"No, indeed; I never saw him till the other day."
"I thought you seemed to be intimate. And then the Houghtons and the De Barons and the Germains are all Brothershire people."
"I knew Mrs. Houghton's father, of course, a little; but I never saw Captain De Baron." This she said rather seriously, remembering what Mrs. Houghton had said to her of the love affair between this young lady and the Captain in question.
"I thought you seemed to know him the other night, and I saw you riding with him."
"He was with his cousin Adelaide,—not with us."
"I don't think he cares much for Adelaide. Do you like him?"
"Yes, I do; very much. He seems to be so gay."
"Yes, he is gay. He's a horrid flirt, you know."
"I didn't know; and what is more, I don't care."
"So many girls have said that about Captain De Baron; but they have cared afterwards."
"But I am not a girl, Miss Mildmay," said Mary, colouring, offended and resolved at once that she would have no intimacy and as little acquaintance as possible with Guss Mildmay.
"You are so much younger than so many of us that are girls," said Guss, thinking to get out of the little difficulty in that way. "And then it's all fish that comes to his net." She hardly knew what she was saying, but was anxious to raise some feeling that should prevent any increased intimacy between her own lover and Lady George. It was nothing to her whether or no she offended Lady George Germain. If she could do her work without sinning against good taste, well; but if not, then good taste must go to the wall. Good taste certainly had gone to the wall.
"Upon my word, I can hardly understand you!" Then Lady George turned away to her father. "Well, papa, has Miss Mildmay persuaded you to come to the Institute with me?"
"I am afraid I should hardly be admitted, after what I have just said."
"Indeed you shall be admitted, Mr. Dean," said the old woman. "We are quite of the Church's way of thinking, that no sinner is too hardened for repentance."
"I am afraid the day of grace has not come yet," said the Dean.
"Papa," said Lady George, as soon as her visitors were gone, "do you know I particularly dislike that younger Miss Mildmay."
"Is she worth being particularly disliked so rapidly?"
"She says nasty, impudent things. I can't quite explain what she said." And again Lady George blushed.
"People in society now do give themselves strange liberty;—women, I think, more than men. You shouldn't mind it."
"Not mind it?"
"Not mind it so as to worry yourself. If a pert young woman like that says anything to annoy you, put her down at the time, and then think no more about it. Of course you need not make a friend of her."
"That I certainly shall not do."
On the Sunday after this Lady George dined again with her father at Mr. Houghton's house, the dinner having been made up especially for the Dean. On this occasion the Mildmays were not there; but Captain De Baron was one of the guests. But then he was Mrs. Houghton's cousin, and had the run of the house on all occasions. Again, there was no great party; Mrs. Montacute Jones was there, and Hetta,—Miss Houghton, that is, whom all the world called Hetta,—and Mrs. Houghton's father, who happened to be up in town. Again Lady George found herself sitting between her host and Jack De Baron, and again she thought that Jack was a very agreeable companion. The idea of being in any way afraid of him did not enter into her mind. Those horrid words which Guss Mildmay had said to her,—as to all being fish for his net,—had no effect of that nature. She assured herself that she knew herself too well to allow anything of that kind to influence her. That she, Lady George Germain, the daughter of the Dean of Brotherton, a married woman, should be afraid of any man, afraid of any too close intimacy! The idea was horrible and disgusting to her. So that when Jack proposed to join her and her father in the park on the next afternoon, she said that she would be delighted; and when he told her absurd stories of his regimental duties, and described his brother officers who probably did not exist as described by him, and then went on to hunting legends in Buckinghamshire, she laughed at everything he said and was very merry. "Don't you like Jack?" Mrs. Houghton said to her in the drawing-room.
"Yes, I do; very much. He's just what Jack ought to be."
"I don't know about that. I suppose Jack ought to go to church twice on Sundays, and give half what he has to the poor, just as well as John."
"Perhaps he does. But Jack is bound to be amusing, while John need not have a word to say for himself."
"You know he's my pet friend. We are almost like brother and sister, and therefore I need not be afraid of him."
"Afraid of him! Why should anybody be afraid of him?"
"I am sure you needn't. But Jack has done mischief in his time. Perhaps he's not the sort of man that would ever touch your fancy." Again Lady George blushed, but on this occasion she had nothing to say. She did not want to quarrel with Mrs. Houghton, and the suggestion that she could possibly love any other man than her husband had not now been made in so undisguised a manner as before.
"I thought he was engaged to Miss Mildmay," said Lady George.
"Oh, dear no; nothing of the kind. It is impossible, as neither of them has anything to speak of. When does Lord George come back?"
"Mind that he comes to see me soon. I do so long to hear what he'll say about his new sister-in-law. I had made up my mind that I should have to koto to you before long as a real live marchioness."
"You'll never have to do that."
"Not if this child is a real Lord Popenjoy. But I have my hopes still, my dear."
Soon after that Hetta Houghton reverted to the all important subject.
"You have found out that what I told you was true, Lady George."
"Oh yes,—all true."
"I wonder what the Dowager thinks about it."
"My husband is with his mother. She thinks, I suppose, just what we all think, that it would have been better if he had told everybody of his marriage sooner."
"A great deal better."
"I don't know whether, after all, it will make a great deal of difference. Lady Brotherton,—the Dowager I mean,—is so thoroughly English in all her ways that she never could have got on very well with an Italian daughter-in-law."
"The question is whether when a man springs a wife and family on his relations in that way, everything can be taken for granted. Suppose a man had been ever so many years in Kamptschatka, and had then come back with a Kamptschatkean female, calling her his wife, would everybody take it as all gospel?"
"I suppose so."
"Do you? I think not. In the first place it might be difficult for an Englishman to get himself married in that country according to English laws, and in the next, when there, he would hardly wish to do so."
"Italy is not Kamptschatka, Miss Houghton."
"Certainly not; and it isn't England. People are talking about it a great deal, and seem to think that the Italian lady oughtn't to have a walk over."
Miss Houghton had heard a good deal about races from her brother, and the phrase she had used was quite an everyday word to her. Lady George did not understand it, but felt that Miss Houghton was talking very freely about a very delicate matter. And she remembered at the same time what had been the aspirations of the lady's earlier life, and put down a good deal of what was said to personal jealousy. "Papa," she said, as she went home, "it seems to me that people here talk a great deal about one's private concerns."
"You mean about Lord Brotherton's marriage."
"That among other things."
"Of course they will talk about that. It is hardly to be considered private. And I don't know but what the more it is talked about the better for us. It is felt to be a public scandal, and that feeling may help us."
"Oh, papa, I wish you wouldn't think that we wanted any help."
"We want the truth, my dear, and we must have it."
On the next day they met Jack De Baron in the park. They had not been long together before the Dean saw an old friend on the footpath and stopped to speak to him. Mary would have stayed too, had not her horse displayed an inclination to go on, and that she had felt herself unwilling to make an effort in the matter. As she rode on with Captain De Baron she remembered all that had been said by Guss Mildmay and Mrs. Houghton, and remembered also her own decision that nothing of that kind could matter to her. It was an understood thing that ladies and gentlemen when riding should fall into this kind of intercourse. Her father was with her, and it would be absurd that she should be afraid to be a minute or two out of his sight. "I ought to have been hunting," said Jack; "but there was frost last night, and I do hate going down and being told that the ground is as hard as brickbats at the kennels, while men are ploughing all over the country. And now it's a delicious spring day."
