had some money."
"Yes; she had money. I could hardly have married without. But when you see her I think you will not be ashamed of her as your sister-in-law."
"Ah! She lives in London and I am just at present down here."
"She is the daughter of the Dean of Brotherton."
"So I have heard. They used to make gentlemen Deans." After this there was a pause, Lord George finding it difficult to go on with the conversation without a quarrel. "To tell you the truth, George, I will not willingly see anything more of your Dean. He came here and insulted me. He got up and blustered about the room because I wouldn't thank him for the honour he had done our family by his alliance. If you please, George, we'll understand that the less said about the Dean the better. You see I haven't any of the money out of the stable-yard."
"My wife's money didn't come out of a stable-yard. It came from a wax-chandler's shop," said Lord George, jumping up, just as the Dean had done. There was something in the man's manner worse even than his words which he found it almost impossible to bear. But he seated himself again as his brother sat looking at him with a bitter smile upon his face. "I don't suppose," he said, "you can wish to annoy me."
"Certainly not. But I wish that the truth should be understood between us."
"Am I to be allowed to pay my respects to your wife?" said Lord George boldly.
"I think, you know, that we have gone so far apart in our marriages that there is nothing to be gained by it. Besides, you couldn't speak to her,—nor she to you."
"May I be permitted to see—Popenjoy?"
The Marquis paused a moment, and then rang the bell. "I don't know what good it will do you, but if he can be made fit he shall be brought down." The Courier entered the room and received certain orders in Italian. After that there was considerable delay, during which an Italian servant brought the Marquis a cup of chocolate and a cake. He pushed a newspaper over to his brother, and as he was drinking his chocolate, lighted a cigarette. In this way there was a delay of over an hour, and then there entered the room an Italian nurse with a little boy who seemed to Lord George to be nearly two years old. The child was carried in by the woman, but Lord George thought that he was big enough to have walked. He was dressed up with many ribbons, and was altogether as gay as apparel could make him. But he was an ugly, swarthy little boy, with great black eyes, small cheeks, and a high forehead,—very unlike such a Popenjoy as Lord George would have liked to have seen. Lord George got up and stood over him, and leaning down kissed the high forehead. "My poor little darling," he said.
"As for being poor," said the Marquis, "I hope not. As to being a darling, I should think it doubtful. If you've done with him, she can take him away, you know." Lord George had done with him, and so he was taken away. "Seeing is believing, you know," said the Marquis; "that's the only good of it." Lord George said to himself that in this case seeing was not believing.
At this moment the open carriage came round to the door. "If you like to get up behind," said the Marquis, "I can take you back to Cross Hall, as I am going to see my mother. Perhaps you'll remember that I wish to be alone with her." Lord George then expressed his preference for walking. "Just as you please. I want to say a word. Of course I took it very ill of you all when you insisted on keeping Cross Hall in opposition to my wishes. No doubt they acted on your advice."
"Exactly; your's and Sarah's. You can't expect me to forget it, George;—that's all." Then he walked out of the room among the servants, giving his brother no opportunity for further reply.
THE MARQUIS GOES INTO BROTHERTON.
The poor dear old Marchioness must have had some feeling that she was regarded as a spy. She had promised to tell everything to her eldest son, and though she had really nothing to tell, though the Marquis did in truth know all that there was as yet to know, still there grew up at Cross Hall a sort of severance between the unhappy old lady and her children. This showed itself in no diminution of affectionate attention; in no intentional change of manner; but there was a reticence about the Marquis and Popenjoy which even she perceived, and there crept into her mind a feeling that Mrs. Toff was on her guard against her,—so that on two occasions she almost snubbed Mrs. Toff. "I never see'd him, my Lady; what more can I say?" said Mrs. Toff. "Toff, I don't believe you wanted to see your master's son and heir!" said the Marchioness. Then Mrs. Toff pursed up her lips, and compressed her nose, and half-closed her eyes, and the Marchioness was sure that Mrs. Toff did not believe in Popenjoy.
