Lady Eardham whispered to him as he was taking his departure on the evening of the dinner in Cavendish Square. "Dear Mr. Newton,—just one word," she said, confidentially,—"that must be a very horrid man,"—alluding to Mr. Neefit.
"It's a horrid bore, you know, Lady Eardham."
"Just so;—and it makes me feel,—as though I didn't quite know whether something ought not to be done. Would you mind calling at eleven to-morrow? Of course I shan't tell Sir George,—unless you think he ought to be told." Ralph promised that he would call, though he felt at the moment that Lady Eardham was an interfering old fool. Why should she want to do anything; and why should she give even a hint as to telling Sir George? As he walked across Hanover Square and down Bond Street to his rooms he did assert to himself plainly that the "old harridan," as he called her, was at work for her second girl, and he shook his head and winked his eye as he thought of it. But, even in his solitude, he did not feel strong against Lady Eardham, and he moved along the pavement oppressed by a half-formed conviction that her ladyship would prevail against him. He did not, however, think that he had any particular objection to Gus Eardham. There was a deal of style about the girl, a merit in which either Clarissa or Mary would have been sadly deficient. And there could be no doubt in this,—that a man in his position ought to marry in his own class. The proper thing for him to do was to make the daughter of some country gentleman,—or of some nobleman, just as it might happen,—mistress of the Priory. Dear little Clary would hardly have known how to take her place properly down in Hampshire. And then he thought for a moment of Polly! Perhaps, after all, fate, fashion, and fortune managed marriage for young men better than they could manage it for themselves. What a life would his have been had he really married Polly Neefit! Though he did call Lady Eardham a harridan, he resolved that he would keep his promise for the following morning.
Lady Eardham when he arrived was mysterious, eulogistic, and beneficent. She was clearly of opinion that something should be done. "You know it is so horrid having these kind of things said." And yet she was almost equally strong in opinion that nothing could be done. "You know I wouldn't have my girl's name brought up for all the world;—though why the horrid wretch should have named her I cannot even guess." The horrid wretch had not, in truth, named any special her, though it suited Lady Eardham to presume that allusion had been made to that hope of the flock, that crowning glory of the Eardham family, that most graceful of the Graces, that Venus certain to be chosen by any Paris, her second daughter, Gus. She went on to explain that were she to tell the story to her son Marmaduke, her son Marmaduke would probably kill the breeches-maker. As Marmaduke Eardham was, of all young men about town, perhaps the most careless, the most indifferent, and the least ferocious, his mother was probably mistaken in her estimate of his resentful feelings. "As for Sir George, he would be for taking the law of the wretch for libel, and then we should be—! I don't know where we should be then; but my dear girl would die."
Of course there was nothing done. During the whole interview Lady Eardham continued to press Neefit's letter under her hand upon the table, as though it was of all documents the most precious. She handled it as though to tear it would be as bad as to tear an original document bearing the king's signature. Before the interview was over she had locked it up in her desk, as though there were something in it by which the whole Eardham race might be blessed or banned. And, though she spoke no such word, she certainly gave Ralph to understand that by this letter he, Ralph Newton, was in some mysterious manner so connected with the secrets, and the interests, and the sanctity of the Eardham family, that, whether such connection might be for weal or woe, the Newtons and the Eardhams could never altogether free themselves from the link. "Perhaps you had better come and dine with us in a family way to-morrow," said Lady Eardham, giving her invitation as though it must necessarily be tendered, and almost necessarily accepted. Ralph, not thanking her, but taking it in the same spirit, said that he would be there at half past seven. "Just ourselves," said Lady Eardham, in a melancholy tone, as though they two were doomed to eat family dinners together for ever after.
"I suppose the property is really his own?" said Lady Eardham to her husband that afternoon.
Sir George was a stout, plethoric gentleman, with a short temper and many troubles. Marmaduke was expensive, and Sir George himself had spent money when he was young. The girls, who knew that they had no fortunes, expected that everything should be done for them, at least during the period of their natural harvest,—and they were successful in having their expectations realised. They demanded that there should be horses to ride, servants to attend them, and dresses to wear; and they had horses, servants, and dresses. There were also younger children; and Sir George was quite as anxious as Lady Eardham that his daughters should become wives. "His own?—of course it's his own. Who else should it belong to?"
"There was something about that other young man."
"The bastard! It was the greatest sin that ever was thought of to palm such a fellow as that off on the county;—but it didn't come to anything."
"I'm told, too, he has been very extravagant. No doubt he did get money from the,—the tailor who wants to make him marry his daughter."
"A flea-bite," said Sir George. "Don't you bother about that." Thus authorised, Lady Eardham went to the work with a clear conscience and a good will.
On the next morning Ralph received by post an envelope from Sir Thomas Underwood containing a letter addressed to him from Mr. Neefit. "Sir,—Are you going to make your ward act honourable to me and my daughter?—Yours, respectful, THOMAS NEEFIT." The reader will understand that this was prior to Polly's triumph over her father. Ralph uttered a deep curse, and made up his mind that he must either throw himself entirely among the Eardhams, or else start at once for the Rocky Mountains. He dined in Cavendish Square that day, and again took Gus down to dinner.
"I'm very glad to see you here," said Sir George, when they two were alone together after the ladies had left them. Sir George, who had been pressed upon home service because of the necessity of the occasion, was anxious to get off to his club.
"You are very kind, Sir George," said Ralph.
"We shall be delighted to see you at Brayboro', if you'll come for a week in September and look at the girls' horses. They say you're quite a pundit about horseflesh."
"Oh, I don't know," said Ralph.
"You'll like to go up to the girls now, I dare say, and I've got an engagement." Then Sir George rang the bell for a cab, and Ralph went up-stairs to the girls. Emily had taken herself away; Josephine was playing besique with her mother, and Gus was thus forced into conversation with the young man. "Besique is so stupid," said Gus.
"Horribly stupid," said Ralph.
"And what do you like, Mr. Newton?"