"You didn't like getting up, Captain De Baron," she said.
"Perhaps there's something in that. Don't you think getting up is a mistake? My idea of a perfect world is one where nobody would ever have to get up."
"I shouldn't at all like always to lie in bed."
"But there might be some sort of arrangement to do away with the nuisance. See what a good time the dogs have."
"Now, Captain De Baron, would you like to be a dog?" This she said turning round and looking him full in the face.
"Your dog I would." At that moment, just over his horse's withers, she saw the face of Guss Mildmay who was leaning on her father's arm. Guss bowed to her, and she was obliged to return the salute. Jack De Baron turned his face to the path and seeing the lady raised his hat. "Are you two friends?" he asked.
"I wish you were. But, of course, I have no right to wish in such a matter as that." Lady George felt that she wished that Guss Mildmay had not seen her riding in the park on that day with Jack De Baron.
It had been arranged that on Friday evening Lady George should call for Aunt Ju in Green Street, and that they should go together to the Institute in the Marylebone Road. The real and full name of the college, as some ladies delighted to call it, was, though somewhat lengthy, placarded in big letters on a long black board on the front of the building, and was as follows, "Rights of Women Institute; Established for the Relief of the Disabilities of Females." By friendly tongues to friendly ears "The College" or "the Institute" was the pleasant name used; but the irreverent public was apt to speak of the building generally as the "Female Disabilities." And the title was made even shorter. Omnibuses were desired to stop at the "Disabilities;" and it had become notorious that it was just a mile from King's Cross to the "Disabilities." There had been serious thoughts among those who were dominant in the Institute of taking down the big board and dropping the word. But then a change of a name implies such a confession of failure! It had on the whole been thought better to maintain the courage of the opinion which had first made the mistake. "So you're going to the Disabilities, are you?" Mrs. Houghton had said to Lady George.
"I'm to be taken by old Miss Mildmay."
"Oh, yes; Aunt Ju is a sort of first-class priestess among them. Don't let them bind you over to belong to them. Don't go in for it." Lady George had declared it to be very improbable that she should go in for it, but had adhered to her determination of visiting the Institute.
She called in Green Street fearing that she should see Guss Mildmay whom she had determined to keep at arm's distance as well as her friendship with Mrs. Houghton would permit; but Aunt Ju was ready for her in the passage. "I forgot to tell you that we ought to be a little early, as I have to take the chair. I daresay we shall do very well," she added, "if the man drives fast. But the thing is so important! One doesn't like to be flurried when one gets up to make the preliminary address." The only public meetings at which Mary had ever been present had appertained to certain lectures at Brotherton, at which her father or some other clerical dignity had presided, and she could not as yet understand that such a duty should be performed by a woman. She muttered something expressing a hope that all would go right. "I've got to introduce the Baroness, you know."
"Introduce the Baroness?"
"The Baroness Banmann. Haven't you seen the bill of the evening? The Baroness is going to address the meeting on the propriety of patronising female artists,—especially in regard to architecture. A combined college of female architects is to be established in Posen and Chicago, and why should we not have a branch in London, which is the centre of the world?"
"Would a woman have to build a house?" asked Lady George.
"She would draw the plans, and devise the proportions, and—and—do the aesthetic part of it. An architect doesn't carry bricks on his back, my dear."
"But he walks over planks, I suppose."
"And so could I walk over a plank; why not as well as a man? But you will hear what the Baroness says. The worst is that I am a little afraid of her English."
"She's a foreigner, of course. How will she manage?"
"Her English is perfect, but I am afraid of her pronunciation. However, we shall see." They had now arrived at the building, and Lady George followed the old lady in with the crowd. But when once inside the door they turned to a small passage on the left, which conducted those in authority to the august room preparatory to the platform. It is here that bashful speakers try to remember their first sentences, and that lecturers, proud of their prominence, receive the homage of the officers of the Institute. Aunt Ju, who on this occasion was second in glory, made her way in among the crowd and welcomed the Baroness, who had just arrived. The Baroness, was a very stout woman, about fifty, with a double chin, a considerable moustache, a low broad forehead, and bright, round, black eyes, very far apart. When introduced to Lady George, she declared that she had great honour in accepting the re-cog-nition. She had a stout roll of paper in her hand, and was dressed in a black stuff gown, with a cloth jacket buttoned up to neck, which hardly gave to her copious bust that appearance of manly firmness which the occasion almost required. But the virile collars budding out over it perhaps supplied what was wanting. Lady George looked at her to see if she was trembling. How, thought Lady George, would it have been with herself if she had been called upon to address a French audience in French! But as far as she could judge from experience, the Baroness was quite at her ease. Then she was introduced by Aunt Ju to Lady Selina Protest, who was a very little woman with spectacles,—of a most severe aspect. "I hope, Lady George, that you mean to put your shoulder to the wheel," said Lady Selina. "I am only here as a stranger," said Lady George. Lady Selina did not believe in strangers and passed on very severely. There was no time for further ceremonies, as a bald-headed old gentleman, who seemed to act as chief usher, informed Aunt Ju that it was time for her to take the Baroness on to the platform. Aunt Ju led the way, puffing a little, for she had been somewhat hurried on the stairs, and was not as yet quite used to the thing,—but still with a proudly prominent step. The Baroness waddled after her, apparently quite indifferent to the occasion. Then followed Lady Selina,—and Lady George, the bald-headed gentleman telling her where to place herself. She had never been on a platform before, and it seemed as though the crowd of people below was looking specially at her. As she sat down, at the right hand of the Baroness, who was of course at the right hand of the Chairwoman, the bald-headed gentleman introduced her to her other neighbour, Miss Doctor Olivia Q. Fleabody, from Vermont. There was so much of the name and it all sounded so strange to the ears of Lady George that she could remember very little of it, but she was conscious that her new acquaintance was a miss and a doctor. She looked timidly round, and saw what would have been a pretty face, had it not been marred by a pinched look of studious severity and a pair of glass spectacles of which the glasses shone in a disagreeable manner. There are spectacles which are so much more spectacles than other spectacles that they make the beholder feel that there is before him a pair of spectacles carrying a face, rather than a face carrying a pair of spectacles. So it was with the spectacles of Olivia Q. Fleabody. She was very thin, and the jacket and collars were quite successful. Sitting in the front row she displayed her feet,—and it may also be said her trousers, for the tunic which she wore came down hardly below the knees. Lady George's enquiring mind instantly began to ask itself what the lady had done with her petticoats. "This is a great occasion," said Dr. Fleabody, speaking almost out loud, and with a very strong nasal twang.
Lady George looked at the chair before she answered, feeling that she would not dare to speak a word if Aunt Ju were already on her legs; but Aunt Ju was taking advantage of the commotion which was still going on among those who were looking for seats to get her breath, and therefore she could whisper a reply. "I suppose it is," she said.