No one but Lord George had seen Popenjoy. To no eyes but his had the august baby been displayed. Of course many questions had been asked, especially by the old lady, but the answers to them had not been satisfactory. "Dark, is he?" asked the Marchioness. Lord George replied that the child was very swarthy. "Dear me! That isn't like the Germains. The Germains were never light, but they're not swarthy. Did he talk at all?" "Not a word." "Did he play about?" "Never was out of the nurse's arms." "Dear me! Was he like Brotherton?" "I don't think I am a judge of likenesses." "He's a healthy child?" "I can't say. He seemed to be a good deal done up with finery." Then the Marchioness declared that her younger son showed an unnatural indifference to the heir of the family. It was manifest that she intended to accept the new Popenjoy, and to ally herself with no party base enough to entertain any suspicion.
These examinations respecting the baby went on for the three first days of the week. It was Lord George's intention to return to town on the Saturday, and it seemed to them all to be necessary that something should be arranged before that. Lady Sarah thought that direct application should be made to her brother for proof of his marriage and for a copy of the register of the birth of his child. She quite admitted that he would resent such application with the bitterest enmity. But that she thought must be endured. She argued that nothing could be done more friendly to the child than this. If all was right the enquiry which circumstances certainly demanded would be made while he could not feel it. If no such proof were adduced now there would certainly be trouble, misery, and perhaps ruin in coming years. If the necessary evidence were forthcoming, then no one would wish to interfere further. There might be ill blood on their brother's part, but there would be none on theirs. Neither Lord George nor their younger sister gainsayed this altogether. Neither of them denied the necessity of enquiry. But they desired to temporise;—and then how was the enquiry to be made? Who was to bell the cat? And how should they go on when the Marquis refused to take any heed of them,—as, of course, he would do? Lady Sarah saw at once that they must employ a lawyer;—but what lawyer? Old Mr. Stokes, the family attorney, was the only lawyer they knew. But Mr. Stokes was Lord Brotherton's lawyer, and would hardly consent to be employed against his own client. Lady Sarah suggested that Mr. Stokes might be induced to explain to the Marquis that these enquiries should be made for his, the Marquis's, own benefit. But Lord George felt that this was impossible. It was evident that Lord George would be afraid to ask Mr. Stokes to undertake the work.
At last it came to be understood among them that they must have some friend to act with them. There could be no doubt who that friend should be. "As to interfering," said Lady Sarah, speaking of the Dean, "he will interfere, whether we ask him to or not. His daughter is as much affected as anybody, and if I understand him he is not the man to see any interest of his own injured by want of care." Lord George shook his head but yielded. He greatly disliked the idea of putting himself into the Dean's hands; of becoming a creature of the Dean's. He felt the Dean to be stronger than himself, endowed with higher spirit and more confident hopes. But he also felt that the Dean was—the son of a stable-keeper. Though he had professed to his brother that he could own the fact without shame, still he was ashamed. It was not the Dean's parentage that troubled him so much as a consciousness of some defect, perhaps only of the absence of some quality, which had been caused by that parentage. The man looked like a gentleman, but still there was a smell of the stable. Feeling this rather than knowing it Lord George resisted for awhile the idea of joining forces with the Dean; but when it was suggested to him as an alternative that he himself must go to Mr. Stokes and explain his suspicions in the lawyer's room, then he agreed that, as a first step, he would consult the Dean. The Dean, no doubt, would have his own lawyer, who would not care a fig for the Marquis.
It was thought by them at Cross Hall that the Dean would come over to them, knowing that his son-in-law was in the country; but the Dean did not come, probably waiting for the same compliment from Lord George. On the Friday Lord George rode into Brotherton early, and was at the Deanery by eleven o'clock. "I thought I should see you," said the Dean, in his pleasantest manner. "Of course, I heard from Mary that you were down here. Well;—what do you think of it all?"
"It is not pleasant."
"If you mean your brother, I am bound to say, that he is very unpleasant. Of course you have seen him?"
"Yes; I have seen him."
"And her ladyship?"
"No. He said that as I do not speak Italian it would be no good."
"And he seemed to think," said the Dean, "that as I do speak Italian it would be dangerous. Nobody has seen her then?"
"That promises well! And the little lord?"
"He was brought down to me."
"That was gracious! Well; what of him. Did he look like a Popenjoy?"
"He is a nasty little black thing."
"I shouldn't wonder."
"And looks——. Well, I don't want to abuse the poor child, and God knows, if he is what he pretends to be, I would do anything to serve him."
