E-text prepared by Kenneth David Cooper and revised by Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.
THE DUKE'S CHILDREN
First published in serial form in All the Year Round in 1879 and 1880 and in book form in 1880
I. When the Duchess Was Dead II. Lady Mary Palliser III. Francis Oliphant Tregear IV. Park Lane V. "It Is Impossible" VI. Major Tifto VII. Conservative Convictions VIII. "He Is a Gentleman" IX. "In Medias Res" X. "Why Not Like Romeo If I Feel Like Romeo?" XI. "Cruel" XII. At Richmond XIII. The Duke's Injustice XIV. The New Member for Silverbridge XV. The Duke Receives a Letter,—and Writes One XVI. "Poor Boy" XVII. The Derby XVIII. One of the Results of the Derby XIX. "No; My Lord, I Do Not" XX. "Then He Will Come Again" XXI. Sir Timothy Beeswax XXII. The Duke in His Study XXIII. Frank Tregear Wants a Friend XXIV. "She Must Be Made to Obey" XXV. A Family Breakfast-Table XXVI. Dinner at the Beargarden XXVII. Major Tifto and the Duke XXVIII. Mrs. Montacute Jones's Garden-Party XXIX. The Lovers Meet XXX. What Came of the Meeting XXXI. Miss Boncassen's River-Party. No. 1 XXXII. Miss Boncassen's River-Party. No. 2 XXXIII. The Langham Hotel XXXIV. Lord Popplecourt XXXV. "Don't You Think—?" XXXVI. Tally-Ho Lodge XXXVII. Grex XXXVIII. Crummie-Toddie XXXIX. Killancodlem XL. "And Then!" XLI. Ischl XLII. Again at Killancodlem XLIII. What Happened at Doncaster XLIV. How It Was Done XLV. "There Shall Not Be Another Word About It" XLVI. Lady Mary's Dream XLVII. Miss Boncassen's Idea of Heaven XLVIII. The Party at Custins Is Broken Up XLIX. The Major's Fate L. The Duke's Arguments LI. The Duke's Guests LII. Miss Boncassen Tells the Truth LIII. "Then I Am As Proud As a Queen" LIV. "I Don't Think She Is a Snake" LV. Polpenno LVI. The News Is Sent to Matching LVII. The Meeting at "The Bobtailed Fox" LVIII. The Major Is Deposed LIX. No One Can Tell What May Come to Pass LX. Lord Gerald in Further Trouble LXI. "Bone of My Bone" LXII. The Brake Country LXIII. "I've Seen 'Em Like That Before" LXIV. "I Believe Him to Be a Worthy Young Man" LXV. "Do You Ever Think What Money Is?" LXVI. The Three Attacks LXVII. "He Is Such a Beast" LXVIII. Brook Street LXIX. "Pert Poppet!" LXX. "Love May Be a Great Misfortune" LXXI. "What Am I to Say, Sir?" LXXII. Carlton Terrace LXXIII. "I Have Never Loved You" LXXIV. "Let Us Drink a Glass of Wine Together" LXXV. The Major's Story LXXVI. On Deportment LXXVII. "Mabel, Good-Bye" LXXVIII. The Duke Returns to Office LXXIX. The First Wedding LXXX. The Second Wedding
When the Duchess Was Dead
No one, probably, ever felt himself to be more alone in the world than our old friend, the Duke of Omnium, when the Duchess died. When this sad event happened he had ceased to be Prime Minister. During the first nine months after he had left office he and the Duchess remained in England. Then they had gone abroad, taking with them their three children. The eldest, Lord Silverbridge, had been at Oxford, but had had his career there cut short by some more than ordinary youthful folly, which had induced his father to agree with the college authorities that his name had better be taken off the college books,—all which had been cause of very great sorrow to the Duke. The other boy was to go to Cambridge; but his father had thought it well to give him a twelvemonth's run on the Continent, under his own inspection. Lady Mary, the only daughter, was the youngest of the family, and she also had been with them on the Continent. They remained the full year abroad, travelling with a large accompaniment of tutors, lady's-maids, couriers, and sometimes friends. I do not know that the Duchess or the Duke had enjoyed it much; but the young people had seen something of foreign courts and much of foreign scenery, and had perhaps perfected their French. The Duke had gone to work at his travels with a full determination to create for himself occupation out of a new kind of life. He had studied Dante, and had striven to arouse himself to ecstatic joy amidst the loveliness of the Italian lakes. But through it all he had been aware that he had failed. The Duchess had made no such resolution,—had hardly, perhaps, made any attempt; but, in truth, they had both sighed to be back among the war-trumpets. They had both suffered much among the trumpets, and yet they longed to return. He told himself from day to day, that though he had been banished from the House of Commons, still, as a peer, he had a seat in Parliament, and that, though he was no longer a minister, still he might be useful as a legislator. She, in her career as a leader of fashion, had no doubt met with some trouble,—with some trouble but with no disgrace; and as she had been carried about among the lakes and mountains, among the pictures and statues, among the counts and countesses, she had often felt that there was no happiness except in that dominion which circumstances had enabled her to achieve once, and might enable her to achieve again—in the realms of London society.
Then, in the early spring of 187—, they came back to England, having persistently carried out their project, at any rate in regard to time. Lord Gerald, the younger son, was at once sent up to Trinity. For the eldest son a seat was to be found in the House of Commons, and the fact that a dissolution of Parliament was expected served to prevent any prolonged sojourn abroad. Lady Mary Palliser was at that time nineteen, and her entrance into the world was to be her mother's great care and great delight. In March they spent a few days in London, and then went down to Matching Priory. When she left town the Duchess was complaining of cold, sore throat, and debility. A week after their arrival at Matching she was dead.
Had the heavens fallen and mixed themselves with the earth, had the people of London risen in rebellion with French ideas of equality, had the Queen persistently declined to comply with the constitutional advice of her ministers, had a majority in the House of Commons lost its influence in the country,—the utter prostration of the bereft husband could not have been more complete. It was not only that his heart was torn to pieces, but that he did not know how to look out into the world. It was as though a man should be suddenly called upon to live without hands or even arms. He was helpless, and knew himself to be helpless. Hitherto he had never specially acknowledged to himself that his wife was necessary to him as a component part of his life. Though he had loved her dearly, and had in all things consulted her welfare and happiness, he had at times been inclined to think that in the exuberance of her spirits she had been a trouble rather than a support to him. But now it was as though all outside appliances were taken away from him. There was no one of whom he could ask a question.
For it may be said of this man that, though throughout his life he had had many Honourable and Right Honourable friends, and that though he had entertained guests by the score, and though he had achieved for himself the respect of all good men and the thorough admiration of some few who knew him, he had hardly made for himself a single intimate friend—except that one who had now passed away from him. To her he had been able to say what he thought, even though she would occasionally ridicule him while he was declaring his feelings. But there had been no other human soul to whom he could open himself. There were one or two whom he loved, and perhaps liked; but his loving and his liking had been exclusively political. He had so habituated himself to devote his mind and his heart to the service of his country, that he had almost risen above or sunk below humanity. But she, who had been essentially human, had been a link between him and the world.
There were his three children, the youngest of whom was now nearly nineteen, and they surely were links! At the first moment of his bereavement they were felt to be hardly more than burdens. A more loving father there was not in England, but nature had made him so undemonstrative that as yet they had hardly known his love. In all their joys and in all their troubles, in all their desires and all their disappointments, they had ever gone to their mother. She had been conversant with everything about them, from the boys' bills and the girl's gloves to the innermost turn in the heart and the disposition of each. She had known with the utmost accuracy the nature of the scrapes into which Lord Silverbridge had precipitated himself, and had known also how probable it was that Lord Gerald would do the same. The results of such scrapes she, of course, deplored; and therefore she would give good counsel, pointing out how imperative it was that such evil-doings should be avoided; but with the spirit that produced the scrapes she fully sympathised. The father disliked the spirit almost worse than the results; and was therefore often irritated and unhappy.
And the difficulties about the girl were almost worse to bear than those about the boys. She had done nothing wrong. She had given no signs of extravagance or other juvenile misconduct. But she was beautiful and young. How was he to bring her out into the world? How was he to decide whom she should or whom she should not marry? How was he to guide her through the shoals and rocks which lay in the path of such a girl before she can achieve matrimony?
It was the fate of the family that, with a world of acquaintance, they had not many friends. From all close connection with relatives on the side of the Duchess they had been dissevered by old feelings at first, and afterwards by want of any similitude in the habits of life. She had, when young, been repressed by male and female guardians with an iron hand. Such repression had been needed, and had been perhaps salutary, but it had not left behind it much affection. And then her nearest relatives were not sympathetic with the Duke. He could obtain no assistance in the care of his girl from that source. Nor could he even do it from his own cousins' wives, who were his nearest connections on the side of the Pallisers. They were women to whom he had ever been kind, but to whom he had never opened his heart. When, in the midst of the stunning sorrow of the first week, he tried to think of all this, it seemed to him that there was nobody.
There had been one lady, a very dear ally, staying in the house with them when the Duchess died. This was Mrs. Finn, the wife of Phineas Finn, who had been one of the Duke's colleagues when in office. How it had come to pass that Mrs. Finn and the Duchess had become singularly bound together has been told elsewhere. But there had been close bonds,—so close that when the Duchess on their return from the Continent had passed through London on her way to Matching, ill at the time and very comfortless, it had been almost a thing of course, that Mrs. Finn should go with her. And as she had sunk, and then despaired, and then died, it was this woman who had always been at her side, who had ministered to her, and had listened to the fears and the wishes and hopes she had expressed respecting the children.