"I like you," said Ralph. But he did not propose on that evening. Lady Eardham thought he ought to have done so, and was angry with him. It was becoming almost a matter of necessity with her that young men should not take much time. Emily was twenty-seven, and Josephine was a most difficult child to manage,—not pretty, but yet giving herself airs and expecting everything. She had refused a clergyman with a very good private fortune, greatly to her mother's sorrow. And Gus had already been the source of much weary labour. Four eldest sons had been brought to her feet and been allowed to slip away; and all, as Lady Eardham said, because Gus would "joke" with other young men, while the one man should have received all her pleasantry. Emily was quite of opinion that young Newton should by no means have been allotted to Gus. Lady Eardham, who had played besique with an energy against which Josephine would have mutinied but that some promise was made as to Marshall and Snelgrove, could see from her little table that young Newton was neither abject nor triumphant in his manner. He had not received nor had he even asked when he got up to take his leave. Lady Eardham could have boxed his ears; but she smiled upon him ineffably, pressed his hand, and in the most natural way in the world alluded to some former allusion about riding and the park.
"I shan't ride to-morrow," said Gus, with her back turned to them.
"Do," said Ralph.
"No; I shan't."
"You see what she says, Lady Eardham," said Ralph.
"You promised you would before dinner, my dear," said Lady Eardham, "and you ought not to change your mind. If you'll be good-natured enough to come, two of them will go." Of course it was understood that he would come.
"Nothing on earth, mamma, shall ever induce me to play besique again," said Josephine, yawning.
"It's not worse for you than for me," said the old lady sharply.
"But it isn't fair," said Josephine, who was supposed to be the clever one of the family. "I may have to play my besique a quarter of a century hence."
"He's an insufferable puppy," said Emily, who had come into the room, and had been pretending to be reading.
"That's because he don't bark at your bidding, my dear," said Gus.
"It doesn't seem that he means to bark at yours," said the elder sister.
"If you go on like that, girls, I'll tell your papa, and we'll go to Brayboro' at once. It's too bad, and I won't bear it."
"What would you have me do?" said Gus, standing up for herself fiercely.
Gus did ride, and so did Josephine, and there was a servant with them of course. It had been Emily's turn,—there being two horses for the three girls; but Gus had declared that no good could come if Emily went;—and Emily's going had been stopped by parental authority. "You do as you're bid," said Sir George, "or you'll get the worst of it." Sir George suffered much from gout, and had obtained from the ill-temper which his pangs produced a mastery over his daughters which some fathers might have envied.
"You behaved badly to me last night, Mr. Newton," said Gus, on horseback. There was another young man riding with Josephine, so that the lovers were alone together.
"Behaved badly to you?"
"Yes, you did, and I felt it very much,—very much indeed."
"How did I behave badly?"
"If you do not know, I'm sure that I shall not tell you." Ralph did not know;—but he went home from his ride an unengaged man, and may perhaps have been thought to behave badly on that occasion also.
But Lady Eardham, though she was sometimes despondent and often cross, was gifted with perseverance. A picnic party up the river from Maidenhead to Cookham was got up for the 30th of May, and Ralph Newton of course was there. Just at that time the Neefit persecution was at its worst. Letters directed by various hands came to him daily, and in all of them he was asked when he meant to be on the square. He knew the meaning of that picnic as well as does the reader,—as well as did Lady Eardham; but it had come to that with him that he was willing to yield. It cannot exactly be said for him that out of all the feminine worth that he had seen, he himself had chosen Gus Eardham as being the most worthy,—or even that he had chosen her as being to him the most charming. But it was evident to him that he must get married, and why not to her as well as to another? She had style, plenty of style; and, as he told himself, style for a man in his position was more than anything else. It can hardly be said that he had made up his mind to offer to her before he started for Cookham,—though doubtless through all the remaining years of his life he would think that his mind had been so fixed,—but he had concluded, that if she were thrown at his head very hard, he might as well take her. "I don't think he ever does drink champagne," said Lady Eardham, talking it all over with Gus on the morning of the picnic.
At Cookham there is, or was, a punt,—perhaps there always will be one, kept there for such purposes;—and into this punt either Gus was tempted by Ralph, or Ralph by Gus. "My darling child, what are you doing?" shouted Lady Eardham from the bank.
"Mr. Newton says he can take me over," said Gus, standing up in the punt, shaking herself with a pretty tremor.
"Don't, Mr. Newton; pray don't!" cried Lady Eardham, with affected horror.
Lunch was over, or dinner, as it might be more properly called, and Ralph had taken a glass or two of champagne. He was a man whom no one had ever seen the "worse for wine;" but on this occasion that which might have made others drunk had made him bold. "I will not let you out, Gus, till you have promised me one thing," said Ralph.
"What is the one thing?"
"That you will go with me everywhere, always."
"You must let me out," said Gus.
"But will you promise?" Then Gus promised; and Lady Eardham, with true triumph in her voice, was able to tell her husband on the following morning that the cost of the picnic had not been thrown away.
On the next morning early Ralph was in the square. Neither when he went to bed at night, nor when he got up in the morning, did he regret what he had done. The marriage would be quite a proper marriage. Nobody could say that he had been mercenary, and he hated a mercenary feeling in marriages. Nobody could say that the match was beneath him, and all people were agreed that Augusta Eardham was a very fine girl. As to her style, there could be no doubt about it. There might be some little unpleasantness in communicating the fact to the Underwoods,—but that could be done by letter. After all, it would signify very little to him what Sir Thomas thought about him. Sir Thomas might think him feeble; but he himself knew very well that there had been no feebleness in it. His circumstances had been very peculiar, and he really believed that he had made the best of them. As Squire of Newton, he was doing quite the proper thing in marrying the daughter of a baronet out of the next county. With a light heart, a pleased face, and with very well got-up morning apparel, Ralph knocked the next morning at the door in Cavendish Square, and asked for Sir George Eardham. "I'll just run up-stairs for a second," said Ralph, when he was told that Sir George was in the small parlour.
He did run up-stairs, and in three minutes had been kissed by Lady Eardham and all her daughters. At this moment Gus was the "dearest child" and the "best love of a thing" with all of them. Even Emily remembered how pleasant it might be to have a room at Newton Priory, and then success always gives a new charm.
"Have you seen Sir George?" asked Lady Eardham.
"Not as yet;—they said he was there, but I had to come up and see her first, you know."
"Go down to him," said Lady Eardham, patting her prey on the back twice. "When you've daughters of your own, you'll expect to be consulted."
"She couldn't have done better, my dear fellow," said Sir George, with kind, genial cordiality. "She couldn't have done better, to my thinking, even with a peerage. I like you, and I like your family, and I like your property; and she's yours with all my heart. A better girl never lived."