"That's just it, George," said the Dean, very seriously,—seriously, and with his kindest manner, being quite disposed to make himself agreeable to Lord George, if Lord George would be agreeable to him. "That's just it. If we were certified as to that, what would we not do for the child in spite of the father's brutality? There is no dishonesty on our side, George. You know of me, and I know of you, that if every tittle of the evidence of that child's birth were in the keeping of either of us, so that it could be destroyed on the moment, it should be made as public as the winds of heaven to-morrow, so that it was true evidence. If he be what he pretends to be, who would interfere with him? But if he be not?"
"Any suspicion of that kind is unworthy of us;—except on very strong ground."
"True. But if there be very strong ground, it is equally true that such suspicion is our duty. Look at the case. When was it that he told you that he was going to be married? About six months since, as far as my memory goes."
"He said, 'I am to be married.'"
"That is speaking in the future tense; and now he claims to have been married two or three years ago. Has he ever attempted to explain this?"
"He has not said a word about it. He is quite unwilling to talk about himself."
"I dare say. But a man in such circumstances must be made to talk about himself. You and I are so placed that if we did not make him talk about himself, we ought to be made to make him do so. He may be deceitful if he pleases. He may tell you and me fibs without end. And he may give us much trouble by doing so. Such trouble is the evil consequence of having liars in the world." Lord George winced at the rough word as applied by inference to his own brother. "But liars themselves are always troubled by their own lies. If he chooses to tell you that on a certain day he is about to be married, and afterwards springs a two-year old child upon you as legitimate, you are bound to think that there is some deceit. You cannot keep yourself from knowing that there is falsehood; and if falsehood, then probably fraud. Is it likely that a man with such privileges, and such property insured to a legitimate son, would allow the birth of such a child to be slurred over without due notice of it? You say that suspicion on our part without strong ground would be unworthy of us. I agree with you. But I ask you whether the grounds are not so strong as to force us to suspect. Come," he continued, as Lord George did not answer at once; "let us be open to each other, knowing as each does that the other means to do what is right. Do not you suspect?"
"I do," said Lord George.
"And so do I. And I mean to learn the truth."
"That is for us to consider; but of one thing I am quite sure. I am quite certain that we must not allow ourselves to be afraid of your brother. To speak the truth, as it must be spoken, he is a bully, George."
"I would rather you would not abuse him, sir."
"Speak ill of him I must. His character is bad, and I have to speak of it. He is a bully. He set himself to work to put me down when I did myself the honour to call on him, because he felt that my connexion with you would probably make me an enemy to him. I intend that he shall know that he cannot put me down. He is undoubtedly Lord Brotherton. He is the owner of a wide property. He has many privileges and much power, with which I cannot interfere. But there is a limit to them. If he have a legitimate son, those privileges will be that son's property, but he has to show to the world that that son is legitimate. When a man marries before all the world, in his own house, and a child is born to him as I may say openly, the proofs are there of themselves. No bringing up of evidence is necessary. The thing is simple, and there is no suspicion and no enquiry. But he has done the reverse of this, and now flatters himself that he can cow those who are concerned by a domineering manner. He must be made to feel that this will not prevail."
"Sarah thinks that he should be invited to produce the necessary certificates." Lord George, when he dropped his sister's title in speaking of her to the Dean, must have determined that very familiar intercourse with the Dean was a necessity.
"Lady Sarah is always right. That should be the first step. But will you invite him to do so? How shall the matter be broken to him?"
"She thinks a lawyer should do it."
"It must be done either by you or by a lawyer." Lord George looked very blank. "Of course, if the matter were left in my hands;—if I had to do it,—I should not do it personally. The question is, whether you might not in the first instance write to him?"
"He would not notice it."
"Very likely not. Then we must employ a lawyer."
The matter was altogether so distasteful to Lord George, that more than once during the interview he almost made up his mind that he would withdraw altogether from the work, and at any rate appear to take it for granted that the child was a real heir, an undoubted Popenjoy. But then, as often, the Dean showed him that he could not so withdraw himself. "You will be driven," said the Dean, "to express your belief, whatever it may be; and if you think that there has been foul play, you cannot deny that you think so." It was at last decided that Lord George should write a letter to his brother, giving all the grounds, not of his own suspicion, but which the world at large would have for suspecting; and earnestly imploring that proper evidence as to his brother's marriage and as to the child's birth, might be produced. Then, if this letter should not be attended to, a lawyer should be employed. The Dean named his own lawyer, Mr. Battle, of Lincoln's Inn Fields. Lord George having once yielded, found it convenient to yield throughout. Towards the end of the interview the Dean suggested that he would "throw a few words together," or, in other language, write the letter which his son-in-law would have to sign. This suggestion was also accepted by Lord George.