At Matching, amidst the ruins of the old Priory, there is a parish burying-ground, and there, in accordance with her own wish, almost within sight of her own bedroom-window, she was buried. On the day of the funeral a dozen relatives came, Pallisers and M'Closkies, who on such an occasion were bound to show themselves, as members of the family. With them and his two sons the Duke walked across to the graveyard, and then walked back; but even to those who stayed the night at the house he hardly spoke. By noon on the following day they had all left him, and the only stranger in the house was Mrs. Finn.
On the afternoon of the day after the funeral the Duke and his guest met, almost for the first time since the sad event. There had been just a pressure of the hand, just a glance of compassion, just some murmur of deep sorrow,—but there had been no real speech between them. Now he had sent for her, and she went down to him in the room in which he commonly sat at work. He was seated at his table when she entered, but there was no book open before him, and no pen ready to his hand. He was dressed of course in black. That, indeed, was usual with him, but now the tailor by his funereal art had added some deeper dye of blackness to his appearance. When he rose and turned to her she thought that he had at once become an old man. His hair was grey in parts, and he had never accustomed himself to use that skill in managing his outside person by which many men are able to preserve for themselves a look, if not of youth, at any rate of freshness. He was thin, of an adust complexion, and had acquired a habit of stooping which, when he was not excited, gave him an appearance of age. All that was common to him; but now it was so much exaggerated that he who was not yet fifty might have been taken to be over sixty.
He put out his hand to greet her as she came up to him. "Silverbridge," he said, "tells me that you go back to London to-morrow."
"I thought it would be best, Duke. My presence here can be of no comfort to you."
"I will not say that anything can be of comfort. But of course it is right that you should go. I can have no excuse for asking you to remain. While there was yet a hope for her—" Then he stopped, unable to say a word further in that direction, and yet there was no sign of a tear and no sound of a sob.
"Of course I would stay, Duke, if I could be of any service."
"Mr. Finn will expect you to return to him."
"Perhaps it would be better that I should say that I would stay were it not that I know that I can be of no real service."
"What do you mean by that, Mrs. Finn?"
"Lady Mary should have with her at such a time some other friend."
"There was none other whom her mother loved as she loved you—none, none." This he said almost with energy.
"There was no one lately, Duke, with whom circumstances caused her mother to be so closely intimate. But even that perhaps was unfortunate."
"I never thought so."
"That is a great compliment. But as to Lady Mary, will it not be as well that she should have with her, as soon as possible, someone,—perhaps someone of her own kindred if it be possible, or, if not that, at least one of her own kind?"
"Who is there? Whom do you mean?"
"I mean no one. It is hard, Duke, to say what I do mean, but perhaps I had better try. There will be,—probably there have been,—some among your friends who have regretted the great intimacy which chance produced between me and my lost friend. While she was with us no such feeling would have sufficed to drive me from her. She had chosen for herself, and if others disapproved her choice that was nothing to me. But as regards Lady Mary, it will be better, I think, that from the beginning she should be taught to look for friendship and guidance to those—to those who are more naturally connected with her."
"I was not thinking of any guidance," said the Duke.
"Of course not. But with one so young, where there is intimacy there will be guidance. There should be somebody with her. It was almost the last thought that occupied her mother's mind. I could not tell her, Duke, but I can tell you, that I cannot with advantage to your girl be that somebody."
"Cora wished it."
"Her wishes, probably, were sudden and hardly fixed."
"Who should it be, then?" asked the father, after a pause.
"Who am I, Duke, that I should answer such a question?"
After that there was another pause, and then the conference was ended by a request from the Duke that Mrs. Finn would stay at Matching for yet two days longer. At dinner they all met,—the father, the three children, and Mrs. Finn. How far the young people among themselves had been able to throw off something of the gloom of death need not here be asked; but in the presence of their father they were sad and sombre, almost as he was. On the next day, early in the morning, the younger lad returned to his college, and Lord Silverbridge went up to London, where he was supposed to have his home.
"Perhaps you would not mind reading these letters," the Duke said to Mrs. Finn, when she again went to him, in compliance with a message from him asking for her presence. Then she sat down and read two letters, one from Lady Cantrip, and the other from a Mrs. Jeffrey Palliser, each of which contained an invitation for his daughter, and expressed a hope that Lady Mary would not be unwilling to spend some time with the writer. Lady Cantrip's letter was long, and went minutely into circumstances. If Lady Mary would come to her, she would abstain from having other company in the house till her young friend's spirits should have somewhat recovered themselves. Nothing could be more kind, or proposed in a sweeter fashion. There had, however, been present to the Duke's mind as he read it a feeling that a proposition to a bereaved husband to relieve him of the society of an only daughter, was not one which would usually be made to a father. In such a position a child's company would probably be his best solace. But he knew,—at this moment he painfully remembered,—that he was not as are other men. He acknowledged the truth of this, but he was not the less grieved and irritated by the reminder. The letter from Mrs. Jeffrey Palliser was to the same effect, but was much shorter. If it would suit Mary to come to them for a month or six weeks at their place in Gloucestershire, they would both be delighted.
"I should not choose her to go there," said the Duke, as Mrs. Finn refolded the latter letter. "My cousin's wife is a very good woman, but Mary would not be happy with her."
"Lady Cantrip is an excellent friend for her."
"Excellent. I know no one whom I esteem more than Lady Cantrip."
"Would you wish her to go there, Duke?"
There came a wistful piteous look over the father's face. Why should he be treated as no other father would be treated? Why should it be supposed that he would desire to send his girl away from him? But yet he felt that it would be better that she should go. It was his present purpose to remain at Matching through a portion of the summer. What could he do to make a girl happy? What comfort would there be in his companionship?
"I suppose she ought to go somewhere," he said.
"I had not thought of it," said Mrs. Finn.
"I understood you to say," replied the Duke, almost angrily, "that she ought to go to someone who would take care of her."
"I was thinking of some friend coming to her."
"Who would come? Who is there that I could possibly ask? You will not stay."
"I certainly would stay, if it were for her good. I was thinking, Duke, that perhaps you might ask the Greys to come to you."
"They would not come," he said, after a pause.
"When she was told that it was for her sake, she would come, I think."
Then there was another pause. "I could not ask them," he said; "for his sake I could not have it put to her in that way. Perhaps Mary had better go to Lady Cantrip. Perhaps I had better be alone here for a time. I do not think that I am fit to have any human being here with me in my sorrow."
Lady Mary Palliser
It may as well be said at once that Mrs. Finn knew something of Lady Mary which was not known to the father, and which she was not yet prepared to make known to him. The last winter abroad had been passed at Rome, and there Lady Mary Palliser had become acquainted with a certain Mr. Tregear,—Francis Oliphant Tregear. The Duchess, who had been in constant correspondence with her friend, had asked questions by letter as to Mr. Tregear, of whom she had only known that he was the younger son of a Cornish gentleman, who had become Lord Silverbridge's friend at Oxford. In this there had certainly been but little to recommend him to the intimacy of such a girl as Lady Mary Palliser. Nor had the Duchess, when writing, ever spoken of him as a probable suitor for her daughter's hand. She had never connected the two names together. But Mrs. Finn had been clever enough to perceive that the Duchess had become fond of Mr. Tregear, and would willingly have heard something to his advantage. And she did hear something to his advantage,—something also to his disadvantage. At his mother's death this young man would inherit a property amounting to about fifteen hundred a year. "And I am told," said Mrs. Finn, "that he is quite likely to spend his money before it comes to him." There had been nothing more written specially about Mr. Tregear; but Mrs. Finn had feared not only that the young man loved the girl, but that the young man's love had in some imprudent way been fostered by the mother.
Then there had been some fitful confidence during those few days of acute illness. Why should not the girl have the man if he were lovable? And the Duchess referred to her own early days when she had loved, and to the great ruin which had come upon her heart when she had been severed from the man she had loved. "Not but that it has been all for the best," she had said. "Not but that Plantagenet has been to me all that a husband should be. Only if she can be spared what I suffered, let her be spared." Even when these things had been said to her, Mrs. Finn had found herself unable to ask questions. She could not bring herself to inquire whether the girl had in truth given her heart to this young Tregear. The one was nineteen and the other as yet but two-and-twenty! But though she asked no questions she almost knew that it must be so. And she knew also that the father, as yet, was quite in the dark on the matter. How was it possible that in such circumstances she should assume the part of the girl's confidential friend and monitress? Were she to do so she must immediately tell the father everything. In such a position no one could be a better friend than Lady Cantrip, and Mrs. Finn had already almost made up her mind that, should Lady Cantrip occupy the place, she would tell her ladyship all that had passed between herself and the Duchess on the subject.
Of what hopes she might have, or what fears, about her girl, the Duchess had said no word to her husband. But when she had believed that the things of the world were fading away from her, and when he was sitting by her bedside,—dumb, because at such a moment he knew not how to express the tenderness of his heart,—holding her hand, and trying so to listen to her words, that he might collect and remember every wish, she had murmured something about the ultimate division of the great wealth with which she herself had been endowed. "She had never," she said, "even tried to remember what arrangements had been made by lawyers, but she hoped that Mary might be so circumstanced, that if her happiness depended on marrying a poor man, want of money need not prevent it." The Duke suspecting nothing, believing this to be a not unnatural expression of maternal interest, had assured her that Mary's fortune would be ample.
Mrs. Finn made the proposition to Lady Mary in respect to Lady Cantrip's invitation. Lady Mary was very like her mother, especially in having exactly her mother's tone of voice, her quick manner of speech, and her sharp intelligence. She had also her mother's eyes, large and round, and almost blue, full of life and full of courage, eyes which never seemed to quail, and her mother's dark brown hair, never long but very copious in its thickness. She was, however, taller than her mother, and very much more graceful in her movement. And she could already assume a personal dignity of manner which had never been within her mother's reach. She had become aware of a certain brusqueness of speech in her mother, a certain aptitude to say sharp things without thinking whether the sharpness was becoming to the position which she held, and, taking advantage of the example, the girl had already learned that she might gain more than she would lose by controlling her words.