"Thank you, Sir George."
"She has no money, you know."
"I don't care about money, Sir George."
"My dear boy, she's yours with all my heart; and I hope you'll make each other happy."
RALPH NEWTON IS BOWLED AWAY.
A day or two after his engagement, Ralph did write his letter to Sir Thomas, and found when the moment came that the task was difficult. But he wrote it. The thing had to be done, and there was nothing to be gained by postponing it.
—— Club, June 2, 186—.
MY DEAR SIR THOMAS,—
You will, I hope, be glad to hear that I am engaged to be married to Augusta Eardham, the second daughter of Sir George Eardham, of Brayboro' Park, in Berkshire. Of course you will know the name, and I rather think you were in the House when Sir George sat for Berkshire. Augusta has got no money, but I have not been placed under the disagreeable necessity of looking out for a rich wife. I believe we shall be married about the end of August. As the ceremony will take place down at Brayboro', I fear that I cannot expect that you or Patience and Clarissa should come so far. Pray tell them my news, with my best love.
Yours, most grateful for all your long kindness,
I am very sorry that you should have been troubled by letters from Mr. Neefit. The matter has been arranged at last.
The letter when done was very simple, but it took him some time, and much consideration. Should he or should he not allude to his former loves? It was certainly much easier to write his letter without any such allusion, and he did so.
About a week after this Sir Thomas went home to Fulham, and took the letter with him. "Clary," he said, taking his youngest daughter affectionately by the waist, when he found himself alone with her. "I've got a piece of news for you."
"For me, papa?"
"Well, for all of us. Somebody is going to be married. Who do you think it is?"
"Not Ralph Newton?" said Clarissa, with a little start.
"Yes, Ralph Newton."
"How quick he arranges things!" said Clarissa. There was some little emotion, just a quiver, and a quick rush of blood into her cheeks, which, however, left them just as quickly.
"Yes;—he is quick."
"Who is it, papa?"
"A very proper sort of person,—the daughter of a Berkshire baronet."
"But what is her name?"
"Augusta Eardham. I hope he'll be happy, papa. We've known him a long time."
"I think he will be happy;—what people call happy. He is not gifted,—or cursed, as it may be,—with fine feelings, and is what perhaps may be called thick-skinned; but he will love his own wife and children. I don't think he will be a spendthrift now that he has plenty to spend, and he is not subject to what the world calls vices. I shouldn't wonder if he becomes a prosperous and most respectable country gentleman, and quite a model to his neighbours."
"It doesn't seem to matter much;—does it?" said Clarissa, when she told the story to Mary and Patience.
"What doesn't matter?" asked Mary.
"Whether a man cares for the girl he's going to marry, or doesn't care at all. Ralph Newton cannot care very much for Miss Eardham."
"I think it matters very much," said Mary.
"Perhaps, after all, he'll be just as fond of his wife, in a way, as though he had been making love to her,—oh, for years," said Clarissa. This was nearly all that was said at the villa, though, no doubt, poor Clary had many thoughts on the matter, in her solitary rambles along the river. That picture of the youth, as he lay upon the lawn, looking up into her eyes, and telling her that she was dear to him, could not easily be effaced from her memory. Sir Thomas before this had written his congratulations to Ralph. They had been very short, and in them no allusion had been made to the young ladies at Popham Villa.
In the meantime Ralph was as happy as the day was long, and delighted with his lot in life. For some weeks previous to his offer he had been aware that Lady Eardham had been angling for him as for a fish, that he had been as a prey to her and to her daughter, and that it behoved him to amuse himself without really taking the hook between his gills. He had taken the hook, and now had totally forgotten all those former notions of his in regard to a prey, and a fish, and a mercenary old harridan of a mother. He had no sooner been kissed all round by the women, and paternally blessed by Sir George, than he thought that he had exercised a sound judgment, and had with true wisdom arranged to ally himself with just the woman most fit to be his wife, and the future mistress of Newton Priory. He was proud, indeed, of his success, when he read the paragraph in the "Morning Post," announcing as a fact that the alliance had been arranged, and was again able to walk about among his comrades as one of those who make circumstances subject to them, rather than become subject to circumstances. His comrades, no doubt, saw the matter in another light. "By Jove," said Pretty Poll at his club, "there's Newton been and got caught by old Eardham after all. The girl has been running ten years, and been hawked about like a second-class race-horse."
"Yes, poor fellow," said Captain Fooks. "Neefit has done that for him. Ralph for a while was so knocked off his pins by the breeches-maker, that he didn't know where to look for shelter."
Whether marriages should be made in heaven or on earth, must be a matter of doubt to observers;—whether, that is, men and women are best married by chance, which I take to be the real fashion of heaven-made marriages; or should be brought into that close link and loving bondage to each other by thought, selection, and decision. That the heavenly mode prevails the oftenest there can hardly be a doubt. It takes years to make a friendship; but a marriage may be settled in a week,—in an hour. If you desire to go into partnership with a man in business, it is an essential necessity that you should know your partner; that he be honest,—or dishonest, if such be your own tendency,—industrious, instructed in the skill required, and of habits of life fit for the work to be done. But into partnerships for life,—of a kind much closer than any business partnership,—men rush without any preliminary inquiries. Some investigation and anxiety as to means there may be, though in this respect the ordinary parlance of the world endows men with more caution, or accuses them of more greed than they really possess. But in other respects everything is taken for granted. Let the woman, if possible, be pretty;—or if not pretty, let her have style. Let the man, if possible, not be a fool; or if a fool, let him not show his folly too plainly. As for knowledge of character, none is possessed, and none is wanted. The young people meet each other in their holiday dresses, on holiday occasions, amidst holiday pleasures,—and the thing is arranged. Such matches may be said to be heaven-made.
It is a fair question whether they do not answer better than those which have less of chance,—or less of heaven,—in their manufacture. If it be needful that a man and woman take five years to learn whether they will suit each other as husband and wife, and that then, at the end of the five years, they find that they will not suit, the freshness of the flower would be gone before it could be worn in the button-hole. There are some leaps which you must take in the dark, if you mean to jump at all. We can all understand well that a wise man should stand on the brink and hesitate; but we can understand also that a very wise man should declare to himself that with no possible amount of hesitation could certainty be achieved. Let him take the jump or not take it,—but let him not presume to think that he can so jump as to land himself in certain bliss. It is clearly God's intention that men and women should live together, and therefore let the leap in the dark be made.