"If it were not that I have wedded myself in a peculiar manner to the prophylactick and therapeutick sciences, I would certainly now put my foot down firmly in the cause of architecture. I hope to have an opportunity of saying a few words on the subject myself before this interesting session shall have closed." Lady George looked at her again and thought that this enthusiastic hybrid who was addressing her could not be more than twenty-four years old.
But Aunt Ju was soon on her legs. It did not seem to Lady George that Aunt Ju enjoyed the moment now that it was come. She looked hot, and puffed once or twice before she spoke. But she had studied her few words so long, and had made so sure of them, that she could not go very far wrong. She assured her audience that the Baroness Banmann, whose name had only to be mentioned to be honoured both throughout Europe and America, had, at great personal inconvenience, come all the way from Bavaria to give them the advantage of her vast experience on the present occasion. Like a good chairwoman, she took none of the bread out of the Baroness's mouth—as we have occasionally known it to be done on such occasions—but confined herself to ecstatic praises of the German lady. All these the Baroness bore without a quiver, and when Aunt Ju sat down she stepped on to the rostrum of the evening amidst the plaudits of the room, with a confidence which to Lady George was miraculous. Then Aunt Ju took her seat, and was able for the next hour and a half to occupy her arm-chair with gratifying faineant dignity.
The Baroness, to tell the truth, waddled rather than stepped to the rostrum. She swung herself heavily about as she went sideways; but it was manifest to all eyes that she was not in the least ashamed of her waddling. She undid her manuscript on the desk, and flattened it down all over with her great fat hand, rolling her head about as she looked around, and then gave a grunt before she began. During this time the audience was applauding her loudly, and it was evident that she did not intend to lose a breath of their incense by any hurry on her own part. At last the voices and the hands and the feet were silent. Then she gave a last roll to her head and a last pat to the papers, and began. "De manifest infairiority of de tyrant saix——."
Those first words, spoken in a very loud voice, came clearly home to Lady George's ear, though they were uttered with a most un-English accent. The Baroness paused before she completed her first sentence, and then there was renewed applause. Lady George could remark that the bald-headed old gentleman behind and a cadaverous youth who was near to him were particularly energetic in stamping on the ground. Indeed, it seemed that the men were specially charmed with this commencement of the Baroness's oration. It was so good that she repeated it with, perhaps, even a louder shout. "De manifest infairiority of de tyrant saix——." Lady George, with considerable trouble, was able to follow the first sentence or two, which went to assert that the inferiority of man to woman in all work was quite as conspicuous as his rapacity and tyranny in taking to himself all the wages. The Baroness, though addressing a mixed audience, seemed to have no hesitation in speaking of man generally as a foul worm who ought to be put down and kept under, and merely allowed to be the father of children. But after a minute or two Lady George found that she could not understand two words consecutively, although she was close to the lecturer. The Baroness, as she became heated, threw out her words quicker and more quickly, till it became almost impossible to know in what language they were spoken. By degrees our friend became aware that the subject of architecture had been reached, and then she caught a word or two as the Baroness declared that the science was "adaapted only to de aestetic and comprehensive intelligence of de famale mind." But the audience applauded throughout as though every word reached them; and when from time to time the Baroness wiped her brows with a very large handkerchief, they shook the building with their appreciation of her energy. Then came a loud rolling sentence, with the old words as an audible termination—"de manifest infairiority of de tyrant saix!" As she said this she waved her handkerchief in the air and almost threw herself over the desk. "She is very great to-night,—very great indeed," whispered Miss Doctor Olivia Q. Fleabody to Lady George. Lady George was afraid to ask her neighbour whether she understood one word out of ten that were being spoken.
Great as the Baroness was, Lady George became very tired of it all. The chair was hard and the room was full of dust, and she could not get up. It was worse than the longest and the worst sermon she had ever heard. It seemed to her at last that there was no reason why the Baroness should not go on for ever. The woman liked it, and the people applauded her. The poor victim had made up her mind that there was no hope of cessation, and in doing so was very nearly asleep, when, on a sudden, the Baroness had finished and had thrown herself violently back into her chair. "Baroness, believe me," said Dr. Fleabody, stretching across Lady George, "it is the greatest treat I ever had in my life." The Baroness hardly condescended to answer the compliment. She was at this moment so great a woman, at this moment so immeasurably the greatest human being at any rate in London, that it did not become her to acknowledge single compliments. She had worked hard and was very hot, but still she had sufficient presence of mind to remember her demeanour.
When the tumult was a little subsided, Lady Selina Protest got up to move a vote of thanks. She was sitting on the left-hand side of the Chair, and rose so silently that Lady George had at first thought that the affair was all over, and that they might go away. Alas, alas! there was more to be borne yet! Lady Selina spoke with a clear but low voice, and though she was quite audible, and an earl's sister, did not evoke any enthusiasm. She declared that the thanks of every woman in England were due to the Baroness for her exertions, and of every man who wished to be regarded as the friend of women. But Lady Selina was very quiet, making no gestures, and was indeed somewhat flat. When she sat down no notice whatever was taken of her. Then very quickly, before Lady George had time to look about her, the Doctor was on her feet. It was her task to second the vote of thanks, but she was far too experienced an occupant of platforms to waste her precious occasion simply on so poor a task. She began by declaring that never in her life had a duty been assigned to her more consonant to her taste than that of seconding a vote of thanks to a woman so eminent, so humanitarian, and at the same time so essentially a female as the Baroness Banmann. Lady George, who knew nothing about speaking, felt at once that here was a speaker who could at any rate make herself audible and intelligible. Then the Doctor broke away into the general subject, with special allusions to the special matter of female architecture, and went on for twenty minutes without dropping a word. There was a moment in which she had almost made Lady George think that women ought to build houses. Her dislike to the American twang had vanished, and she was almost sorry when Miss Doctor Fleabody resumed her seat.
But it was after that,—after the Baroness had occupied another ten minutes in thanking the British public for the thanks that had been given to herself,—that the supreme emotion of the evening came to Lady George. Again she had thought, when the Baroness a second time rolled back to her chair, that the time for departure had come. Many in the hall, indeed, were already going, and she could not quite understand why no one on the platform had as yet moved. Then came that bald-headed old gentleman to her, to her very self, and suggested to her that she,—she, Lady George Germain, who the other day was Mary Lovelace, the Brotherton girl,—should stand up and make a speech! "There is to be a vote of thanks to Miss Mildmay as Chairwoman," said the bald-headed old man, "and we hope, Lady George, that you will favour us with a few words."
Her heart utterly gave way and the blood flew into her cheeks, and she thoroughly repented of having come to this dreadful place. She knew that she could not do it, though the world were to depend upon it; but she did not know whether the bald-headed old gentleman might not have the right of insisting on it. And then all the people were looking at her as the horrible old man was pressing his request over her shoulder. "Oh," she said; "no, I can't. Pray don't. Indeed I can't,—and I won't." The idea had come upon her that it was necessary that she should be very absolute. The old man retired meekly, and himself made the speech in honour of Aunt Ju.