"Papa wants me to go to Lady Cantrip," she said.
"I think he would like it,—just for the present, Lady Mary."
Though there had been the closest possible intimacy between the Duchess and Mrs. Finn, this had hardly been so as to the intercourse between Mrs. Finn and the children. Of Mrs. Finn it must be acknowledged that she was, perhaps fastidiously, afraid of appearing to take advantage of her friendship with the Duke's family. She would tell herself that though circumstances had compelled her to be the closest and nearest friend of a Duchess, still her natural place was not among dukes and their children, and therefore in her intercourse with the girl she did not at first assume the manner and bearing which her position in the house would have seemed to warrant. Hence the "Lady Mary."
"Why does he want to send me away, Mrs. Finn?"
"It is not that he wants to send you away, but that he thinks it will be better for you to be with some friend. Here you must be so much alone."
"Why don't you stay? But I suppose Mr. Finn wants you to be back in London."
"It is not that only, or, to speak the truth, not that at all. Mr. Finn could come here if it were suitable. Or for a week or two he might do very well without me. But there are other reasons. There is no one whom your mother respected more highly than Lady Cantrip."
"I never heard her speak a word of Lady Cantrip."
"Both he and she are your father's intimate friends."
"Does papa want to be—alone here?"
"It is you, not himself, of whom he is thinking."
"Therefore I must think of him, Mrs. Finn. I do not wish him to be alone. I am sure it would be better that I should stay with him."
"He feels that it would not be well that you should live without the companionship of some lady."
"Then let him find some lady. You would be the best, because he knows you so well. I, however, am not afraid of being alone. I am sure he ought not to be here quite by himself. If he bids me go, I must go, and then of course I shall go where he sends me; but I won't say that I think it best that I should go, and certainly I do not want to go to Lady Cantrip." This she said with great decision, as though the matter was one on which she had altogether made up her mind. Then she added, in a lower voice: "Why doesn't papa speak to me about it?"
"He is thinking only of what may be best for you."
"It would be best for me to stay near him. Whom else has he got?"
All this Mrs. Finn repeated to the Duke as closely as she could, and then of course the father was obliged to speak to his daughter.
"Don't send me away, papa," she said at once.
"Your life here, Mary, will be inexpressibly sad."
"It must be sad anywhere. I cannot go to college, like Gerald, or live anywhere just as I please, like Silverbridge."
"Do you envy them that?"
"Sometimes, papa. Only I shall think more of poor mamma by being alone, and I should like to be thinking of her always." He shook his head mournfully. "I do not mean that I shall always be unhappy, as I am now."
"No, my dear; you are too young for that. It is only the old who suffer in that way."
"You will suffer less if I am with you; won't you, papa? I do not want to go to Lady Cantrip. I hardly remember her at all."
"She is very good."
"Oh yes. That is what they used to say to mamma about Lady Midlothian. Papa, pray do not send me to Lady Cantrip."
Of course it was decided that she should not go to Lady Cantrip at once, or to Mrs. Jeffrey Palliser, and, after a short interval of doubt, it was decided also that Mrs. Finn should remain at Matching for at least a fortnight. The Duke declared that he would be glad to see Mr. Finn, but she knew that in his present mood the society of any one man to whom he would feel himself called upon to devote his time, would be a burden to him, and she plainly said that Mr. Finn had better not come to Matching at present. "There are old associations," she said, "which will enable you to bear with me as you will with your butler or your groom, but you are not as yet quite able to make yourself happy with company." This he bore with perfect equanimity, and then, as it were, handed over his daughter to Mrs. Finn's care.
Very quickly there came to be close intimacy between Mrs. Finn and Lady Mary. For a day or two the elder woman, though the place she filled was one of absolute confidence, rather resisted than encouraged the intimacy. She always remembered that the girl was the daughter of a great duke, and that her position in the house had sprung from circumstances which would not, perhaps, in the eyes of the world at large, have recommended her for such friendship. She knew—the reader may possibly know—that nothing had ever been purer, nothing more disinterested than her friendship. But she knew also,—no one knew better,—that the judgment of men and women does not always run parallel with facts. She entertained, too, a conviction in regard to herself, that hard words and hard judgments were to be expected from the world,—were to be accepted by her without any strong feeling of injustice,—because she had been elevated by chance to the possession of more good things than she had merited. She weighed all this with a very fine balance, and even after the encouragement she had received from the Duke, was intent on confining herself to some position about the girl inferior to that which such a friend as Lady Cantrip might have occupied. But the girl's manner, and the girl's speech about her own mother, overcame her. It was the unintentional revelation of the Duchess's constant reference to her,—the way in which Lady Mary would assert that "Mamma used always to say this of you; mamma always knew that you would think so and so; mamma used to say that you had told her." It was the feeling thus conveyed, that the mother who was now dead had in her daily dealings with her own child spoken of her as her nearest friend, which mainly served to conquer the deference of manner which she had assumed.
Then gradually there came confidences,—and at last absolute confidence. The whole story about Mr. Tregear was told. Yes; she loved Mr. Tregear. She had given him her heart, and had told him so.
"Then, my dear, your father ought to know it," said Mrs. Finn.
"No; not yet. Mamma knew it."
"Did she know all that you have told me?"
"Yes; all. And Mr. Tregear spoke to her, and she said that papa ought not to be told quite yet."
Mrs. Finn could not but remember that the friend she had lost was not, among women, the one best able to give a girl good counsel in such a crisis.
"Why not yet, dear?"
"Well, because—. It is very hard to explain. In the first place, because Mr. Tregear himself does not wish it."
"That is a very bad reason; the worst in the world."
"Of course you will say so. Of course everybody would say so. But when there is one person whom one loves better than all the rest, for whom one would be ready to die, to whom one is determined that everything shall be devoted, surely the wishes of a person so dear as that ought to have weight."
"Not in persuading you to do that which is acknowledged to be wrong."
"What wrong? I am going to do nothing wrong."
"The very concealment of your love is wrong, after that love has been not only given but declared. A girl's position in such matters is so delicate, especially that of such a girl as you!"
"I know all about that," said Lady Mary, with something almost approaching to scorn in her tone. "Of course I have to be—delicate. I don't quite know what the word means. I am not a bit ashamed of being in love with Mr. Tregear. He is a gentleman, highly educated, very clever, of an old family,—older, I believe, than papa's. And he is manly and handsome; just what a young man ought to be. Only he is not rich."
"If he be all that you say, ought you not to trust your papa? If he approve of it, he could give you money."
"Of course he must be told; but not now. He is nearly broken-hearted about dear mamma. He could not bring himself to care about anything of that kind at present. And then it is Mr. Tregear that should speak to him first."
"Not now, Mary."
"How do you mean not now?"
"If you had a mother you would talk to her about it."
"If she were still living she would tell your father."
"But she didn't tell him though she did know. She didn't mean to tell him quite yet. She wanted to see Mr. Tregear here in England first. Of course I shall do nothing till papa does know."
"You will not see him?"
"How can I see him here? He will not come here, if you mean that."
"You do not correspond with him?" Here for the first time the girl blushed. "Oh, Mary, if you are writing to him your father ought to know it."
"I have not written to him; but when he heard how ill poor mamma was, then he wrote to me—twice. You may see his letters. It is all about her. No one worshipped mamma as he did."
Gradually the whole story was told. These two young persons considered themselves to be engaged, but had agreed that their engagement should not be made known to the Duke till something had occurred, or some time had arrived, as to which Mr. Tregear was to be the judge. In Mrs. Finn's opinion nothing could be more unwise, and she said much to induce the girl to confess everything to her father at once. But in all her arguments she was opposed by the girl's reference to her mother. "Mamma knew it." And it did certainly seem to Mrs. Finn as though the mother had assented to this imprudent concealment. When she endeavoured, in her own mind, to make excuse for her friend, she felt almost sure that the Duchess, with all her courage, had been afraid to propose to her husband that their daughter should marry a commoner without an income. But in thinking of all that, there could now be nothing gained. What ought she to do—at once? The girl, in telling her, had exacted no promise of secrecy, nor would she have given any such promise; but yet she did not like the idea of telling the tale behind the girl's back. It was evident that Lady Mary had considered herself to be safe in confiding her story to her mother's old friend. Lady Mary no doubt had had her confidences with her mother,—confidences from which it had been intended by both that the father should be excluded; and now she seemed naturally to expect that this new ally should look at this great question as her mother had looked at it. The father had been regarded as a great outside power, which could hardly be overcome, but which might be evaded, or made inoperative by stratagem. It was not that the daughter did not love him. She loved him and venerated him highly,—the veneration perhaps being stronger than the love. The Duchess, too, had loved him dearly,—more dearly in late years than in her early life. But her husband to her had always been an outside power which had in many cases to be evaded. Lady Mary, though she did not express all this, evidently thought that in this new friend she had found a woman whose wishes and aspirations for her would be those which her mother had entertained.
But Mrs. Finn was much troubled in her mind, thinking that it was her duty to tell the story to the Duke. It was not only the daughter who had trusted her, but the father also; and the father's confidence had been not only the first but by far the holier of the two. And the question was one so important to the girl's future happiness! There could be no doubt that the peril of her present position was very great.
"Mary," she said one morning, when the fortnight was nearly at an end, "your father ought to know all this. I should feel that I had betrayed him were I to go away leaving him in ignorance."
"You do not mean to say that you will tell?" said the girl, horrified at the idea of such treachery.
"I wish that I could induce you to do so. Every day that he is kept in the dark is an injury to you."
"I am doing nothing. What harm can come? It is not as though I were seeing him every day."