No doubt there had been very much of heaven in Ralph Newton's last choice. It may be acknowledged that in lieu of choosing at all, he had left the matter altogether to heaven. Some attempt he had made at choosing,—in reference to Mary Bonner; but he had found the attempt simply to be troublesome and futile. He had spoken soft, loving words to Clarissa, because she herself had been soft and lovable. Nature had spoken,—as she does when the birds sing to each other. Then, again, while suffering under pecuniary distress he had endeavoured to make himself believe that Polly Neefit was just the wife for him. Then, amidst the glories of his emancipation from thraldom, he had seen Mary Bonner,—and had actually, after a fashion, made a choice for himself. His choice had brought upon him nothing but disgrace and trouble. Now he had succumbed at the bidding of heaven and Lady Eardham, and he was about to be provided with a wife exactly suited for him. It may be said at the same time that Augusta Eardham was equally lucky. She also had gotten all that she ought to have wanted, had she known what to want. They were both of them incapable of what men and women call love when they speak of love as a passion linked with romance. And in one sense they were cold-hearted. Neither of them was endowed with the privilege of pining because another person had perished. But each of them was able to love a mate, when assured that that mate must continue to be mate, unless separation should come by domestic earthquake. They had hearts enough for paternal and maternal duties, and would probably agree in thinking that any geese which Providence might send them were veritable swans. Bickerings there might be, but they would be bickerings without effect; and Ralph Newton, of Newton, would probably so live with this wife of his bosom, that they, too, might lie at last pleasantly together in the family vault, with the record of their homely virtues visible to the survivors of the parish on the same tombstone. The means by which each of them would have arrived at these blessings would not redound to the credit of either; but the blessings would be there, and it may be said of their marriage, as of many such marriages, that it was made in heaven, and was heavenly.
The marriage was to take place early in September, and the first week in August was passed by Sir George and Lady Eardham and their two younger daughters at Newton Priory. On the 14th Ralph was to be allowed to run down to the moors just for one week, and then he was to be back, passing between Newton and Brayboro', signing deeds and settlements, preparing for their wedding tour, and obedient in all things to Eardham influences. It did occur to him that it would be proper that he should go down to Fulham to see his old friends once before his marriage; but he felt that such a visit would be to himself very unpleasant, and therefore he assured himself, and moreover made himself believe, that, if he abstained from the visit, he would abstain because it would be unpleasant to them. He did abstain. But he did call at the chambers in Southampton Buildings; he called, however, at an hour in which he knew that Sir Thomas would not be visible, and made no second pressing request to Stemm for the privilege of entrance.
He had great pride in showing his house and park and estate to the Eardhams, and had some delicious rambles with his Augusta through the shrubberies and down by the little brook. Ralph had an enjoyment in the prettiness of nature, and Augusta was clever enough to simulate the feeling. He was a little annoyed, perhaps, when he found that the beauty of her morning dresses did not admit of her sitting upon the grass or leaning against gates, and once expressed an opinion that she need not be so particular about her gloves in this the hour of their billing and cooing. Augusta altogether declined to remove her gloves in a place swarming, as she said, with midges, or to undergo any kind of embrace while adorned with that sweetest of all hats, which had been purchased for his especial delight. But in other respects she was good humoured, and tried to please him. She learned the names of all his horses, and was beginning to remember those of his tenants. She smiled upon Gregory, and behaved with a pretty decorum when the young parson showed her his church. Altogether her behaviour was much better than might have been expected from the training to which she had been subjected during her seven seasons in London. Lord Polperrow wronged her greatly when he said that she had been "running" for ten years.
There was a little embarrassment in Ralph's first interview with Gregory. He had given his brother notice of his engagement by letter as soon as he had been accepted, feeling that any annoyance coming to him, might be lessoned in that way. Unfortunately he had spoken to his brother in what he now felt to have been exaggerated terms of his passion for Mary Bonner, and he himself was aware that that malady had been quickly cured. "I suppose the news startled you?" he had said, with a forced laugh, as soon as he met his brother.
"Well;—yes, a little. I did not know that you were so intimate with them."
"The truth is, I had thought a deal about the matter, and I had come to see how essential it was for the interests of us all that I should marry into our own set. The moment I saw Augusta I felt that she was exactly the girl to make me happy. She is very handsome. Don't you think so?"
"And then she has just the style which, after all, does go so far. There's nothing dowdy about her. A dowdy woman would have killed me. She attracted me from the first moment; and, by Jove, old fellow, I can assure you it was mutual. I am the happiest fellow alive, and I don't think there is anything I envy anybody." In all this Ralph believed that he was speaking the simple truth.
"I hope you'll be happy, with all my heart," said Gregory.
"I am sure I shall;—and so will you if you will ask that little puss once again. I believe in my heart she loves you." Gregory, though he had been informed of his brother's passion for Mary, had never been told of that other passion for Clarissa; and Ralph could therefore speak of ground for hope in that direction without uncomfortable twinges.
There did occur during this fortnight one or two little matters, just sufficiently laden with care to ruffle the rose-leaves of our hero's couch. Lady Eardham thought that both the dining-room and drawing-room should be re-furnished, that a bow-window should be thrown out to the breakfast-parlour, and that a raised conservatory should be constructed into which Augusta's own morning sitting-room up-stairs might be made to open. Ralph gave way about the furniture with a good grace, but he thought that the bow-window would disfigure the house, and suggested that the raised conservatory would cost money. Augusta thought the bow-window was the very thing for the house, and Lady Eardham knew as a fact that a similar conservatory,—the sweetest thing in the world,—which she had seen at Lord Rosebud's had cost almost absolutely nothing. And if anything was well-known in gardening it was this, that the erection of such conservatories was a positive saving in garden expenses. The men worked under cover during the rainy days, and the hot-water served for domestic as well as horticultural purposes. There was some debate and a little heat, and the matter was at last referred to Sir George. He voted against Ralph on both points, and the orders were given.