As they were going away Lady George found that she was to have the honour of conveying the Baroness to her lodgings in Conduit Street. This was all very well, as there was room for three in the brougham, and she was not ill-pleased to hear the ecstasies of Aunt Ju about the lecture. Aunt Ju declared that she had agreed with every word that had been uttered. Aunt Ju thought that the cause was flourishing. Aunt Ju was of opinion that women in England would before long be able to sit in Parliament and practice in the Law Courts. Aunt Ju was thoroughly in earnest; but the Baroness had expended her energy in the lecture, and was more inclined to talk about persons. Lady George was surprised to hear her say that this young man was a very handsome young man, and that old man a very nice old man. She was almost in love with Mr. Spuffin, the bald-headed gentleman usher; and when she was particular in asking whether Mr. Spuffin was married, Lady George could hardly think that this was the woman who had been so eloquent on the "infairiority of de tyrant saix."
But it was not till Aunt Ju had been dropped in Green Street, and the conversation fell upon Lady George herself, that the difficulty began. "You no speak?" asked the Baroness.
"What, in public! Not for the world!"
"You wrong dere. Noting so easy. Say just as you please, only say it vera loud. And alvays abuse somebody or someting. You s'ould try."
"I would sooner die," said Lady George. "Indeed, I should be dead before I could utter a word. Isn't it odd how that lady Doctor could speak like that."
"De American young woman! Dey have de impudence of—of—of everything you please; but it come to noting."
"But she spoke well."
"Dear me, no; noting at all. Dere was noting but vords, vords, vords. Tank you; here I am. Mind you come again, and you shall learn to speak."
Lady George, as she was driven home, was lost in her inability to understand it all. She had thought that the Doctor spoke the best of all, and now she was told that it was nothing. She did not yet understand that even people so great as female orators, so nobly humanitarian as the Baroness Banmann, can be jealous of the greatness of others.
LORD GEORGE UP IN LONDON.
Lord George returned to town the day after the lecture, and was not altogether pleased that his wife should have gone to the Disabilities. She thought, indeed, that he did not seem to be in a humour to be pleased with anything. His mind was thoroughly disturbed by the coming of his brother, and perplexed with the idea that something must be done though he knew not what. And he was pervaded by a feeling that in the present emergency it behoved him to watch his own steps, and more especially those of his wife. An anonymous letter had reached Lady Sarah, signed, "A Friend of the Family," in which it was stated that the Marquis of Brotherton had allied himself to the highest blood that Italy knew, marrying into a family that had been noble before English nobility had existed, whereas his brother had married the granddaughter of a stable-keeper and a tallow chandler. This letter had, of course, been shown to Lord George; and, though he and his sisters agreed in looking upon it as an emanation from their enemy, the new Marchioness, it still gave them to understand that she, if attacked, would be prepared to attack again. And Lord George was open to attack on the side indicated. He was, on the whole, satisfied with his wife. She was ladylike, soft, pretty, well-mannered, and good to him. But her grandfathers had been stable-keepers and tallow-chandlers. Therefore it was specially imperative that she should be kept from injurious influences. Lady Selina Protest and Aunt Ju, who were both well-born, might take liberties; but not so his wife. "I don't think that was a very nice place to go to, Mary."
"It wasn't nice at all, but it was very funny. I never saw such a vulgar creature as the Baroness, throwing herself about and wiping her face."
"Why should you go and see a vulgar creature throw herself about and wipe her face?"
"Why should anybody do it? One likes to see what is going on, I suppose. The woman's vulgarity could not hurt me, George."
"It could do you no good."
"Lady Selina Protest was there, and I went with Miss Mildmay."
"Two old maids who have gone crazy about Woman's Rights because nobody has married them. The whole thing is distasteful to me, and I hope you will not go there again."
"That I certainly shall not, because it is very dull," said Mary.
"I hope, also, that, independently of that, my request would be enough."
"Certainly it would, George; but I don't know why you should be so cross to me."
"I don't think that I have been cross; but I am anxious, specially anxious. There are reasons why I have to be very anxious in regard to you, and why you have to be yourself more particular than others."
"What reasons?" She asked this with a look of bewildered astonishment. He was not prepared to answer the question, and shuffled out of it, muttering some further words as to the peculiar difficulty of their position. Then he kissed her and left her, telling her that all would be well if she would be careful.
If she would be careful! All would be well if she would be careful! Why should there be need of more care on her part than on that of others? She knew that all this had reference in some way to that troublesome lady and troublesome baby who were about to be brought home; but she could not conceive how her conduct could be specially concerned. It was a sorrow to her that her husband should allow himself to be ruffled about the matter at all. It was a sorrow also that her father should do so. As to herself, she had an idea that if Providence chose to make her a Marchioness, Providence ought to be allowed to do it without any interference on her part. But it would be a double sorrow if she were told that she mustn't do this and mustn't do that because there was before her a dim prospect of being seated in a certain high place which was claimed and occupied by another person. And she was aware, too, that her husband had in very truth scolded her. The ladies at Manor Cross had scolded her before, but he had never done so. She had got away from Manor Cross, and had borne the scolding because the prospect of escape had been before her. But it would be very bad indeed if her husband should take to scold her. Then she thought that if Jack De Baron were married he would never scold his wife.
The Dean had not yet gone home, and in her discomfort she had recourse to him. She did not intend to complain of her husband to her father. Had any such idea occurred to her, she would have stamped it out at once, knowing that such a course would be both unloyal and unwise. But her father was so pleasant with her, so easy to be talked to, so easy to be understood, whereas her husband was almost mysterious,—at any rate, gloomy and dark. "Papa," she said, "what does George mean by saying that I ought to be more particular than other people?"
"Does he say so?"
"Yes; and he didn't like my going with that old woman to hear the other women. He says that I ought not to do it though anybody else might."
"I think you misunderstood him."
"No; I didn't, papa."
"Then you had better imagine that he was tired with his journey, or that his stomach was a little out of order. Don't fret about such things, and whatever you do, make the best of your husband."
"But how am I to know where I may go and where I mayn't? Am I to ask him everything first?"
"Don't be a child, whatever you do. You will soon find out what pleases him and what doesn't, and, if you manage well, what you do will please him. Whatever his manner may be, he is soft-hearted and affectionate."
"I know that, papa."
"If he says a cross word now and again just let it go by. You should not suppose that words always mean what they seem to mean. I knew a man who used to tell his wife ever so often that he wished she were dead."
"Good heavens, papa!"
"Whenever he said so she always put a little magnesia into his beer, and things went on as comfortably as possible. Never magnify things, even to yourself. I don't suppose Lord George wants magnesia as yet, but you will understand what I mean." She said that she did; but she had not, in truth, quite comprehended the lesson as yet, nor could her father as yet teach it to her in plainer language.