The two men were together for a couple of hours, and then, after lunch, went out together into the town. Each felt that he was now more closely bound to the other than ever. The Dean was thoroughly pleased that it should be so. He intended his son-in-law to be the Marquis, and being sanguine as well as pugnacious looked forward to seeing that time himself. Such a man as the Marquis would probably die early, whereas he himself was full of health. There was nothing he would not do to make Lord George's life pleasant, if only Lord George would be pleasant to him, and submissive. But Lord George himself was laden with many regrets. He had formed a conspiracy against the head of his own family, and his brother conspirator was the son of a stable-keeper. It might be also that he was conspiring against his own legitimate nephew; and if so, the conspiracy would of course fail, and he would be stigmatised for ever among the Germains as the most sordid and vile of the name.
The Dean's house was in the Close, joined on to the Cathedral, a covered stone pathway running between the two. The nearest way from the Deanery to the High Street was through the Cathedral, the transept of which could be entered by crossing the passage. The Dean and his son-in-law on this occasion went through the building to the west entrance, and there stood for a few minutes in the street while the Dean spoke to men who were engaged on certain repairs of the fabric. In doing this they all went out into the middle of the wide street in order that they might look up at the work which was being done. While they were there, suddenly an open carriage, with a postilion, came upon them unawares, and they had to retreat out of the way. As they did so they perceived that Lord Brotherton was in the carriage, enveloped in furs, and that a lady, more closely enveloped even than himself, was by his side. It was evident to them that he had recognised them. Indeed he had been in the act of raising his hand to greet his brother when he saw the Dean. They both bowed to him, while the Dean, who had the readier mind, raised his hat to the lady. But the Marquis steadily ignored them. "That's your sister-in-law," said the Dean.
"There is no other lady here with whom he could be driving. I am pretty sure that it is the first time that either of them have been in Brotherton."
"I wonder whether he saw us."
"Of course he saw us. He cut me from fixed purpose, and you because I was with you. I shall not disturb him by any further recognition." Then they went on about their business, and in the afternoon, when the Dean had thrown his few words together, Lord George rode back to Cross Hall. "Let the letter be sent at once,—but date it from London." These were the last words the Dean said to him.
It was the Marquis and his wife. All Brotherton heard the news. She had absolutely called at a certain shop and the Marquis had condescended to be her interpreter. All Brotherton was now sure that there was a new Marchioness, a fact as to which a great part of Brotherton had hitherto entertained doubts. And it seemed that this act of condescension in stopping at a Brotherton shop was so much appreciated that all the former faults of the Marquis were to be condoned on that account. If only Popenjoy could be taken to a Brotherton pastrycook, and be got to eat a Brotherton bun, the Marquis would become the most popular man in the neighbourhood, and the undoubted progenitor of a long line of Marquises to come. A little kindness after continued cruelty will always win a dog's heart;—some say, also a woman's. It certainly seemed to be the way to win Brotherton.
LADY SUSANNA IN LONDON.
In spite of the caution which he had received from his friend and cousin Mrs. Houghton, Jack De Baron did go to Munster Court during the absence of Lord George, and there did encounter Lady Susanna. And Mrs. Houghton herself, though she had given such excellent advice, accompanied him. She was of course anxious to see Lady Susanna, who had always especially disliked her; and Jack himself was desirous of making the acquaintance of a lady who had been, he was assured, sent up to town on purpose to protect the young wife from his wiles. Both Mrs. Houghton and Jack had become very intimate in Munster Court, and there was nothing strange in their dropping in together even before lunch. Jack was of course introduced to Lady Susanna. The two ladies grimaced at each other, each knowing the other's feeling towards herself. Mary having suspected that Lady Susanna had been sent for in reference to this special friend, determined on being specially gracious to Jack. She had already, since Lady Susanna's arrival, told that lady that she was able to manage her own little affairs. Lady Susanna had said an unfortunate word as to the unnecessary expense of four wax candles when they two were sitting alone in the drawing-room. Lady George had said that it was pretty. Lady Susanna had expostulated gravely, and then Lady George had spoken out. "Dear Susanna, do let me manage my own little affairs." Of course the words had rankled, and of course the love which the ladies bore to each other had not been increased. Lady George was now quite resolved to show dear Susanna that she was not afraid of her duenna.