"This harm will come; your father of course will know that you became engaged to Mr. Tregear in Italy, and that a fact so important to him has been kept back from him."
"If there is anything in that, the evil has been done already. Of course poor mamma did mean to tell him."
"She cannot tell him now, and therefore you ought to do what she would have done."
"I cannot break my promise to him." "Him" always meant Mr. Tregear. "I have told him that I would not do so till I had his consent, and I will not."
This was very dreadful to Mrs. Finn, and yet she was most unwilling to take upon herself the part of a stern elder, and declare that under the circumstances she must tell the tale. The story had been told to her under the supposition that she was not a stern elder, that she was regarded as the special friend of the dear mother who was gone, that she might be trusted to assist against the terrible weight of parental authority. She could not endure to be regarded at once as a traitor by this young friend who had sweetly inherited the affection with which the Duchess had regarded her. And yet if she were to be silent how could she forgive herself? "The Duke certainly ought to know at once," said she, repeating her words merely that she might gain some time for thinking, and pluck up courage to declare her purpose, should she resolve on betraying the secret.
"If you tell him now, I will never forgive you," said Lady Mary.
"I am bound in honour to see that your father knows a thing which is of such vital importance to him and to you. Having heard all this I have no right to keep it from him. If Mr. Tregear really loves you"—Lady Mary smiled at the doubt implied by this suggestion—"he ought to feel that for your sake there should be no secret from your father." Then she paused a moment to think. "Will you let me see Mr. Tregear myself, and talk to him about it?"
To this Lady Mary at first demurred, but when she found that in no other way could she prevent Mrs. Finn from going at once to the Duke and telling him everything, she consented. Under Mrs. Finn's directions she wrote a note to her lover, which Mrs. Finn saw, and then undertook to send it, with a letter from herself, to Mr. Tregear's address in London. The note was very short, and was indeed dictated by the elder lady, with some dispute, however, as to certain terms, in which the younger lady had her way. It was as follows:
I wish you to see Mrs. Finn, who, as you know, was dear mamma's most particular friend. Please go to her, as she will ask you to do. When you hear what she says I think you ought to do what she advises.
Yours for ever and always,
This Mrs. Finn sent enclosed in an envelope, with a few words from herself, asking the gentleman to call upon her in Park Lane, on a day and at an hour fixed.
Francis Oliphant Tregear
Mr. Francis Oliphant Tregear was a young man who might not improbably make a figure in the world, should circumstances be kind to him, but as to whom it might be doubted whether circumstances would be sufficiently kind to enable him to use serviceably his unquestionable talents and great personal gifts. He had taught himself to regard himself as a young English gentleman of the first water, qualified by his birth and position to live with all that was most noble and most elegant; and he could have lived in that sphere naturally and gracefully were it not that the part of the "sphere" which he specially affected requires wealth as well as birth and intellect. Wealth he had not, and yet he did not abandon the sphere. As a consequence of all this, it was possible that the predictions of his friends as to that figure which he was to make in the world might be disappointed.
He had been educated at Eton, from whence he had been sent to Christ Church; and both at school and at college had been the most intimate friend of the son and heir of a great and wealthy duke. He and Lord Silverbridge had been always together, and they who were interested in the career of the young nobleman had generally thought he had chosen his friend well. Tregear had gone out in honours, having been a second-class man. His friend Silverbridge, we know, had been allowed to take no degree at all; but the terrible practical joke by which the whole front of the Dean's house had been coloured scarlet in the middle of the night, had been carried on without any assistance from Tregear. The two young men had then been separated for a year; but immediately after taking his degree, Tregear, at the invitation of Lord Silverbridge, had gone to Italy, and had there completely made good his footing with the Duchess,—with what effect on another member of the Palliser family the reader already knows.
The young man was certainly clever. When the Duchess found that he could talk without any shyness, that he could speak French fluently, and that after a month in Italy he could chatter Italian, at any rate without reticence or shame; when she perceived that all the women liked the lad's society and impudence, and that all the young men were anxious to know him, she was glad to find that Silverbridge had chosen so valuable a friend. And then he was beautiful to look at,—putting her almost in mind of another man on whom her eyes had once loved to dwell. He was dark, with hair that was almost black, but yet was not black; with clear brown eyes, a nose as regular as Apollo's, and a mouth in which was ever to be found that expression of manliness, which of all characteristics is the one which women love the best. He was five feet ten in height. He was always well dressed, and yet always so dressed as to seem to show that his outside garniture had not been matter of trouble to him. Before the Duchess had dreamed what might take place between this young man and her daughter she had been urgent in her congratulations to her son as to the possession of such a friend.
For though she now and then would catch a glimpse of the outer man, which would remind her of that other beautiful one whom she had known in her youth, and though, as these glimpses came, she would remember how poor in spirit and how unmanly that other one had been, though she would confess to herself how terrible had been the heart-shipwreck which that other one had brought upon herself; still she was able completely to assure herself that this man, though not superior in external grace, was altogether different in mind and character. She was old enough now to see all this and to appreciate it. Young Tregear had his own ideas about the politics of the day, and they were ideas with which she sympathised, though they were antagonistic to the politics of her life. He had his ideas about books too, as to manners of life, as to art, and even ethics. Whether or no in all this there was not much that was superficial only, she was not herself deep enough to discover. Nor would she have been deterred from admiring him had she been told that it was tinsel. Such were the acquirements, such the charms, that she loved. Here was a young man who dared to speak, and had always something ready to be spoken; who was not afraid of beauty, nor daunted by superiority of rank; who, if he had not money, could carry himself on equal terms among those who had. In this way he won the Duchess's heart, and having done that, was it odd that he should win the heart of the daughter also?
His father was a Cornwall squire of comfortable means, having joined the property of his wife to his own for the period of his own life. She had possessed land also in Cornwall, supposed to be worth fifteen hundred a year, and his own paternal estate at Polwenning was said to be double that value. Being a prudent man, he lived at home as a country gentleman, and thus was able in his county to hold his head as high as richer men. But Frank Tregear was only his second son; and though Frank would hereafter inherit his mother's fortune, he was by no means now in a position to assume the right of living as an idle man. Yet he was idle. The elder brother, who was considerably older than Frank, was an odd man, much addicted to quarrelling with his family, and who spent his time chiefly in travelling about the world. Frank's mother, who was not the mother of the heir also, would sometimes surmise, in Frank's hearing, that the entire property must ultimately come to him. That other Tregear, who was now supposed to be investigating the mountains of Crim Tartary, would surely never marry. And Frank was the favourite also with his father, who paid his debts at Oxford with not much grumbling; who was proud of his friendship with a future duke; who did not urge, as he ought to have urged, that vital question of a profession; and who, when he allowed his son four hundred pounds a year, was almost content with that son's protestations that he knew how to live as a poor man among rich men, without chagrin and without trouble.
Such was the young man who now, in lieu of a profession, had taken upon himself the responsibility of an engagement with Lady Mary Palliser. He was tolerably certain that, should he be able to overcome the parental obstacles which he would no doubt find in his path, money would be forthcoming sufficient for the purposes of matrimonial life. The Duke's wealth was fabulous, and as a great part of it, if not the greater, had come from his wife, there would probably be ample provision for the younger children. And when the Duchess had found out how things were going, and had yielded to her daughter, after an opposition which never had the appearance even of being in earnest, she had taken upon herself to say that she would use her influence to prevent any great weight of trouble from pecuniary matters. Frank Tregear, young and bright, and full of hearty ambitions, was certainly not the man to pursue a girl simply because of her fortune; nor was he weak enough to be attracted simply by the glitter of rank; but he was wise enough with worldly wisdom to understand thoroughly the comforts of a good income, and he was sufficiently attached to high position to feel the advantage of marrying a daughter of the Duke of Omnium.
When the Duchess was leaving Italy, it had been her declared purpose to tell her husband the story as soon as they were at home in England. And it was on this understanding that Frank Tregear had explained to the girl that he would not as yet ask her father for his permission to be received into the family as a suitor. Everyone concerned had felt that the Duke would not easily be reconciled to such a son-in-law, and that the Duchess should be the one to bell the cat.
There was one member of the family who had hitherto been half-hearted in the matter. Lord Silverbridge had vacillated between loyalty to his friend and a certain feeling as to the impropriety of such a match for his sister. He was aware that something very much better should be expected for her, and still was unable to explain his objections to Tregear. He had not at first been admitted into confidence, either by his sister or by Tregear, but had questioned his friend when he saw what was going on. "Certainly I love your sister," Tregear had said; "do you object?" Lord Silverbridge was the weaker of the two, and much subject to the influence of his friend; but he could on occasion be firm, and he did at first object. But he did not object strongly, and allowed himself at last to be content with declaring that the Duke would never give his consent.
While Tregear was with his love, or near her, his hopes and fears were sufficient to occupy his mind; and immediately on his return, all the world was nothing to him, except as far as the world was concerned with Lady Mary Palliser. He had come back to England somewhat before the ducal party, and the pleasures and occupations of London life had not abated his love, but enabled him to feel that there was something in life over and beyond his love; whereas to Lady Mary, down at Matching, there had been nothing over and beyond her love—except the infinite grief and desolation produced by her mother's death.
Tregear, when he received the note from Mrs. Finn, was staying at the Duke's house in Carlton Terrace. Silverbridge was there, and, on leaving Matching, had asked the Duke's permission to have his friend with him. The Duke at that time was not well pleased with his son as to a matter of politics, and gave his son's friend credit for the evil counsel which had produced this displeasure. But still he had not refused his assent to this proposition. Had he done so, Silverbridge would probably have gone elsewhere; and though there was a matter in respect to Tregear of which the Duke disapproved, it was not a matter, as he thought, which would have justified him in expelling the young man from his house. The young man was a strong Conservative; and now Silverbridge had declared his purpose of entering the House of Commons, if he did enter it, as one of the Conservative party.