On that same afternoon Lord George called in Berkeley Square and saw Mrs. Houghton. At this time the whole circle of people who were in any way connected with the Germain family, or who, by the circumstances of their lives were brought within the pale of the Germain influence, were agog with the marriage of the Marquis. The newspapers had already announced the probable return of the Marquis and the coming of a new Marchioness and a new Lord Popenjoy. Occasion had been taken to give some details of the Germain family, and public allusion had even been made to the marriage of Lord George. These are days in which, should your wife's grandfather have ever been insolvent, some newspaper, in its catering for the public, will think it proper to recall the fact. The Dean's parentage had been alluded to, and the late Tallowax will, and the Tallowax property generally. It had also been declared that the Marchesa Luigi,—now the present Marchioness,—had been born an Orsini; and also, in another paper, the other fact (?) that she had been divorced from her late husband. This had already been denied by Mr. Knox, who had received a telegram from Florence ordering such denial to be made. It may, therefore, be conceived that the Germains were at this moment the subject of much conversation, and it may be understood that Mrs. Houghton, who considered herself to be on very confidential terms with Lord George, should, as they were alone, ask a few questions and express a little sympathy. "How does the dear Marchioness like the new house?" she asked.
"It is tolerably comfortable."
"That Price is a darling, Lord George; I've known him ever so long. And, of course, it is the dower house."
"It was the suddenness that disturbed my mother."
"Of course; and then the whole of it must have gone against the grain with her. You bear it like an angel."
"For myself, I don't know that I have anything to bear."
"The whole thing is so dreadful. There are you and your dear wife,—everything just as it ought to be,—idolized by your mother, looked up to by the whole country, the very man whom we wish to see the head of such a family."
"Don't talk in that way, Mrs. Houghton."
"I know it is very distant; but still, I do feel near enough related to you all to be justified in being proud, and also to be justified in being ashamed. What will they do about calling upon her?"
"My brother will, of course, come to my mother first. Then Lady Sarah and one of her sisters will go over. After that he will bring his wife to Cross Hall if he pleases."
"I am so glad it is all settled; it is so much better. But you know, Lord George,—I must say it to you as I would to my own brother, because my regard for you is the same,—I shall never think that that woman is really his wife." Lord George frowned heavily, but did not speak. "And I shall never think that that child is really Lord Popenjoy."
Neither did Lord George in his heart of hearts believe that the Italian woman was a true Marchioness or the little child a true Lord Popenjoy; but he had confessed to himself that he had no adequate reason for such disbelief, and had perceived that it would become him to keep his opinion to himself. The Dean had been explicit with him, and that very explicitness had seemed to impose silence on himself. To his mother he had not whispered an idea of a suspicion. With his sisters he had been reticent, though he knew that Lady Sarah, at any rate, had her suspicions. But now an open expression of the accusation from so dear a friend as Mrs. Houghton,—from the Adelaide De Baron whom he had so dearly loved,—gratified him and almost tempted him into confidence. He had frowned at first, because his own family was to him so august that he could not but frown when anyone ventured to speak of it. Even crowned princes are driven to relax themselves on occasions, and Lord George Germain felt that he would almost like, just for once, to talk about his brothers and sisters as though they were Smiths and Joneses. "It is very hard to know what to think," he said.
Mrs. Houghton at once saw that the field was open to her. She had ventured a good deal, and, knowing the man, had felt the danger of doing so; but she was satisfied now that she might say almost anything. "But one is bound to think, isn't one? Don't you feel that? It is for the whole family that you have to act."
"What is to be done? I can't go and look up evidence."
"But a paid agent can. Think of Mary. Think of Mary's child,—if she should have one." As she said this she looked rather anxiously into his face, being desirous of receiving an answer to a question which she did not quite dare to ask.
"Of course there's all that," he said, not answering the question.
"I can only just remember him though papa knew him so well. But I suppose he has lived abroad till he has ceased to think and feel like an Englishman. Could anyone believe that a Marquis of Brotherton would have married a wife long enough ago to have a son over twelve months old, and never to have said a word about it to his brother or mother? I don't believe it."
"I don't know what to believe," said Lord George.
"And then to write in such a way about the house! Of course I hear it talked of by people who won't speak before you; but you ought to know."
"What do people say?"
"Everybody thinks that there is some fraud. There is old Mrs. Montacute Jones,—I don't know anybody who knows everything better than she does,—and she was saying that you would be driven by your duty to investigate the matter. 'I daresay he'd prefer to do nothing,' she said, 'but he must.' I felt that to be so true! Then Mr. Mildmay, who is so very quiet, said that there would be a lawsuit. Papa absolutely laughed at the idea of the boy being Lord Popenjoy, though he was always on good terms with your brother. Mr. Houghton says that nobody in society will give the child the name. Of course he's not very bright, but on matters like that he does know what he's talking about. When I hear all this I feel it a great deal, Lord George."
"I know what a friend you are."
"Indeed I am. I think very often what I might have been, but could not be; and though I am not jealous of the happiness and honours of another, I am anxious for your happiness and your honours." He was sitting near her, on a chair facing the fire, while she was leaning back on the sofa. He went on staring at the hot coals, flattered, in some sort elate, but very disturbed. The old feeling was coming back upon him. She was not as pretty as his wife,—but she was, he thought, more attractive, had more to say for herself, was more of a woman. She could pour herself into his heart and understand his feelings, whereas Mary did not sympathize with him at all in this great family trouble. But then Mary was, of course, his wife, and this woman was the wife of another man. He would be the last man in the world,—so he would have told himself could he have spoken to himself on the subject,—to bring disgrace on himself and misery on other people by declaring his love to another man's wife. He was the last man to do an injury to the girl whom he had made his own wife! But he liked being with his old love, and felt anxious to say a word to her that should have in it something just a little beyond the ordinary tenderness of friendship. The proper word, however, did not come to him at that moment. In such moments the proper word very often will not come. "You are not angry with me for saying so?" she asked.
"How can I be angry?"
"I don't think that there can have been such friendship, as there was between you and me, and that it should fade and die away, unless there be some quarrel. You have not quarrelled with me?"
"Quarrelled with you? Never!"
"And you did love me once?" She at any rate knew how to find the tender words that were required for her purpose.
"Indeed I did."
"It did not last very long; did it, Lord George?"
"It was you that—that—. It was you that stopped it."
"Yes, it was I that stopped it. Perhaps I found it easier to—stop than I had expected. But it was all for the best. It must have been stopped. What could our life have been? I was telling a friend to mine the other day, a lady, that there are people who cannot afford to wear hearts inside them. If I had jumped at your offer,—and there was a moment when I would have done so——"
"Indeed there was, George." The "George" didn't mean quite as much as it might have meant between others, because they were cousins. "But, if I had, the joint home of us all must have been in Mr. Price's farm-house."
"It isn't a farm-house."
"You know what I mean. But I want you to believe that I thought of you quite as much as of myself,—more than of myself. I should at any rate have had brilliant hopes before me. I could understand what it would be to be the Marchioness of Brotherton. I could have borne much for years to think that at some future day I might hang on your arm in London salons as your wife. I had an ambition which now can never be gratified. I, too, can look on this picture and on that. But I had to decide for you as well as for myself, and I did decide that it was not for your welfare nor for your honour, nor for your happiness to marry a woman who could not help you in the world." She was now leaning forward and almost touching his arm. "I think sometimes that those most nearly concerned hardly know what a woman may have to endure because she is not selfish."
How could any man stand this? There are words which a man cannot resist from a woman even though he knows them to be false. Lord George, though he did not quite believe that all these words were sincere, did think that there was a touch of sincerity about them—an opinion which the reader probably will not share with Lord George. "Have you suffered?" he said, putting out his hand to her and taking hers.