"We thought we'd venture to see if you'd give us lunch," said Mrs. Houghton.
"Delightful!" exclaimed Lady George. "There's nothing to eat; but you won't mind that."
"Not in the least," said Jack. "I always think the best lunch in the world is a bit of the servants' dinner. It's always the best meat, and the best cooked and the hottest served."
There was plenty of lunch from whatsoever source it came, and the three young people were very merry. Perhaps they were a little noisy. Perhaps there was a little innocent slang in their conversation. Ladies do sometimes talk slang, and perhaps the slang was encouraged for the special edification of Lady Susanna. But slang was never talked at Manor Cross or Cross Hall, and was odious to Lady Susanna. When Lady George declared that some offending old lady ought to be "jumped upon," Lady Susanna winced visibly. When Jack told Lady George that "she was the woman to do it," Lady Susanna shivered almost audibly. "Is anything the matter?" asked Lady George, perhaps not quite innocently.
It seemed to Lady Susanna that these visitors were never going away, and yet this was the very man as to whom her brother had cautioned her! And what an odious man he was—in Lady Susanna's estimation! A puppy,—an absolute puppy! Good-looking, impudent, familiar, with a light visage, and continually smiling! All those little gifts which made him so pleasant to Lady George were stains and blemishes in the eyes of Lady Susanna. To her thinking, a man,—at any rate a gentleman,—should be tall, dark, grave, and given to silence rather than to much talk. This Jack chattered about everything, and hardly opened his mouth without speaking slang. About half-past three, when they had been chattering in the drawing-room for an hour, after having chattered over their lunch for a previous hour, Mrs. Houghton made a most alarming proposition. "Let us all go to Berkeley Square and play bagatelle."
"By all means," said Jack. "Lady George, you owe me two new hats already."
Playing bagatelle for new hats! Lady Susanna felt that if ever there could come a time in which interference would be necessary that time had come now. She had resolved that she would be patient; that she should not come down as an offended deity upon Lady George, unless some sufficient crisis should justify such action. But now surely, if ever, she must interpose. Playing at bagatelle with Jack De Baron for new hats, and she with the prospect before her of being Marchioness of Brotherton! "It's only one," said Lady George gaily, "and I daresay I'll win that back to-day. Will you come, Susanna?"
"Certainly not," said Lady Susanna, very grimly. They all looked at her, and Jack De Baron raised his eyebrows, and sat for a moment motionless. Lady Susanna knew that Jack De Baron was intending to ridicule her. Then she remembered that should this perverse young woman insist upon going to Mrs. Houghton's house with so objectionable a companion, her duty to her brother demanded that she also should go. "I mean," said Lady Susanna, "that I had rather not go."
"Why not?" asked Mary.
"I do not think that playing bagatelle for new hats is—is—the best employment in the world either for a lady or for a gentleman." The words were hardly out of her mouth before she herself felt that they were overstrained and more than even this occasion demanded.
"Then we will only play for gloves," said Mary. Mary was not a woman to bear with impunity such an assault as had been made on her.
"Perhaps you will not mind giving it up till George comes back," said Lord George's sister.
"I shall mind very much. I will go up and get ready. You can do as you please." So Mary left the room, and Lady Susanna followed her.
"She means to have her own way," said Jack, when he was alone with his cousin.
"She is not at all what I took her to be," said Mrs. Houghton. "The fact is, one cannot know what a girl is as long as a girl is a girl. It is only when she's married that she begins to speak out." Jack hardly agreed with this, thinking that some girls he had known had learned to speak out before they were married.