This had been a terrible blow to the Duke; and he believed that it all came from this young Tregear. Still he must do his duty, and not more than his duty. He knew nothing against Tregear. That a Tregear should be a Conservative was perhaps natural enough—at any rate, was not disgraceful; that he should have his political creed sufficiently at heart to be able to persuade another man, was to his credit. He was a gentleman, well educated, superior in many things to Silverbridge himself. There were those who said that Silverbridge had redeemed himself from contempt—from that sort of contempt which might be supposed to await a young nobleman who had painted scarlet the residence of the Head of his college—by the fact of his having chosen such a friend. The Duke was essentially a just man; and though, at the very moment in which the request was made, his heart was half crushed by his son's apostasy, he gave the permission asked.
"You know Mrs. Finn?" Tregear said to his friend one morning at breakfast.
"I remember her all my life. She used to be a great deal with my grandfather. I believe he left her a lot of diamonds and money, and that she wouldn't have them. I don't know whether the diamonds are not locked up somewhere now, so that she can take them when she pleases."
"What a singular woman!"
"It was odd; but she had some fad about it. What makes you ask about Mrs. Finn?"
"She wants me to go and see her."
"I think I have heard your mother speak of her as though she loved her dearly," said Tregear.
"I don't know about loving her dearly. They were intimate, and Mrs. Finn used to be with her very much when she was in the country. She was at Matching just now, when my poor mother died. Why does she want to see you?"
"She has written to me from Matching. She wants to see me—"
"To tell you the truth, I do not know what she has to say to me; though I can guess."
"What do you guess?"
"It is something about your sister."
"You will have to give that up, Tregear."
"I think not."
"Yes, you will; my father will never stand it."
"I don't know what there is to stand. I am not noble, nor am I rich; but I am as good a gentleman as he is."
"My dear fellow," said the young lord, "you know very well what I think about all that. A fellow is not any better to me because he has got a title, nor yet because he owns half a county. But men have their ideas and feelings about it. My father is a rich man, and of course he'll want his daughter to marry a rich man. My father is noble, and he'll want his daughter to marry a nobleman. You can't very well marry Mary without his permission, and therefore you had better let it alone."
"I haven't even asked his permission as yet."
"Even my mother was afraid to speak to him about it, and I never knew her to be afraid to say anything else to him."
"I shall not be afraid," said Tregear, looking grimly.
"I should. That's the difference between us."
"He can't very well eat me."
"Nor even bite you;—nor will he abuse you. But he can look at you, and he can say a word or two which you will find it very hard to bear. My governor is the quietest man I know, but he has a way of making himself disagreeable when he wishes, that I never saw equalled."
"At any rate, I had better go and see your Mrs. Finn." Then Tregear wrote a line to Mrs. Finn, and made his appointment.
From the beginning of the affair Tregear had found the necessity of bolstering himself up inwardly in his great attempt by mottoes, proverbs, and instigations to courage addressed to himself. "None but the brave deserve the fair." "De l'audace, et encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace." He was a man naturally of good heart in such matters, who was not afraid of his brother-men, nor yet of women, his sisters. But in this affair he knew very much persistence would be required of him, and that even with such persistence he might probably fail, unless he should find a more than ordinary constancy in the girl. That the Duke could not eat him, indeed that nobody could eat him as long as he carried himself as an honest man and a gentleman, was to him an inward assurance on which he leaned much. And yet he was conscious, almost with a feeling of shame, that in Italy he had not spoken to the Duke about his daughter because he was afraid lest the Duke might eat him. In such an affair he should have been careful from the first to keep his own hands thoroughly clean. Had it not been his duty as a gentleman to communicate with the father, if not before he gained the girl's heart, at any rate as soon as he knew he had done so? He had left Italy thinking that he would certainly meet the Duchess and her daughter in London, and that then he might go to the Duke as though this love of his had arisen from the sweetness of those meetings in London. But all these ideas had been dissipated by the great misfortune of the death of Lady Mary's mother. From all this he was driven to acknowledge to himself that his silence in Italy had been wrong, that he had been weak in allowing himself to be guided by the counsel of the Duchess, and that he had already armed the Duke with one strong argument against him.
He did not doubt but that Mrs. Finn would be opposed to him. Of course he could not doubt but that all the world would now be opposed to him,—except the girl herself. He would find no other friend so generous, so romantic, so unworldly as the Duchess had been. It was clear to him that Lady Mary had told the story of her engagement to Mrs. Finn, and that Mrs. Finn had not as yet told it to the Duke. From this he was justified in regarding Mrs. Finn as the girl's friend. The request made was that he should at once do something which Mrs. Finn was to suggest. He could hardly have been so requested, and that in terms of such warm affection, had it been Mrs. Finn's intention to ask him to desist altogether from his courtship. This woman was regarded by Lady Mary as her mother's dearest friend. It was therefore incumbent on him now to induce her to believe in him as the Duchess had believed.
He knocked at the door of Mrs. Finn's little house in Park Lane a few minutes before the time appointed, and found himself alone when he was shown into the drawing-room. He had heard much of this lady though he had never seen her, and had heard much also of her husband. There had been a kind of mystery about her. People did not quite understand how it was that she had been so intimate with the Duchess, nor why the late Duke had left to her an enormous legacy, which as yet had never been claimed. There was supposed, too, to have been something especially romantic in her marriage with her present husband. It was believed also that she was very rich. The rumours of all these things together had made her a person of note, and Tregear, when he found himself alone in the drawing-room, looked round about him as though a special interest was to be attached to the belongings of such a woman. It was a pretty room, somewhat dark, because the curtains were almost closed across the windows, but furnished with a pretty taste, and now, in these early April days, filled with flowers.
"I have to apologise, Mr. Tregear, for keeping you waiting," she said as she entered the room.
"I fear I was before my time."
"I know that I am after mine,—a few minutes," said the lady.
He told himself that though she was not a young woman, yet she was attractive. She was dark, and still wore her black hair in curls, such as are now seldom seen with ladies. Perhaps the reduced light of the chamber had been regulated with some regard to her complexion and to her age. The effect, however, was good, and Frank Tregear felt at once interested in her.
"You have just come up from Matching?" he said.
"Yes; only the day before yesterday. It is very good of you to come to me so soon."
"Of course I came when you sent for me. I am afraid the Duke felt his loss severely."
"How should he not, such a loss as it was? Few people knew how much he trusted her, and how dearly he loved her."
"Silverbridge has told me that he is awfully cut up."
"You have seen Lord Silverbridge then?"
"Just at present I am living with him, at Carlton Terrace."
"In the Duke's house?" she asked, with some surprise.
"Yes; in the Duke's house. Silverbridge and I have been very intimate. Of course the Duke knows that I am there. Is there any chance of his coming to town?"
"Not yet, I fear. He is determined to be alone. I wish it were otherwise, as I am sure he would better bear his sorrow, if he would go about among other men."
"No doubt he would suffer less," said Tregear. Then there was a pause. Each wished that the other should introduce the matter which both knew was to be the subject of their conversation. But Tregear would not begin. "When I left them all at Florence," he said, "I little thought that I should never see her again."
"You had been intimate with them, Mr. Tregear?"
"Yes; I think I may say I have been intimate with them. I had been at Eton and at Christ Church with Silverbridge, and we have always been much together."
"I have understood that. Have you and the Duke been good friends?"
"We have never been enemies."
"I suppose not that."
"The Duke, I think, does not much care about young people. I hardly know what he used to do with himself. When I dined with them, I saw him, but I did not often do that. I think he used to read a good deal, and walk about alone. We were always riding."
"Lady Mary used to ride?"
"Oh yes; and Lord Silverbridge and Lord Gerald. And the Duchess used to drive. One of us would always be with her."
"And so you became intimate with the whole family?"
"So I became intimate with the whole family."
"And especially so with Lady Mary?" This she said in her sweetest possible tone, and with a most gracious smile.
"Especially so with Lady Mary," he replied.
"It will be very good of you, Mr. Tregear, if you endure and forgive all this cross-questioning from me, who am a perfect stranger to you."
"But you are not a perfect stranger to her."
"That is it, of course. Now, if you will allow me, I will explain to you exactly what my footing with her is. When the Duchess returned, and when I found her to be so ill as she passed through London, I went down with her into the country,—quite as a matter of course."
"So I understand."
"And there she died,—in my arms. I will not try to harass you by telling you what those few days were; how absolutely he was struck to the ground, how terrible was the grief of the daughter, how the boys were astonished by the feeling of their loss. After a few days they went away. It was, I think, their father's wish that they should go. And I too was going away,—and had felt, indeed, directly her spirit had parted from her, that I was only in the way in his house. But I stayed at his request, because he did not wish his daughter to be alone."
"I can easily understand that, Mrs. Finn."
"I wanted her to go to Lady Cantrip who had invited her, but she would not. In that way we were thrown together in the closest intercourse, for two or three weeks. Then she told me the story of your engagement."
"That was natural, I suppose."
"Surely so. Think of her position, left as she is without a mother! It was incumbent on her to tell someone. There was, however, one other person in whom it would have been much better that she should have confided."
"I rather fancy that it is I who ought to tell him."
"As far as I understand these things, Mr. Tregear,—which, indeed, is very imperfectly,—I think it is natural that a girl should at once tell her mother when a gentleman has made her understand that he loves her."
"She did so, Mrs. Finn."
"And I suppose that generally the mother would tell the father."
"She did not."
"No; and therefore the position of the young lady is now one of great embarrassment. The Duchess has gone from us, and we must now make up our minds as to what had better be done. It is out of the question that Lady Mary should be allowed to consider herself to be engaged, and that the father should be kept in ignorance of her position." She paused for his reply, but as he said nothing, she continued: "Either you must tell the Duke, or she must do so, or I must do so."