"Suffered!" she exclaimed, drawing away her hand, and sitting bolt upright and shaking her head. "Do you think that I am a fool, not to know! Do you suppose that I am blind and deaf? When I said that I was one of those who could not afford to wear a heart, did you imagine that I had been able to get rid of the article? No, it is here still," and she put her hand upon her side. "It is here still, and very troublesome I find it. I suppose the time will come when it will die away. They say that every plant will fade if it be shut in from the light, and never opened to the rains of heaven."
"Alas! alas!" he said. "I did not know that you would feel like that."
"Of course I feel. I have had something to do with my life, and I have done this with it! Two men have honoured me with their choice, and out of the two I have chosen—Mr. Houghton. I comfort myself by telling myself that I did right;—and I did do right. But the comfort is not very comforting." Still he sat looking at the fire. He knew that it was open to him to get up and swear to her that she still had his heart. She could not be angry with him as she had said as much to himself. And he almost believed at the moment that it was so. He was quite alive to the attraction of the wickedness, though, having a conscience, he was aware that the wickedness should, if possible, be eschewed. There is no romance in loving one's own wife. The knowledge that it is a duty deadens the pleasure. "I did not mean to say all this," she exclaimed at last, sobbing.
"Adelaide!" he said.
"Do you love me? You may love me without anything wrong."
"Indeed I do." Then there was an embrace, and after that he hurried away, almost without another word.
"After all, he's very dreary!" It was this that Adelaide Houghton spoke to herself as soon as Lord George had left her. No doubt the whole work of the interview had fallen on to her shoulders. He had at last been talked into saying that he loved her, and had then run away frightened by the unusual importance and tragic signification of his own words. "After all, he's very dreary."
Mrs. Houghton wanted excitement. She probably did like Lord George as well as she liked any one. Undoubtedly she would have married him had he been able to maintain her as she liked to be maintained. But, as he had been unable, she had taken Mr. Houghton without a notion on her part of making even an attempt to love him. When she said that she could not afford to wear a heart,—and she had said so to various friends and acquaintances,—she did entertain an idea that circumstances had used her cruelly, that she had absolutely been forced to marry a stupid old man, and that therefore some little freedom was due to her as a compensation. Lord George was Lord George, and might, possibly, some day be a marquis. He was at any rate a handsome man, and he had owned allegiance to her before he had transferred his homage to that rich little chit Mary Lovelace. She was incapable of much passion, but she did feel that she owed it to herself to have some revenge on Mary Lovelace. The game as it stood had charms sufficient to induce her to go on with it; and yet,—after all, he was dreary.
Such was the lady's feeling when she was left alone; but Lord George went away from the meeting almost overcome by the excitement of the occasion. To him the matter was of such stirring moment that he could not go home, could not even go to his club. He was so moved by his various feelings, that he could only walk by himself and consider things. To her that final embrace had meant very little. What did it signify? He had taken her in his arms and kissed her forehead. It might have been her lips had he so pleased. But to him it had seemed to mean very much indeed. There was a luxury in it which almost intoxicated him, and a horror in it which almost quelled him. That she should so love him as to be actually subdued by her love could not but charm him. He had none of that strength which arms a man against flatterers;—none of that experience which strengthens a man against female cajolery. It was to him very serious and very solemn. There might, perhaps, have been exaggeration in her mode of describing her feelings, but there could be no doubt in this,—that he had held her in his arms and that she was another man's wife.
The wickedness of the thing was more wicked to him than the charm of it was charming. It was dreadful to him to think that he had done a thing of which he would have to be ashamed if the knowledge of it were brought to his wife's ears. That he should have to own himself to have been wrong to her would tear him to pieces! That he should lord it over her as a real husband, was necessary to his happiness, and how can a man be a real lord over a woman when he has had to confess his fault to her, and to beg her to forgive him? A wife's position with her husband may be almost improved by such asking for pardon. It will enhance his tenderness. But the man is so lowered that neither of them can ever forget the degradation. And, though it might never come to that, though this terrible passion might be concealed from her, still it was a grievance to him and a disgrace that he should have anything to conceal. It was a stain in his own eyes on his own nobility, a slur upon his escutcheon, a taint in his hitherto unslobbered honesty, and then the sin of it;—the sin of it! To him it already sat heavy on his conscience. In his ear, even now, sounded that commandment which he weekly prayed that he might be permitted to keep. While with her there was hardly left a remembrance of the kiss which he had imprinted on her brow, his lips were still burning with the fever. Should he make up his mind, now at once, that he would never, never see her again? Should he resolve that he would write to her a moving tragic letter,—not a love letter,—in which he would set forth the horrors of unhallowed love, and tell her that there must be a gulf between them, over which neither must pass till age should have tamed their passions! As he walked across the park he meditated what would be the fitting words for such a letter, and almost determined that it should be written. Did he not owe his first duty to his wife, and was he not bound for her sake to take such a step? Then, as he wandered alone in Kensington Gardens,—for it had taken him many steps, and occupied much time to think of it all,—there came upon him an idea that perhaps the lady would not receive the letter in the proper spirit. Some idea occurred to him of the ridicule which would befall him should the lady at last tell him that he had really exaggerated matters. And then the letter might be shown to others. He did love the lady. With grief and shame and a stricken conscience he owned to himself that he loved her. But he could not quite trust her. And so, as he walked down towards the Albert Memorial, he made up his mind that he would not write the letter. But he also made up his mind,—he thought that he made up his mind,—that he would go no more alone to Berkeley Square.
As he walked on he suddenly came upon his wife walking with Captain De Baron, and he was immediately struck by the idea that his wife ought not to be walking in Kensington Gardens with Captain De Baron. The idea was so strong as altogether to expel from his mind for the moment all remembrance of Mrs. Houghton. He had been unhappy before because he was conscious that he was illtreating his wife, but now he was almost more disturbed because it seemed to him to be possible that his wife was illtreating him. He had left her but a few minutes ago,—he thought of it now as being but a few minutes since,—telling her with almost his last word that she was specially bound, more bound than other women, to mind her own conduct,—and here she was walking in Kensington Gardens with a man whom all the world called Jack De Baron? As he approached them his brow became clouded, and she could see that it was so. She could not but fear that her companion would see it also. Lord George was thinking how to address them, and had already determined on tucking his wife under his own arm and carrying her off, before he saw that a very little way behind them the Dean was walking with—Adelaide Houghton herself. Though he had been more than an hour wandering about the park he could not understand that the lady whom he had left in her own house so recently, in apparently so great a state of agitation, should be there also, in her best bonnet and quite calm. He had no words immediately at command, but she was as voluble as ever. "Doesn't this seem odd?" she said. "Why, it is not ten minutes since you left me in Berkeley Square. I wonder what made you come here."
"What made you come?"
"Jack brought me here. If it were not for Jack I should never walk or ride or do anything, except sit in a stupid carriage. And just at the gate of the gardens we met the Dean and Lady George."