Then there was the more important question of the settlements. Of course there were to be settlements, in the arrangement of which Ralph was to give everything and to get nothing. With high-handed magnanimity he had declared that he wanted no money, and therefore the trifle which would have been adjudged to be due to Gus was retained to help her as yet less fortunate sisters. In truth Marmaduke at this time was so expensive that Sir George was obliged to be a little hard. Why, however, he should have demanded out of such a property as that of Newton a jointure of L4,000 a year, with a house to be found either in town or country as the widow might desire, on behalf of a penniless girl, no one acting in the Newton interest could understand, unless Sir George might have thought that the sum to be ultimately obtained might depend in some degree on that demanded. Had he known Mr. Carey he would probably not have subjected himself to the rebuke which he received.
Ralph, when the sum was first named to him by Sir George's lawyer, who came down purposely to Newton, looked very blank, and said that he had not anticipated any arrangement so destructive to the property. The lawyer pointed out that there was unfortunately no dowager's house provided; that the property would not be destroyed as the dower would only be an annuity; that ladies now were more liberally treated in this matter than formerly;—and that the suggestion was quite the usual thing. "You don't suppose I mean my daughter to be starved?" said Sir George, upon whom gout was then coming. Ralph plucked up spirit and answered him. "Nor do I intend that your daughter, sir, should be starved." "Dear Ralph, do be liberal to the dear girl," said Lady Eardham afterwards, caressing our hero in the solitude of her bed-room. Mr. Carey, however, arranged the whole matter very quickly. The dower must be L2,000, out of which the widow must find her own house. Sir George must be well aware, said Mr. Carey, that the demand made was preposterous. Sir George said one or two very nasty things; but the dower as fixed by Mr. Carey was accepted, and then everything smiled again.
When the Eardhams were leaving Newton the parting between Augusta and her lover was quite pretty. "Dear Gus," he said, "when next I am here, you will be my own, own wife," and he kissed her. "Dear Ralph," she said, "when next I am here, you will be my own, own husband," and kissed him; "but we have Como, and Florence, and Rome, and Naples to do before that;—and won't that be nice?"
"It will be very nice to be anywhere with you," said the lover.
"And mind you have your coat made just as I told you," said Augusta. So they parted.
Early in September they were married with great eclat at Brayboro', and Lady Eardham spared nothing on the occasion. It was her first maternal triumph, and all the country round was made to know of her success. The Newtons had been at Newton for—she did not know how many hundred years. In her zeal she declared that the estate had been in the same hands from long before the Conquest. "There's no title," she said to her intimate friend, Lady Wiggham, "but there's that which is better than a title. We're mushrooms to the Newtons, you know. We only came into Berkshire in the reign of Henry VIII." As the Wigghams had only come into Buckinghamshire in the reign of George IV., Lady Wiggham, had she known the facts, would probably have reminded her dear friend that the Eardhams had in truth first been heard of in those parts in the time of Queen Anne,—the original Eardham having made his money in following Marlborough's army. But Lady Wiggham had not studied the history of the county gentry. The wedding went off very well, and the bride and bridegroom were bowled away to the nearest station with four grey post-horses from Reading in a manner that was truly delightful to Lady Eardham's motherly feelings.
And with the same grey horses shall the happy bride and bridegroom be bowled out of our sight also. The writer of this story feels that some apology is due to his readers for having endeavoured to entertain them so long with the adventures of one of whom it certainly cannot be said that he was fit to be delineated as a hero. It is thought by many critics that in the pictures of imaginary life which novelists produce for the amusement, and possibly for the instruction of their readers, none should be put upon the canvas but the very good, who by their noble thoughts and deeds may lead others to nobility, or the very bad, who by their declared wickedness will make iniquity hideous. How can it be worth one's while, such critics will say,—the writer here speaks of all critical readers, and not of professional critics,—how can it be worth our while to waste our imaginations, our sympathies, and our time upon such a one as Ralph, the heir of the Newton property? The writer, acknowledging the force of these objections, and confessing that his young heroes of romance are but seldom heroic, makes his apology as follows.
The reader of a novel,—who has doubtless taken the volume up simply for amusement, and who would probably lay it down did he suspect that instruction, like a snake in the grass, like physic beneath the sugar, was to be imposed upon him,—requires from his author chiefly this, that he shall be amused by a narrative in which elevated sentiment prevails, and gratified by being made to feel that the elevated sentiments described are exactly his own. When the heroine is nobly true to her lover, to her friend, or to her duty, through all persecution, the girl who reads declares to herself that she also would have been a Jeannie Deans had Fate and Fortune given her an Effie as a sister. The bald-headed old lawyer,—for bald-headed old lawyers do read novels,—who interests himself in the high-minded, self-devoting chivalry of a Colonel Newcombe, believes he would have acted as did the Colonel had he been so tried. What youth in his imagination cannot be as brave, and as loving, though as hopeless in his love, as Harry Esmond? Alas, no one will wish to be as was Ralph Newton! But for one Harry Esmond, there are fifty Ralph Newtons,—five hundred and fifty of them; and the very youth whose bosom glows with admiration as he reads of Harry,—who exults in the idea that as Harry did, so would he have done,—lives as Ralph lived, is less noble, less persistent, less of a man even than was Ralph Newton.
It is the test of a novel writer's art that he conceals his snake-in-the-grass; but the reader may be sure that it is always there. No man or woman with a conscience,—no man or woman with intellect sufficient to produce amusement, can go on from year to year spinning stories without the desire of teaching; with no ambition of influencing readers for their good. Gentle readers, the physic is always beneath the sugar, hidden or unhidden. In writing novels we novelists preach to you from our pulpits, and are keenly anxious that our sermons shall not be inefficacious. Inefficacious they are not, unless they be too badly preached to obtain attention. Injurious they will be unless the lessons taught be good lessons.
What a world this would be if every man were a Harry Esmond, or every woman a Jeannie Deans! But then again, what a world if every woman were a Beckie Sharp and every man a Varney or a Barry Lyndon! Of Varneys and Harry Esmonds there are very few. Human nature, such as it is, does not often produce them. The portraits of such virtues and such vices serve no doubt to emulate and to deter. But are no other portraits necessary? Should we not be taught to see the men and women among whom we really live,—men and women such as we are ourselves,—in order that we should know what are the exact failings which oppress ourselves, and thus learn to hate, and if possible to avoid in life the faults of character which in life are hardly visible, but which in portraiture of life can be made to be so transparent.