They all went out together to walk across the parks to Berkeley Square, orders being left that the brougham should follow them later in the afternoon. Lady Susanna had at last resolved that she also would go. The very fact of her entering Mrs. Houghton's house was disagreeable to her; but she felt that duty called her. And, after all, when they got to Berkeley Square no bagatelle was played at all. But the bagatelle would almost have been better than what occurred. A small parcel was lying on the table which was found to contain a pack of pictured cards made for the telling of fortunes, and which some acquaintance had sent to Mrs. Houghton. With these they began telling each other's fortunes, and it seemed to Lady Susanna that they were all as free with lovers and sweethearts as though the two ladies had been housemaids instead of being the wives of steady, well-born husbands. "That's a dark man, with evil designs, a wicked tongue, and no money," said Mrs. Houghton, as a combination of cards lay in Lady George's lap. "Jack, the lady with light hair is only flirting with you. She doesn't care for you one bit."
"I daresay not," said Jack.
"And yet she'll trouble you awfully. Lady Susanna, will you have your fortune told?"
"No," said Lady Susanna, very shortly.
This went on for an hour before the brougham came, during the latter half of which Lady Susanna sat without once opening her lips. If any play could have been childish, it was this play; but to her it was horrible. And then they all sat so near together, and that man was allowed to put cards into her brother's wife's hand and to take them out just as though they had been brother and sister, or playfellows all their days. And then, as they were going down to the brougham, the odious man got Lady George aside and whispered to her for two minutes. Lady Susanna did not hear a word of their whispers, but knew that they were devilish. And so she would have thought if she had heard them. "You're going to catch it, Lady George," Jack had said. "There's somebody else will catch something if she makes herself disagreeable," Lady George had answered. "I wish I could be invisible and hear it," had been Jack's last words.
"My dear Mary," said Lady Susanna, as soon as they were seated, "you are very young."
"That's a fault that will mend of itself."
"Too quickly, as you will soon find; but in the meantime, as you are a married woman, should you not be careful to guard against the indiscretions of youth?"
"Well, yes; I suppose I ought," said Mary, after a moment of mock consideration. "But then if I were unmarried I ought to do just the same. It's a kind of thing that is a matter of course without talking about it." She had firmly made up her mind that she would submit in no degree to Lady Susanna, and take from her no scolding. Indeed, she had come to a firm resolve long since that she would be scolded by no one but her husband—and by him as little as possible. Now she was angry with him because he had sent this woman to watch her, and was determined that he should know that, though she would submit to him, she would not submit to his sister. The moment for asserting herself had now come.
"A young married woman," said the duenna, "owes it to her husband to be peculiarly careful. She has his happiness and his honour in her hands."
"And he has hers. It seems to me that all these things are matters of course."
"They should be, certainly," said Lady Susanna, hardly knowing how to go on with her work; a little afraid of her companion, but still very intent. "But it will sometimes happen that a young person does not quite know what is right and what is wrong."
"And sometimes it happens that old people don't know. There was Major Jones had his wife taken away from him the other day by the Court because he was always beating her, and he was fifty. I read all about it in the papers. I think the old people are just as bad as the young."
Lady Susanna felt that her approaches were being cut off from her, and that she must rush at once against the citadel if she meant to take it. "Do you think that playing bagatelle is—nice?"
"Yes, I do;—very nice."
"Do you think George would like your playing with Captain De Baron?"
"Why not with Captain de Baron?" said Mary, turning round upon her assailant with absolute ferocity.
"I don't think he would like it. And then that fortune-telling! If you will believe me, Mary, it was very improper."
"I will not believe anything of the kind. Improper!—a joke about a lot of picture-cards!"
"It was all about love and lovers," said Lady Susanna, not quite knowing how to express herself, but still sure that she was right.
"Oh, what a mind you must have, Susanna, to pick wrong out of that! All about love and lovers! So are books and songs and plays at the theatre. I suppose you didn't understand that it was intended as a burlesque on fortune-telling?"
"And I am quite sure George wouldn't like the kind of slang you were talking with Captain De Baron at lunch."
"If George does not like anything he had better tell me so, and not depute you to do it for him. If he tells me to do anything I shall do it. If you tell me I shall pay no attention to it whatever. You are here as my guest, and not as my governess; and I think your interference very impertinent." This was strong language,—so strong that Lady Susanna found it impossible to continue the conversation at that moment. Nothing, indeed, was said between them during the whole afternoon, or at dinner, or in the evening,—till Lady Susanna had taken up her candlestick.