This was very simple and straightforward. There could be no doubt of the truth of it all. Lady George had come out with her father and nothing could be more as it ought to be. As to "Jack" and the lady he did not, at any rate as yet, feel himself justified in being angry at that arrangement. But nevertheless he was disturbed. His wife had been laughing when he first saw her, and Jack had been talking, and they had seemed to be very happy together. The Dean no doubt was there; but still the fact remained that Jack had been laughing and talking with his wife. He almost doubted whether his wife ought under any circumstances to laugh in Kensington Gardens. And then the Dean was so indiscreet! He, Lord George, could not of course forbid his wife to walk with her father;—but the Dean had no idea that any real looking after was necessary for anybody. He at once gave his arm to his wife, but in two minutes she had dropped it. They were on the steps of the Albert Memorial, and it was perhaps natural that she should do so. But he hovered close to her as they were looking at the figures, and was uneasy. "I think it's the prettiest thing in London," said the Dean, "one of the prettiest things in the world."
"Don't you find it very cold?" said Lord George, who did not at the present moment care very much for the fine arts.
"We have been walking quick," said Mrs. Houghton, "and have enjoyed it." The Dean with the two others had now passed round one of the corners. "I wonder," she went on, "I do wonder how it has come to pass that we should be brought together again so soon!"
"We both happened to come the same way," said Lord George, who was still thinking of his wife.
"Yes;—that must have been it. Though is it not a strange coincidence? My mind had been so flurried that I was glad to get out into the fresh air. When shall I see you again?" He couldn't bring himself to say—never. There would have been a mock-tragic element about the single word which even he felt. And yet, here on the steps of the monument, there was hardly an opportunity for him to explain at length the propriety of their both agreeing to be severed. "You wish to see me;—don't you?" she asked.
"I hardly know what to say."
"But you love me!" She was now close to him, and there was no one else near enough to interfere. She was pressing close up to him, and he was sadly ashamed of himself. And yet he did love her. He thought that she had never looked so well as at the present moment. "Say that you love me," she said, stamping her foot almost imperiously.
"You know I do, but—"
"I had better come to you again and tell you all." The words were no sooner out of his mouth than he remembered that he had resolved that he would never go to her again. But yet, after what had passed, something must be done. He had also made up his mind that he wouldn't write. He had quite made up his mind about that. The words that are written remain. It would perhaps be better that he should go to her and tell her everything.
"Of course you will come again," she said. "What is it ails you? You are unhappy because she is here with my cousin Jack?" It was intolerable to him that any one should suspect him of jealousy. "Jack has a way of getting intimate with people, but it means nothing." It was dreadful to him that an allusion should be made to the possibility of anybody "meaning anything" with his wife.
Just at this moment Jack's voice was heard coming back round the corner, and also the laughter of the Dean. Captain De Baron had been describing the persons represented on the base of the monument, and had done so after some fashion of his own that had infinitely amused not only Lady George but her father also. "You ought to be appointed Guide to the Memorial," said the Dean.
"If Lady George will give me a testimonial no doubt I might get it, Dean," said Jack.
"I don't think you know anything about any of them," said Lady George. "I'm sure you've told me wrong about two. You're the last man in the world that ought to be a guide to anything."
"Will you come and be guide, and I'll just sweep the steps!"
Lord George heard the last words, and allowed himself to be annoyed at them, though he felt them to be innocent. He knew that his wife was having a game of pleasant play, like a child with a pleasant play-fellow. But then he was not satisfied that his wife should play like a child,—and certainly not with such a playfellow. He doubted whether his wife ought to allow playful intimacy from any man. Marriage was to him a very serious thing. Was he not prepared to give up a real passion because he had made this other woman his wife? In thinking over all this his mind was not very logical, but he did feel that he was justified in exacting particularly strict conduct from her because he was going to make Mrs. Houghton understand that they two, though they loved each other, must part. If he could sacrifice so much for his wife, surely she might sacrifice something for him.
They returned altogether to Hyde Park Corner and then they separated. Jack went away towards Berkeley Square with his cousin; the Dean got himself taken in a cab to his club; and Lord George walked his wife down Constitution Hill towards their own home. He felt it to be necessary that he should say something to his wife; but, at the same time, was specially anxious that he should give her no cause to suspect him of jealousy. Nor was he jealous, in the ordinary sense of the word. He did not suppose for a moment that his wife was in love with Jack De Baron, or Jack with his wife. But he did think that whereas she had very little to say to her own husband she had a great deal to say to Jack. And he was sensible, also, of a certain unbecomingness in such amusement on her part. She had to struggle upwards, so as to be able to sustain properly the position and dignity of Lady George Germain, and the possible dignity of the Marchioness of Brotherton. She ought not to want playfellows. If she would really have learned the names of all those artists on the base of the Memorial, as she might so easily have done, there would have been something in it. A lady ought to know, at any rate, the names of such men. But she had allowed this Jack to make a joke of it all, and had rather liked the joke. And the Dean had laughed loud,—more like the son of a stable-keeper than a Dean. Lord George was almost more angry with the Dean than with his wife. The Dean, when at Brotherton, did maintain a certain amount of dignity; but here, up in London, he seemed to be intent only on "having a good time," like some schoolboy out on a holiday.
"Were you not a little loud when you were on the steps of the Memorial?" he said.
"I hope not, George; not too loud."
"A lady should never be in the least loud, nor for the matter of that would a gentleman either if he knew what he was about."
She walked on a little way, leaning on his arm in silence, considering whether he meant anything by what he was saying, and how much he meant. She felt almost sure that he did mean something disagreeable, and that he was scolding her. "I don't quite know what you mean by loud, George? We were talking, and of course wanted to make each other hear. I believe with some people loud means—vulgar. I hope you didn't mean that."
He certainly would not tell his wife that she was vulgar. "There is," he said, "a manner of talking which leads people on to—to—being boisterous."
"Boisterous, George? Was I boisterous?"
"I think your father was a little."
She felt herself blush beneath her veil as she answered. "Of course if you tell me anything about myself, I will endeavour to do as you tell me; but, as for papa, I am sure he knows how to behave himself. I don't think he ought to be found fault with because he likes to amuse himself."
"And that Captain De Baron was very loud," said Lord George, conscious that though his ground might be weak in reference to the Dean, he could say what he pleased about Jack De Baron.
"Young men do laugh and talk, don't they, George?"
"What they do in their barracks, or when they are together, is nothing to you or me. What such a one may do when he is in company with my wife is very much to me, and ought to be very much to you."
"George," she said, again pausing for a moment, "do you mean to tell me that I have misbehaved myself? Because, if so, speak it out at once."
"My dear, that is a foolish question for you to ask. I have said nothing about misbehaviour, and you ought, at any rate, to wait till I have done so. I should be very sorry to use such a word, and do not think that I shall ever have occasion. But surely you will admit that there may be practices, and manners, and customs on which I am at liberty to speak to you. I am older than you."
"Husbands, of course, are older than their wives, but wives generally know what they are about quite as well as their husbands."
"Mary, that isn't the proper way to take what I say. You have a very peculiar place to fill in the world,—a place for which your early life could not give you the very fittest training."
"Then why did you put me there?"