Ralph Newton did nothing, gentle reader, which would have caused thee greatly to grieve for him, nothing certainly which would have caused thee to repudiate him, had he been thy brother. And gentlest, sweetest reader, had he come to thee as thy lover, with sufficient protest of love, and with all his history written in his hand, would that have caused thee to reject his suit? Had he been thy neighbour, thou well-to-do reader, with a house in the country, would he not have been welcome to thy table? Wouldst thou have avoided him at his club, thou reader from the West-end? Has he not settled himself respectably, thou grey-haired, novel-reading paterfamilias, thou materfamilias, with daughters of thine own to be married? In life would he have been held to have disgraced himself,—except in the very moment in which he seemed to be in danger? Nevertheless, the faults of a Ralph Newton, and not the vices of a Varney or a Barry Lyndon are the evils against which men should in these days be taught to guard themselves;—which women also should be made to hate. Such is the writer's apology for his very indifferent hero, Ralph the Heir.
In the following October, while Newton of Newton and his bride were making themselves happy amidst the glories of Florence, she with her finery from Paris, and he with a newly-acquired taste for Michael Angelo and the fine arts generally, Gregory the parson again went up to London. He had, of course, "assisted" at his brother's marriage,—in which the heavy burden of the ceremony was imposed on the shoulders of a venerable dean, who was related to Lady Eardham,—and had since that time been all alone at his parsonage. Occasionally he had heard of the Underwoods from Ralph Newton of Beamingham, whose wedding had been postponed till Beamingham Hall had been made fit for its mistress; and from what he had heard Gregory was induced,—hardly to hope,—but to dream it to be possible that even yet he might prevail in love. An idea had grown upon him, springing from various sources, that Clarissa had not been indifferent to his brother, and that this feeling on her part had marred, and must continue to mar, his own happiness. He never believed that there had been fault on his brother's part; but still, if Clarissa had been so wounded,—he could hardly hope,—and perhaps should not even wish,—that she would consent to share with him his parsonage in the close neighbourhood of his brother's house. During all that September he told himself that the thing should be over, and he began to teach himself,—to try to teach himself,—that celibacy was the state in which a clergyman might best live and do his duty. But the lesson had not gone far with him before he shook himself, and determined that he would try yet once again. If there had been such a wound, why should not the wound be cured? Clarissa was at any rate true. She would not falsely promise him a heart, when it was beyond her power to give it. In October, therefore, he went again up to London.
The cases for packing the books had not even yet been made, and Sir Thomas was found in Southampton Buildings. The first words had, of course, reference to the absent Squire. The squire of one's parish, the head of one's family, and one's elder brother, when the three are united in the same personage, will become important to one, even though the personage himself be not heroic. Ralph had written home twice, and everything was prospering with him. Sir Thomas, who had become tired of his late ward, and who had thought worse of the Eardham marriage than the thing deserved, was indifferent to the joys of the Italian honeymoon. "They'll do very well, no doubt," said Sir Thomas. "I was delighted to learn that Augusta bore her journey so well," said Gregory. "Augustas always do bear their journeys well," said Sir Thomas; "though sometimes, I fancy, they find the days a little too long."
But his tone was very different when Gregory asked his leave to make one more attempt at Popham Villa. "I only hope you may succeed,—for her sake, as well as for your own," said Sir Thomas. But when he was asked as to the parson's chance of success, he declared that he could say nothing. "She is changed, I think, from what she used to be,—is more thoughtful, perhaps, and less giddy. It may be that such change will turn her towards you." "I would not have her changed in anything," said Gregory,—"except in her feelings towards myself."
He had been there twice or thrice before he found what he thought to be an opportunity fit for the work that he had on hand. And yet both Patience and Mary did for him and for her all that they knew how to do. But in such a matter it is so hard to act without seeming to act! She who can manoeuvre on such a field without displaying her manoeuvres is indeed a general! No man need ever attempt the execution of a task so delicate. Mary and Patience put their heads together, and resolved that they would say nothing. Nor did they manifestly take steps to leave the two alone together. It was a question with them, especially with Patience, whether the lover had not come too soon.
But Clarissa at last attacked her sister. "Patience," she said, "why do you not speak to me?"
"Not speak to you, Clary?"
"Not a word,—about that which is always on my mind. You have not mentioned Ralph Newton's name once since his marriage."
"I have thought it better not to mention it. Why should I mention it?"
"If you think that it would pain me, you are mistaken. It pains me more that you should think that I could not bear it. He was welcome to his wife."
"I know you wish him well, Clary."
"Well! Oh, yes, I wish him well. No doubt he will be happy with her. She is fit for him, and I was not. He did quite right."
"He is not half so good as his brother," said Patience.
"Certainly he is not so good as his brother. Men, of course, will be different. But it is not always the best man that one likes the best. It ought to be so, perhaps."
"I know which I like the best," said Patience. "Oh, Clary, if you could but bring yourself to love him."
"How is one to change like that? And I do not know that he cares for me now."
"Ah;—I think he cares for you."
"Why should he? Is a man to be sacrificed for always because a girl will not take him? His heart is changed. He takes care to show me so when he comes here. I am glad that it should be changed. Dear Patty, if papa would but come and live at home, I should want nothing else."
"I want something else," said Patience.
"I want nothing but that you should love me;—and that papa should be with us. But, Patty, do not make me feel that you are afraid to speak to me."
On the day following Gregory was again at Fulham, and he had come thither fully determined that he would now for the last time ask that question, on the answer to which, as it now seemed to him, all his future happiness must depend. He had told himself that he would shake off this too human longing for a sweet face to be ever present with him at his board, for a sweet heart to cherish him with its love, for a dear head to lie upon his bosom. But he had owned to himself that it could not be shaken off, and having so owned, was more sick than ever with desire. Mary and Clarissa were both out when he arrived, and he was closeted for a while with Patience. "How tired you must be of seeing me," he said.
"Tired of seeing you? Oh no!"
"I feel myself to be going about like a phantom, and I am ashamed of myself. My brother is successful and happy, and has all that he desires."
"He is easily satisfied," said Patience, with something of sarcasm in her voice.
"And my cousin Ralph is happy and triumphant. I ought not to pine, but in truth I am so weak that I am always pining. Tell me at once,—is there a chance for me?"