"I suppose she told you in confidence."
"No doubt. She told it me presuming that I would not betray her; but I shall,—if that be a betrayal. The Duke must know it. It will be infinitely better that he should know it through you, or through her, than through me. But he must be told."
"I can't quite see why," said Tregear.
"For her sake,—whom I suppose you love."
"Certainly I love her."
"In order that she may not suffer. I wonder you do not see it, Mr. Tregear. Perhaps you have a sister."
"I have no sister as it happens."
"But you can imagine what your feelings would be. Should you like to think of a sister as being engaged to a man without the knowledge of any of her family?"
"It was not so. The Duchess knew it. The present condition of things is altogether an accident."
"It is an accident that must be brought to an end."
"Of course it must be brought to an end. I am not such a fool as to suppose that I can make her my wife without telling her father."
"I mean at once, Mr. Tregear."
"It seems to me that you are rather dictating to me, Mrs. Finn."
"I owe you an apology, of course, for meddling in your affairs at all. But as it will be more conducive to your success that the Duke should hear this from you than from me, and as I feel that I am bound by my duty to him and to Lady Mary to see that he be not left in ignorance, I think that I am doing you a service."
"I do not like to have a constraint put upon me."
"That, Mr. Tregear, is what gentlemen, I fancy, very often feel in regard to ladies. But the constraint of which you speak is necessary for their protection. Are you unwilling to see the Duke?"
He was very unwilling, but he would not confess so much. He gave various reasons for delay, urging repeatedly that the question of his marriage was one which he could not press upon the Duke so soon after the death of the Duchess. And when she assured him that this was a matter of importance so great, that even the death of the man's wife should not be held by him to justify delay, he became angry, and for awhile insisted that he must be allowed to follow his own judgment. But he gave her a promise that he would see the Duke before a week was over. Nevertheless he left the house in dudgeon, having told Mrs. Finn more than once that she was taking advantage of Lady Mary's confidence. They hardly parted as friends, and her feeling was, on the whole, hostile to him and to his love. It could not, she thought, be for the happiness of such a one as Lady Mary that she should give herself to one who seemed to have so little to recommend him.
He, when he had left her, was angry with his own weakness. He had not only promised that he would make his application to the Duke, but that he would do so within the period of a week. Who was she that she should exact terms from him after this fashion, and prescribe days and hours? And now, because this strange woman had spoken to him, he was compelled to make a journey down to the Duke's country house, and seek an interview in which he would surely be snubbed!
This occurred on a Wednesday, and he resolved that he would go down to Matching on the next Monday. He said nothing of his plan to any one, and not a word passed between him and Lord Silverbridge about Lady Mary during the first two or three days. But on the Saturday Silverbridge appeared at breakfast with a letter in his hand. "The governor is coming up to town," he said.
"In the course of next week. He says that he thinks he shall be here on Wednesday."
It immediately struck Tregear that this sudden journey must have some reference to Lady Mary and her engagement. "Do you know why he is coming?"
"Because of these vacancies in Parliament."
"Why should that bring him up?"
"I suppose he hopes to be able to talk me into obedience. He wants me to stand for the county—as a Liberal, of course. I intend to stand for the borough as a Conservative, and I have told them so down at Silverbridge. I am very sorry to annoy him, and all that kind of thing. But what the deuce is a fellow to do? If a man has got political convictions of his own, of course, he must stick to them." This the young Lord said with a good deal of self-assurance, as though he, by the light of his own reason, had ascertained on which side the truth lay in political contests of the day.
"There is a good deal to be said on both sides of the question, my boy." At this particular moment Tregear felt that the Duke ought to be propitiated.
"You wouldn't have me give up my convictions!"
"A seat in Parliament is a great thing."
"I can probably secure that, whichever side I take. I thought you were so devilish hot against the Radicals."
"So I am. But then you are, as it were, bound by family allegiance."
"I'll be shot if I am. One never knows how to understand you nowadays. It used to be a great doctrine with you, that nothing should induce a man to vote against his political opinions."
"So it is,—if he has really got any. However, as your father is coming to London, I need not go down to Matching."
"You don't mean to say that you were going to Matching?"
"I had intended to beard the lion in his country den; but now the lion will find me in his own town den, and I must beard him here."
Then Tregear wrote a most chilling note to Mrs. Finn, informing her with great precision, that, as the Duke of Omnium intended to be in town one day next week, he would postpone the performance of his promise for a day or two beyond the allotted time.
"It Is Impossible"
Down at Matching Lady Mary's life was very dull after Mrs. Finn had left her. She had a horse to ride, but had no one to ride with her. She had a carriage in which to be driven, but no one to be driven with her, and no special places whither to go. Her father would walk daily for two hours, and she would accompany him when he encouraged her to do so; but she had an idea that he preferred taking his walks alone, and when they were together there was no feeling of confidence between them. There could be none on her part, as she knew that she was keeping back information which he was entitled to possess. On this matter she received two letters from Mrs. Finn, in the first of which she was told that Mr. Tregear intended to present himself at Matching within a few days, and was advised in the same letter not to endeavour to see her lover on that occasion; and then, in the second she was informed that this interview with her father was to be sought not at Matching but in London. From this latter letter there was of course some disappointment, though some feeling of relief. Had he come there she might possibly have seen him after the interview. But she would have been subjected to the immediate sternness of her father's anger. That she would now escape. She would not be called on to meet him just when the first blow had fallen upon him. She was quite sure that he would disapprove of the thing. She was quite sure that he would be very angry. She knew that he was a peculiarly just man, and yet she thought that in this he would be unjust. Had she been called upon to sing the praises of her father she would have insisted above all things on the absolute integrity of his mind, and yet, knowing as she did that he would be opposed to her marriage with Mr. Tregear, she assured herself every day and every hour that he had no right to make any such objection. The man she loved was a gentleman, and an honest man, by no means a fool, and subject to no vices. Her father had no right to demand that she should give her heart to a rich man, or to one of high rank. Rank! As for rank, she told herself that she had the most supreme contempt for it. She thought that she had seen it near enough already to be sure that it ought to have no special allurements. What was it doing for her? Simply restraining her choice among comparatively a few who seemed to her by no means the best endowed of God's creatures.
Of one thing she was very sure, that under no pressure whatsoever would she abandon her engagement with Mr. Tregear. That to her had become a bond almost as holy as matrimony itself could be. She had told the man that she loved him, and after that there could be no retreat. He had kissed her, and she had returned his caress. He had told her that she was his, as his arm was round her; and she had acknowledged that it was so, that she belonged to him, and could not be taken away from him. All this was to her a compact so sacred that nothing could break it but a desire on his part to have it annulled. No other man had ever whispered a word of love to her, of no other man had an idea entered her mind that it could be pleasant to join her lot in life with his. With her it had been all new and all sacred. Love with her had that religion which nothing but freshness can give it. That freshness, that bloom, may last through a long life. But every change impairs it, and after many changes it has perished for ever. There was no question with her but that she must bear her father's anger, should he be angry; put up with his continued opposition, should he resolutely oppose her; bear all that the countesses of the world might say to her;—for it was thus that she thought of Lady Cantrip now. Any retrogression was beyond her power.
She was walking with her father when she first heard of his intended visit to London. At that time she had received Mrs. Finn's first letter, but not the second. "I suppose you'll see Silverbridge," she said. She knew then that Frank Tregear was living with her brother.
"I am going up on purpose to see him. He is causing me much annoyance."
"Is he extravagant?"
"It is not that—at present." He winced even as he said this, for he had in truth suffered somewhat from demands made upon him for money, which had hurt him not so much by their amount as by their nature. Lord Silverbridge had taken upon himself to "own a horse or two," very much to his father's chagrin, and was at this moment part proprietor of an animal supposed to stand well for the Derby. The fact was not announced in the papers with his lordship's name, but his father was aware of it, and did not like it the better because his son held the horse in partnership with a certain Major Tifto, who was well known in the sporting world.
"What is it, papa?"
"Of course he ought to go into Parliament."
"I think he wishes it himself."
"Yes, but how? By a piece of extreme good fortune, West Barsetshire is open to him. The two seats are vacant together. There is hardly another agricultural county in England that will return a Liberal, and I fear I am not asserting too much in saying that no other Liberal could carry the seat but one of our family."
"You used to sit for Silverbridge, papa."
"Yes, I did. In those days the county returned four Conservatives. I cannot explain it all to you, but it is his duty to contest the county on the Liberal side."
"But if he is a Conservative himself, papa?" asked Lady Mary, who had had some political ideas suggested to her own mind by her lover.
"It is all rubbish. It has come from that young man Tregear, with whom he has been associating."
"But, papa," said Lady Mary, who felt that even in this matter she was bound to be firm on what was now her side of the question, "I suppose it is as—as—as respectable to be a Conservative as a Liberal."
"I don't know that at all," said the Duke angrily.
"I thought that—the two sides were—"
She was going to express an opinion that the two parties might be supposed to stand as equal in the respect of the country, when he interrupted her. "The Pallisers have always been Liberal. It will be a blow to me, indeed, if Silverbridge deserts his colours. I know that as yet he himself has had no deep thoughts on the subject, that unfortunately he does not give himself much to thinking, and that in this matter he is being talked over by a young man whose position in life has hardly justified the great intimacy which has existed."
This was very far from being comfortable to her, but of course she said nothing in defence of Tregear's politics. Nor at present was she disposed to say anything as to his position in life, though at some future time she might not be so silent. A few days later they were again walking together, when he spoke to her about herself. "I cannot bear that you should be left here alone while I am away," he said.
"You will not be long gone, I suppose?"
"Only for three or four days now."
"I shall not mind that, papa."
"But very probably I may have to go into Barsetshire. Would you not be happier if you would let me write to Lady Cantrip, and tell her that you will go to her?"
"No, papa, I think not. There are times when one feels that one ought to be almost alone. Don't you feel that?"
"I do not wish you to feel it, nor would you do so long if you had other people around you. With me it is different. I am an old man, and cannot look for new pleasures in society. It has been the fault of my life to be too much alone. I do not want to see my children follow me in that."
"It is so very short a time as yet," said she, thinking of her mother's death.
"But I think that you should be with somebody,—with some woman who would be kind to you. I like to see you with books, but books alone should not be sufficient at your age." How little, she thought, did he know of the state either of her heart or mind! "Do you dislike Lady Cantrip?"
"I do not know her. I can't say that I dislike a person whom I don't think I ever spoke to, and never saw above once or twice. But how can I say that I like her?" She did, however, know that Lady Cantrip was a countess all over, and would be shocked at the idea of a daughter of a Duke of Omnium marrying the younger son of a country squire. Nothing further was then said on the matter, and when the Duke went to town Lady Mary was left quite alone, with an understanding that if he went into Barsetshire he should come back and take her with him.
He arrived at his own house in Carlton Terrace about five o'clock in the afternoon, and immediately went to his study, intending to dine and spend the evening there alone. His son had already pleaded an engagement for that afternoon, but had consented to devote the following morning to his father's wishes. Of the other sojourner in his house the Duke had thought nothing; but the other sojourner had thought very much of the Duke. Frank Tregear was fully possessed of that courage which induces a man who knows that he must be thrown over a precipice, to choose the first possible moment for his fall. He had sounded Silverbridge about this change in his politics, and had found his friend quite determined not to go back to the family doctrine. Such being the case, the Duke's ill-will and hardness and general severity would probably be enhanced by his interview with his son. Tregear, therefore, thinking that nothing could be got by delay, sent his name in to the Duke before he had been an hour in the house, and asked for an interview. The servant brought back word that his Grace was fatigued, but would see Mr. Tregear if the matter in question was one of importance. Frank's heart quailed for a moment, but only for a moment. He took up a pen and wrote a note.
MY DEAR DUKE OF OMNIUM,
If your Grace can spare a moment, I think you will find that what I have to say will justify the intrusion.
Your very faithful servant,
F. O. TREGEAR.
Of course the Duke admitted him. There was but one idea in his head as to what was coming. His son had taken this way of making some communication to him respecting his political creed. Some overture or some demand was to be preferred through Tregear. If so, it was proof of a certain anxiety as to the matter on his son's part which was not displeasing to him. But he was not left long in this mistake after Tregear had entered the room. "Sir," he said, speaking quite at once, as soon as the door was closed behind him, but still speaking very slowly, looking beautiful as Apollo as he stood upright before his wished-for father-in-law—"Sir, I have come to you to ask you to give me the hand of your daughter." The few words had been all arranged beforehand, and were now spoken without any appearance of fear or shame. No one hearing them would have imagined that an almost penniless young gentleman was asking in marriage the daughter of the richest and greatest nobleman in England.
"The hand of my daughter!" said the Duke, rising from his chair.
"I know how very great is the prize," said Frank, "and how unworthy I am of it. But—as she thinks me worthy—"
"She! What she?"
"She think you worthy!"
"Yes, your Grace."
"I do not believe it." On hearing this, Frank simply bowed his head. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Tregear. I do not mean to say that I do not believe you. I never yet gave the lie to a gentleman, and I hope I never may be driven to do so. But there must be some mistake in this."
"I am complying with Lady Mary's wishes in asking your permission to enter your house as her suitor." The Duke stood for a moment biting his lips in silence. "I cannot believe it," he said at last. "I cannot bring myself to believe it. There must be some mistake. My daughter! Lady Mary Palliser!" Again the young man bowed his head. "What are your pretensions?"
"Simply her regard."
"Of course it is impossible. You are not so ignorant but that you must have known as much when you came to me."
There was so much scorn in his words, and in the tone in which they were uttered, that Tregear in his turn was becoming angry. He had prepared himself to bow humbly before the great man, before the Duke, before the Croesus, before the late Prime Minister, before the man who was to be regarded as certainly one of the most exalted of the earth; but he had not prepared himself to be looked at as the Duke looked at him. "The truth, my Lord Duke, is this," he said, "that your daughter loves me, and that we are engaged to each other,—as far as that engagement can be made without your sanction as her father."
"It cannot have been made at all," said the Duke.
"I can only hope,—we can both of us only hope that a little time may soften—"
"It is out of the question. There must be an end of this altogether. You must neither see her, nor hear from her, nor in any way communicate with her. It is altogether impossible. I believe, sir, that you have no means?"
"Very little at present, Duke."
"How did you think you were to live? But it is altogether unnecessary to speak of such a matter as that. There are so many reasons to make this impossible, that it would be useless to discuss one as being more important than others. Has any other one of my family known of this?" This he added, wishing to ascertain whether Lord Silverbridge had disgraced himself by lending his hand to such a disposition of his sister.
"Oh yes," said Tregear.
"Who has known it?"
"The Duchess, sir. We had all her sympathy and approval."
"I do not believe a word of it," said the Duke, becoming extremely red in the face. He was forced to do now that which he had just declared that he had never done in his life,—driven by the desire of his heart to acquit the wife he had lost of the terrible imprudence, worse than imprudence, of which she was now accused.
"That is the second time, my Lord, that you have found it necessary to tell me that you have not believed direct assertions which I made you. But, luckily for me, the two assertions are capable of the earliest and most direct proof. You will believe Lady Mary, and she will confirm me in the one and the other."
The Duke was almost beside himself with emotion and grief. He did know,—though now at this moment he was most loath to own to himself that it was so,—that his dear wife had been the most imprudent of women. And he recognised in her encouragement of this most pernicious courtship,—if she had encouraged it,—a repetition of that romantic folly by which she had so nearly brought herself to shipwreck in her own early life. If it had been so,—even whether it had been so or not,—he had been wrong to tell the man that he did not believe him. And the man had rebuked him with dignity. "At any rate it is impossible," he repeated.
"I cannot allow that it is impossible."
"That is for me to judge, sir."
"I trust that you will excuse me when I say that I also must hold myself to be in some degree a judge in the matter. If you were in my place, you would feel—"
"I could not possibly be in your place."
"If your Grace were in my place you would feel that as long as you were assured by the young lady that your affection was valued by her you would not be deterred by the opposition of her father. That you should yield to me, of course I do not expect; that Lady Mary should be persistent in her present feelings, when she knows your mind, perhaps I have no right to hope; but should she be so persistent as to make you feel that her happiness depends, as mine does, on our marriage, then I shall believe that you will yield at last."
"Never!" said the Duke. "Never! I shall never believe that my daughter's happiness can be assured by a step which I should regard as disgraceful to her."
"Disgraceful is a violent word, my Lord."
"It is the only word that will express my meaning."
"And one which I must be bold enough to say you are not justified in using. Should she become my wife to-morrow, no one in England would think she had disgraced herself. The Queen would receive her on her marriage. All your friends would hold out their hands to us,—presuming that we had your goodwill."
"But you would not have it."
"Her disgrace would not depend upon that, my Lord. Should your daughter so dispose of herself, as to disgrace herself,—which I think to be impossible,—your countenance could not set her right. Nor can the withdrawal of your countenance condemn her before the world if she does that with herself which any other lady might do and remain a lady."
The Duke, when he heard this, even in the midst of his wrath, which was very violent, and in the midst of his anger, which was very acute, felt that he had to deal with a man,—with one whom he could not put off from him into the gutter, and there leave as buried in the mud. And there came, too, a feeling upon him, which he had no time to analyse, but of which he was part aware, that this terrible indiscretion on the part of his daughter and of his late wife was less wonderful than it had at first appeared to be. But not on that account was he the less determined to make the young man feel that his parental opposition would be invincible.
"It is quite impossible, sir. I do not think that I need say anything more." Then, while Tregear was meditating whether to make any reply, the Duke asked a question which had better have been left unasked. The asking of it diminished somewhat from that ducal, grand-ducal, quasi-archducal, almost godlike superiority which he had assumed, and showed the curiosity of a mere man. "Has anybody else been aware of this?" he said, still wishing to know whether he had cause for anger against Silverbridge in the matter.
"Mrs. Finn is aware of it," answered Tregear.
"Mrs. Finn!" exclaimed the Duke, as though he had been stung by an adder.
This was the woman whom he had prayed to remain awhile with his daughter after his wife had been laid in her grave, in order that there might be someone near whom he could trust! And this very woman whom he had so trusted,—whom, in his early associations with her, he had disliked and distrusted, but had taught himself both to like and to trust because his wife had loved her,—this woman was the she-Pandarus who had managed matters between Tregear and his daughter! His wife had been too much subject to her influence. That he had always known. And now, in this last act of her life, she had allowed herself to be persuaded to give up her daughter by the baneful wiles of this most pernicious woman. Such were the workings of the Duke's mind when the young man told him that Mrs. Finn was acquainted with the whole affair. As the reader is aware, nothing could have been more unjust.
"I mentioned her name," said Tregear, "because I thought she had been a friend of the family."
"That will do, sir. I have been greatly pained as well as surprised by what I have heard. Of the real state of the case I can form no opinion till I see my daughter. You, of course, will hold no further intercourse with her." He paused as though for a promise, but Tregear did not feel himself called upon to say a word in one direction or in the other. "It will be my care that you shall not do so. Good-morning, sir."
Tregear, who during the interview had been standing, then bowed, turned upon his heel, and left the room.