Did it occur to him to think that she to whom he was speaking, ever asked herself why it was not given to her to have even a hope of that joy for which he was craving? Did she ever pine because, when others were mating round her, flying off in pairs to their warm mutual nests, there came to her no such question of mating and flying off to love and happiness? If there was such pining, it was all inward, hidden from her friends so that their mirth should not be lessened by her want of mirth, not expressed either by her eye or mouth because she knew that on the expression of her face depended somewhat of the comfort of those who loved her. A homely brow, and plain features, and locks of hair that have not been combed by Love's attendant nymphs into soft and winning tresses, seems to tell us that Love is not wanted by the bosom that owns them. We teach ourselves to regard such a one, let her be ever so good, with ever so sweet temper, ever so generous in heart, ever so affectionate among her friends, as separated alike from the perils and the privileges of that passion without which they who are blessed or banned with beauty would regard life but as a charred and mutilated existence. It is as though we should believe that passion springs from the rind, which is fair or foul to the eye, and not in the heart, which is often fairest, freshest, and most free, when the skin is dark and the cheeks are rough. This young parson expected Patience to sympathise with him, to greet for him, to aid him if there might be aid, and to understand that for him the world would be blank and wretched unless he could get for himself a soft sweet mate to sing when he sang, and to wail when he wailed. The only mate that Patience had was this very girl that was to be thus taken from her. But she did sympathise with him, did greet for him, did give him all her aid. Knowing what she was herself and how God had formed her, she had learned to bury self absolutely and to take all her earthly joy from the joys of others. Shall it not come to pass that, hereafter, she too shall have a lover among the cherubim? "What can I say to you?" replied Patience to the young man's earnest entreaty. "If she were mine to give, I would give her to you instantly."
"Then you think there is no chance. If I thought that, why should I trouble her again?"
"I do not say so. Do you not know, Mr. Newton, that in such matters even sisters can hardly tell their thoughts to each other? How can they when they do not even know their own wishes?"
"She does not hate me then?"
"Hate you! no;—she does not hate you. But there are so many degrees between hating and that kind of love which you want from her! You may be sure of this, that she so esteems you that your persistence cannot lessen you in her regard."
He was still pleading his case with the elder sister,—very uselessly indeed, as he was aware; but having fallen on the subject of his love it was impossible for him to change it for any other,—when Clarissa came into the room swinging her hat in her hand. She had been over at Miss Spooner's house and was full of Miss Spooner's woes and complaints. As soon as she had shaken hands with her lover and spoken the few words of courtesy which the meeting demanded of her, she threw herself into the affairs of Miss Spooner as though they were of vital interest. "She is determined to be unhappy, Patty, and it is no use trying to make her not so. She says that Jane robs her, which I don't believe is true, and that Sarah has a lover,—and why shouldn't Sarah have a lover? But as for curing her grievances, it would be the cruellest thing in the world. She lives upon her grievances. Something has happened to the chimney-pot, and the landlord hasn't sent a mason. She is revelling in her chimney-pot."
"Poor dear Miss Spooner," said Patience, getting up and leaving the room as though it were her duty to look at once after her old friend in the midst of these troubles.
Clarissa had not intended this. "She's asleep now," said Clarissa. But Patience went all the same. It might be that Miss Spooner would require to be watched in her slumbers. When Patience was gone Gregory Newton got up from his seat and walked to the window. He stood there for what seemed to be an endless number of seconds before he returned, and Clarissa had time to determine that she would escape. "I told Mary that I would go to her," she said, "you won't mind being left alone for a few minutes, Mr. Newton."
"Do not go just now, Clarissa."
"Only that I said I would," she answered, pleading that she must keep a promise which she had never made.
"Mary can spare you,—and I cannot. Mary is staying with you, and I shall be gone,—almost immediately. I go back to Newton to-morrow, and who can say when I shall see you again?"
"You will be coming up to London, of course."
"I am here now at any rate," he said smiling, "and will take what advantage of it I can. It is the old story, Clarissa;—so old that I know you must be sick of it."
"If you think so, you should not tell it again."
"Do not be ill-natured to me. I don't know why it is but a man gets to be ashamed of himself, as though he were doing something mean and paltry, when he loves with persistence, as I do." Had it been possible that she should give him so much encouragement she would have told him that the mean man, and paltry, was he who could love or pretend to love with no capacity for persistency. She could not fail to draw a comparison between him and his brother, in which there was so much of meanness on the part of him who had at one time been as a god to her, and so much nobility in him to whom she was and ever had been as a goddess. "I suppose a man should take an answer and have done with it," he continued. "But how is a man to have done with it, when his heart remains the same?"
"A man should master his heart."
"I am, then, to understand that that which you have said so often before must be said again?" He had never knelt to her, and he did not kneel now; but he leaned over her so that she hardly knew whether he was on his knees or still seated on his chair. And she herself, though she answered him briskly,—almost with impertinence,—was so little mistress of herself that she knew not what she said. She would take him now,—if only she knew how to take him without disgracing herself in her own estimation. "Dear Clary, think of it. Try to love me. I need not tell you again how true is my love for you." He had hold of her hand, and she did not withdraw it, and he ought to have known that the battle was won. But he knew nothing. He hardly knew that her hand was in his. "Clary, you are all the world to me. Must I go back heart-laden, but empty-handed, with no comfort?"
"If you knew all!" she said, rising suddenly from her chair.
"If you knew all, you would not take me though I offered myself." He stood staring at her, not at all comprehending her words, and she perceived in the midst of her distress that it was needful that she should explain herself. "I have loved Ralph always;—yes, your brother."
"I will not accuse him in anything. He is married now, and it is past."
"And you can never love again?"
"Who would take such a heart as that? It would not be worth the giving or worth the taking. Oh—how I loved him!" Then he left her side, and went back to the window, while she sank back upon her chair, and, burying her face in her hands, gave way to tears and sobs. He stood there perhaps for a minute, and then returning to her, so gently that she did not hear him, he did kneel at her side. He knelt, and putting his hand upon her arm, he kissed the sleeve of her gown. "You had better go from me now," she said, amidst her sobs.
"I will never go from you again," he answered. "God's mercy can cure also that wound, and I will be his minister in healing it. Clarissa, I am so glad that you have told me all. Looking back I can understand it now. I once thought that it was so."
"Yes," she said, "yes; it was so."