The Duke seated himself, and, crossing his arms upon his chest, sat for an hour looking up at the ceiling. Why was it that, for him, such a world of misery had been prepared? What wrong had he done, of what imprudence had he been guilty, that, at every turn of life, something should occur so grievous as to make him think himself the most wretched of men? No man had ever loved his wife more dearly than he had done; and yet now, in that very excess of tenderness which her death had occasioned, he was driven to accuse her of a great sin against himself, in that she had kept from him her knowledge of this affair;—for, when he came to turn the matter over in his mind, he did believe Tregear's statement as to her encouragement. Then, too, he had been proud of his daughter. He was a man so reticent and undemonstrative in his manner that he had never known how to make confidential friends of his children. In his sons hitherto he had not taken pride. They were gallant, well-grown, handsome boys, with a certain dash of cleverness,—more like their mother than their father; but they had not as yet done anything as he would have had them do it. But the girl, in the perfection of her beauty, in the quiescence of her manner, in the nature of her studies, and in the general dignity of her bearing, had seemed to be all that he had desired. And now she had engaged herself, behind his back, to the younger son of a little county squire!
But his anger against Mrs. Finn was hotter than his anger against any one in his own family.
Major Tifto had lately become a member of the Beargarden Club, under the auspices of his friend Lord Silverbridge. It was believed, by those who had made some inquiry into the matter, that the Major had really served a campaign as a volunteer in the Carlist army in the north of Spain. When, therefore, it was declared by someone that he was not a major at all, his friends were able to contradict the assertion, and to impute it to slander. Instances were brought up,—declared by these friends to be innumerable, but which did, in truth, amount to three or four,—of English gentlemen who had come home from a former Carlist war, bearing the title of colonel, without any contradiction or invidious remark. Had this gallant officer appeared as Colonel Tifto, perhaps less might have been said about it. There was a little lack of courage in the title which he did choose. But it was accepted at last, and, as Major Tifto, he was proposed, seconded, and elected at the Beargarden.
But he had other points in his favour besides the friendship of Lord Silverbridge,—points which had probably led to that friendship. He was, without doubt, one of the best horsemen in England. There were some who said that, across country, he was the very best, and that, as a judge of a hunter, few excelled him. Of late years he had crept into credit as a betting-man. No one supposed that he had much capital to work with; but still, when he lost a bet he paid it.
Soon after his return from Spain, he was chosen as Master of the Runnymede Fox-Hounds, and was thus enabled to write the letters M.F.H. after his name. The gentlemen who rode with the Runnymede were not very liberal in their terms, and had lately been compelled to change their Master rather more frequently than was good for that quasi-suburban hunt; but now they had fitted themselves well. How he was to hunt the country five days a fortnight, finding servants and horses, and feeding the hounds, for eight hundred pounds a year, no one could understand. But Major Tifto not only undertook to do it, but did it. And he actually succeeded in obtaining for the Runnymede a degree of popularity which for many years previous it had not possessed. Such a man,—even though no one did know anything of his father or mother, though no one had ever heard him speak of a brother or a sister, though it was believed that he had no real income,—was felt by many to be the very man for the Beargarden; and when his name was brought up at the committee, Lord Silverbridge was able to say so much in his favour that only two blackballs were given against him. Under the mild rule of the club, three would have been necessary to exclude him; and therefore Major Tifto was now as good a member as any one else.
He was a well-made little man, good-looking for those who like such good looks. He was light-haired and blue-eyed, with regular and yet not inexpressive features. But his eyes were small and never tranquil, and rarely capable of looking at the person who was speaking to him. He had small well-trimmed, glossy whiskers, with the best-kept moustache, and the best-kept tuft on his chin which were to be seen anywhere. His face still bore the freshness of youth, which was a marvel to many, who declared that, from facts within their knowledge, Tifto must be far on the wrong side of forty. At a first glance you would hardly have called him thirty. No doubt, when, on close inspection, you came to look into his eyes, you could see the hand of time. Even if you believed the common assertion that he painted,—which it was very hard to believe of a man who passed the most of his time in the hunting-field or on a race-course,—yet the paint on his cheeks would not enable him to move with the elasticity which seemed to belong to all his limbs. He rode flat races and steeple chases,—if jump races may still be so called; and with his own hounds and with the Queen's did incredible things on horseback. He could jump over chairs too,—the backs of four chairs in a dining-room after dinner,—a feat which no gentleman of forty-five could perform, even though he painted himself ever so.
So much in praise of Major Tifto honesty has compelled the present chronicler to say. But there were traits of character in which he fell off a little, even in the estimation of those whose pursuits endeared him to them. He could not refrain from boasting,—and especially from boasting about women. His desire for glory in that direction knew no bounds, and he would sometimes mention names, and bring himself into trouble. It was told of him that at one period of his life, when misfortune had almost overcome him, when sorrow had produced prostration, and prostration some expression of truth, he had owned to a friend his own conviction that could he have kept his tongue from talking of women, he might have risen to prosperity in his profession. From these misfortunes he had emerged, and, no doubt, had often reflected on what he himself had then said. But we know that the drunkard, though he hates drunkenness, cannot but drink,—that the gambler cannot keep from the dice. Major Tifto still lied about women, and could not keep his tongue from the subject. He would boast, too, about other matters,—much to his own disadvantage. He was, too, very "deep", and some men, who could put up with his other failings, could not endure that. Whatever he wanted to do he would attempt round three corners. Though he could ride straight, he could do nothing else straight. He was full of mysteries. If he wanted to draw Charter Wood he would take his hounds out of the street at Egham directly in the other direction. If he had made up his mind to ride Lord Pottlepot's horse for the great Leamington handicap, he would be sure to tell even his intimate friends that he was almost determined to take the "baronet's" offer of a mount. This he would do even where there was no possible turn in the betting to be affected by such falsehood. So that his companions were apt to complain that there was no knowing where to have Tifto. And then, they who were old enough in the world to have had some experience in men, had perceived that peculiar quality of his eyes, which never allowed him to look any one in the face.
That Major Tifto should make money by selling horses was, perhaps, a necessity of his position. No one grumbled at him because he did so, or thought that such a pursuit was incompatible with his character as a sporting gentleman. But there were some who considered that they had suffered unduly under his hands, and in their bargains with him had been made to pay more than a proper amount of tax for the advantages of his general assistance. When a man has perhaps made fifty pounds by using a "straight tip" as to a horse at Newmarket, in doing which he had of course encountered some risks, he feels he ought not to be made to pay the amount back into the pockets of the "tipper," and at the same time to find himself saddled with the possession of a perfectly useless animal. In this way there were rocks in the course through which Tifto was called on to steer his bark. Of course he was anxious, when preying upon his acquaintances, to spare those who were useful friends to him. Now and again he would sell a serviceable animal at a fair price, and would endeavour to make such sale in favour of someone whose countenance would be a rock to him. He knew his business well, but yet there would be mistakes.
Now, at this very moment, was the culmination of the Major's life. He was Master of the Runnymede Hounds, he was partner with the eldest son of a Duke in the possession of that magnificent colt, the Prime Minister, and he was a member of the Beargarden. He was a man who had often been despondent about himself, but was now disposed to be a little triumphant. He had finished his season well with the Runnymede, and were it not that, let him work as he would, his expenses always exceeded his means, he would have been fairly comfortable.
At eight o'clock Lord Silverbridge and his friend met in the dining-room of the Beargarden. "Have you been here before?" asked the Lord.
"Not in here, my Lord. I just looked in at the smoking-room last night. Glasslough and Nidderdale were there. I thought we should have got up a rubber, but they didn't seem to see it."
"There is whist here generally. You'll find out all about it before long. Perhaps they are a little afraid of you."
"I'm the worst hand at cards, I suppose, in England. A dash at loo for about an hour, and half-a-dozen cuts at blind hookey,—that's about my form. I know I drop more than I pick up. If I knew what I was about I should never touch a card."
"Horses; eh, Tifto?"
"Horses, yes. They've pretty good claret, here, eh, Silverbridge?" He could never hit off his familiarity quite right. He had my-Lorded his young friend at first, and now brought out the name with a hesitating twang, which the young nobleman appreciated. But then the young nobleman was quite aware that the Major was a friend for club purposes, and sporting purposes, and not for home use.
"Everything of that kind is pretty good here," said the Lord.
"You were saying—horses."
"I dare say you do better with them than with cards."
"If I didn't I don't know where I should be, seeing what a lot pass through my hands in the year. Any one of our fellows who has a horse to sell thinks that I am bound to buy him. And I do buy 'em. Last May I had forty-two hunters on my hands."
"How many of them have you got now?"
"Three. Three of that lot,—though a goodish many have come up since. But what does it amount to? When I have anything that is very good, some fellow that I like gets him from me."
"After paying for him."
"After paying for him! Yes; I don't mean that I make a fellow a present. But the man who buys has a deal the best of it. Did you ever get anything better than that spotted chestnut in your life?"
"What, old Sarcinet?"
"You had her for one hundred and sixty pounds. Now, if you were on your oath, what is she worth?"
"She suits me, Major, and of course I shouldn't sell her."
"I rather think not. I knew what that mare was, well enough. A dealer would have had three hundred and fifty pounds for her. I could have got the money easily if I had taken her down into the shires, and ridden her a day or two myself."
"I gave you what you asked."
"Yes, you did. It isn't often that I take less than I ask. But the fact is, about horses, I don't know whether I shouldn't do better if I never owned an animal at all but those I want for my own use. When I am dealing with a man I call a friend, I can't bear to make money of him. I don't think fellows give me all the credit they should do for sticking to them."
The Major, as he said this, leaned back in his chair, put his hand up to his moustache, and looked sadly away into the vacancy of the room, as though he was meditating sorrowfully on the ingratitude of the world.