Gradually one hand of hers fell into his, and though no word of acceptance had been spoken he knew that he was at last accepted. "My own Clary," he said. "I may call you my own?" There was no answer, but he knew that it was so. "Nothing shall be done to trouble you;—nothing shall be said to press you. You may be sure of this, if it be good to be loved,—that no woman was ever loved more tenderly than you are."
"I do know it," she said, through her tears.
Then he rose and stood again at the window, looking out upon the lawn and the river. She was still weeping, but he hardly heeded her tears. It was better for her that she should weep than restrain them. And, as to himself and his own feelings,—he tried to question himself, whether, in truth, was he less happy in this great possession, which he had at last gained, because his brother had for a while interfered with him in gaining it? That she would be as true to him now, as tender and as loving, as though Ralph had never crossed her path, he did not for a moment doubt. That she would be less sweet to him because her sweetness had been offered to another he would not admit to himself,—even though the question were asked. She would be all his own, and was she not the one thing in the world which he coveted? He did think that for such a one as his Clarissa he would be a better mate than would have been his brother, and he was sure that she herself would learn to know that it was so. He stood there long enough to resolve that this which had been told him should be no drawback upon his bliss. "Clary," he said, returning to her, "it is settled?" She made him no answer. "My darling, I am as happy now as though Ralph had never seen your sweet face, or heard your dear voice. Look up at me once." Slowly she looked up into his eyes, and then stood before him almost as a suppliant, and gave him her face to be kissed. So at last they became engaged as man and wife;—though it may be doubted whether she spoke another word before he left the room.
It was, however, quite understood that they were engaged; and, though he did not see Clarissa again, he received the congratulations both of Patience and Mary Bonner before he left the house; and that very night succeeded in hunting down Sir Thomas, so that he might tell the father that the daughter had at last consented to become his wife.
Clarissa had found it hard to change the object of her love, so hard, that for a time she had been unwilling even to make the effort;—and she had been ashamed that those around her should think that she would make it; but when the thing was done, her second hero was dearer to her than ever had been the first. He at least was true. With him there was no need of doubt. His assurances were not conveyed in words so light that they might mean much or little. This second lover was a lover, indeed, who thought no pains too great to show her that she was ever growing in his heart of hearts. For a while,—for a week or two,—she restrained her tongue; but when once she had accustomed herself to the coaxing kindness of her sister and her cousin, then her eloquence was loosened, and Gregory Newton was a god indeed. In the course of time she got a very pretty note from Ralph, congratulating her, as he also had congratulated Polly, and expressing a fear that he might not be home in time to be present at the wedding. Augusta was so fond of Rome that they did not mean to leave it till the late spring. Then, after a while, there came to her, also, a watch and chain, twice as costly as those given to Polly,—which, however, no persuasion from Gregory would ever induce Clarissa to wear. In after time Ralph never noticed that the trinkets were not worn.
The winter at Popham Villa went on very much as other winters had gone, except that two of the girls living there were full of future hopes, and preparing for future cares, while the third occupied her heart and mind with the cares and hopes of the other two. Patience, however, had one other task in hand, a task upon the performance of which her future happiness much depended, and in respect to which she now ventured to hope for success. Wherever her future home might be, it would be terrible to her if her father would not consent to occupy it with her. It had been settled that both the marriages should take place early in April,—both on the same day, and, as a matter of course, the weddings would be celebrated at Fulham. Christmas had come and gone, and winter was going, before Sir Thomas had absolutely promised to renew that order for the making of the packing-cases for his books. "You won't go back, papa, after they are married," Patience said to her father, early in March.
"If I do it shall not be for long."
"Not for a day, papa! Surely you will not leave me alone? There will be plenty of room now. The air of Fulham will be better for your work than those stuffy, dark, dingy lawyers' chambers."
"My dear, all the work of my life that was worth doing was done in those stuffy, dingy rooms." That was all that Sir Thomas said, but the accusation conveyed to him by his daughter's words was very heavy. For years past he had sat intending to work, purposing to achieve a great task which he set for himself, and had done—almost nothing. Might it be yet possible that that purer air of which Patty spoke should produce new energy, and lead to better results? The promise of it did at least produce new resolutions. It was impossible, as Patience had said, that his child should be left to dwell alone, while yet she had a father living.
"Stemm," he said, "I told you to get some packing-cases made."
"Packing-cases, Sir Thomas?"
"Yes;—packing-cases for the books. It was months ago. Are they ready?"
"No, Sir Thomas. They ain't ready."
"Well, Sir Thomas;—they ain't; that's all." Then the order was repeated in a manner so formal, as to make Stemm understand that it was intended for a fact. "You are going away from this; are you, Sir Thomas?"
"I believe that I shall give the chambers up altogether at midsummer. At any rate, I mean to have the books packed at once."
"Very well, Sir Thomas." Then there was a pause, during which Stemm did not leave the room. Nor did Sir Thomas dismiss him, feeling that there might well be other things which would require discussion. "And about me, Sir Thomas?" said Stemm.
"I have been thinking about that, Stemm."
"So have I, Sir Thomas,—more nor once."
"You can come to Fulham if you like,—only you must not scold the maids."
"Very well, Sir Thomas," said Stemm, with hardly any variation in his voice, but still with less of care upon his brow.
"Mind, I will not have you scolding them at the villa."
"Not unless they deserve it, Sir Thomas," said Stemm. Sir Thomas could say nothing further. For our own part we fear that the maidens at the villa will not be the better in conduct, as they certainly will not be more comfortable in their lives, in consequence of this change.
And the books were moved in large packing-cases, not one of which had yet been opened when the two brides returned to Popham Villa after their wedding tours, to see Patience just for a day before they were taken to their new homes. Nevertheless, let us hope that the change of air and of scene may tend to future diligence, and that the magnus opus may yet be achieved. We have heard of editions of Aristophanes, of Polybius, of the Iliad, of Ovid, and what not, which have ever been forthcoming under the hands of notable scholars, who have grown grey amidst the renewed promises which have been given. And some of these works have come forth, belying the prophecies of incredulous friends. Let us hope that the great Life of Bacon may yet be written.
* * * * * *
Trollope was sometimes inconsistent with names of people or places. In the early pages of this novel the name of Mr. Neefit's home was Alexandrina Cottage. In the middle of the book it became Alexandria Cottage, and in later pages it was Alexandra Cottage. The names have been transcribed as they were in the original.