"Because of my love, and also because I had no doubt whatever as to your becoming fit. There is a levity which is often pretty and becoming in a girl, in which a married woman in some ranks of life may, perhaps, innocently indulge, but which is not appropriate to higher positions."
"This is all because I laughed when Captain De Baron mispronounced the men's names. I don't know anything peculiar in my position. One would suppose that I was going to be made a sort of female bishop, or to sit all my life as a chairwoman, like that Miss Mildmay. Of course I laugh when things are said that make me laugh. And as for Captain De Baron, I think he is very nice. Papa likes him, and he is always at the Houghtons, and I cannot agree that he was loud and vulgar, or boisterous, because he made a few innocent jokes in Kensington Gardens."
He perceived now, for the first time since he had known her, that she had a temper of her own, which he might find some difficulty in controlling. She had endured gently enough his first allusions to herself, but had risen up in wrath against him from the moment in which he had spoken disparagingly of her father. At the moment he had nothing further to say. He had used what eloquence there was in him, what words he had collected together, and then walked home in silence. But his mind was full of the matter; and though he made no further allusion on that day, or for some subsequent days either to this conversation or to his wife's conduct in the park, he had it always in his mind. He must be the master, and in order that he might be master the Dean must be as little as possible in the house. And that intimacy with Jack De Baron must be crushed,—if only that she might be taught that he intended to be master.
Two or three days passed by, and during those two or three days he did not go to Berkeley Square.
BETWEEN TWO STOOLS.
In the middle of the next week the Dean went back to Brotherton. Before starting he had an interview with Lord George which was not altogether pleasant; but otherwise he had thoroughly enjoyed his visit. On the day on which he started he asked his host what inquiries he intended to set on foot in reference to the validity of the Italian marriage and the legitimacy of the Italian baby. Now Lord George had himself in the first instance consulted the Dean on this very delicate subject, and was therefore not entitled to be angry at having it again mentioned; but nevertheless he resented the question as an interference. "I think," he replied, "that at present nothing had better be said upon the subject."
"I cannot agree with you there, George."
"Then I am afraid I must ask you to be silent without agreeing with me."
The Dean felt this to be intentionally uncivil. They two were in a boat together. The injury to be done, if there were an injury, would affect the wife as much as the husband. The baby which might some day be born, and which might be robbed of his inheritance, would be as much the grandchild of the Dean of Brotherton as of the old Marquis. And then perhaps there was present to the Dean some unacknowledged feeling that he was paying and would have to pay for the boat. Much as he revered rank, he was not disposed to be snubbed by his son-in-law, because his son-in-law was a nobleman. "You mean to tell me that I am to hold my tongue," he said angrily.
"For the present I think we had both better do so."
"That may be, as regards any discussion of the matter with outsiders. I am not at all disposed to act apart from you on a subject of such importance to us both. If you tell me that you are advised this way or that, I should not, without very strong ground, put myself in opposition to that advice; but I do expect that you will let me know what is being done."
"Nothing is being done."
"And also that you will not finally determine on doing nothing without consulting me." Lord George drew himself up and bowed, but made no further reply; and then the two parted, the Dean resolving that he would be in town again before long, and Lord George reselving that the Dean should spend as little time as possible in his house. Now, there had been an undertaking, after a sort, made by the Dean,—a compact with his daughter contracted in a jocose fashion,—which in the existing circumstances was like to prove troublesome. There had been a question of expenditure when the house was furnished,—whether there should or should not be a carriage kept. Lord George had expressed an opinion that their joint means would not suffice to keep a carriage. Then the Dean had told his daughter that he would allow her L300 a-year for her own expenses, to include the brougham,—for it was to be no more than a brougham,—during the six months they would be in London, and that he would regard this as his subscription towards the household. Such a mode of being generous to his own child was pretty enough. Of course the Dean would be a welcome visitor. Equally, of course, a son-in-law may take any amount of money from a father-in-law as a portion of his wife's fortune. Lord George, though he had suffered some inward qualms, had found nothing in the arrangement to which he could object while his friendship with the deanery was close and pleasant. But now, as the Dean took his departure, and as Mary, while embracing her father, said something of his being soon back, Lord George remembered the compact with inward grief, and wished that there had been no brougham.
In the mean time he had not been to Berkeley Square; nor was he at all sure that he would go there. A distant day had been named, before that exciting interview in the square, on which the Houghtons were to dine in Munster Court. The Mildmays were also to be there, and Mrs. Montacute Jones, and old Lord Parachute, Lord George's uncle. That would be a party, and there would be no danger of a scene then. He had almost determined that, in spite of his promise, he would not go to Berkeley Square before the dinner. But Mrs. Houghton was not of the same mind. A promise on such a subject was a sacred thing, and therefore she wrote the following note to Lord George at his club. The secrecy which some correspondence requires certainly tends to make a club a convenient arrangement. "Why don't you come as you said you would? A." In olden times, fifteen or twenty years ago, when telegraph wires were still young, and messages were confined to diplomatic secrets, horse-racing, and the rise and fall of stocks, lovers used to indulge in rapturous expressions which would run over pages; but the pith and strength of laconic diction has now been taught to us by the self-sacrificing patriotism of the Post Office. We have all felt the vigour of telegrammatic expression, and, even when we do not trust the wire, we employ the force of wiry language. "Wilt thou be mine?—M. N.," is now the ordinary form of an offer of marriage by post; and the answer seldom goes beyond "Ever thine—P. Q." Adelaide Houghton's love-letter was very short, but it was short from judgment and with a settled purpose. She believed that a long epistle declaratory of her everlasting but unfortunate attachment would frighten him. These few words would say all that she had to say, and would say it safely. He certainly had promised that he would go to her, and, as a gentleman, he was bound to keep his word. He had mentioned no exact time, but it had been understood that the visit was to be made at once. He would not write to her. Heaven and earth! How would it be with him if Mr. Houghton were to find the smallest scrap from him indicating improper affection for Mrs. Houghton? He could not answer the note, and therefore he must go at once.
He went into a deserted corner of a drawing-room at his club, and there Seated himself for half an hour's meditation. How should he extricate himself from this dilemma? In what language should he address a young and beautiful woman devoted to him, but whose devotion he was bound to repudiate? He was not voluble in conversation, and he was himself aware of his own slowness. It was essential to him that he should prepare beforehand almost the very words for an occasion of such importance,—the very words and gestures and action. Would she not fly into his arms, or at least expect that he should open his own? That must be avoided. There must be no embracing. And then he must at once proceed to explain all the evils of this calamitous passion;—how he was the husband of another wife; how she was the wife of another husband; how they were bound by honour, by religion, and equally by prudence to remember the obligations they had incurred. He must beg her to be silent while he said all this, and then he would conclude by assuring her that she should always possess his steadiest friendship. The excogitation of this took long, partly because his mind was greatly exercised in the matter, and partly through a nervous desire to postpone the difficult moment. At last, however, he seized his hat and went away straight to Berkeley Square. Yes, Mrs. Houghton was at home. He had feared that there was but little chance that she should be out on the very day on which she knew that he would get her note. "Oh, so you have come at last," she said as soon as the drawing-room door was closed. She did not get up from her chair, and there was therefore no danger of that immediate embrace which he had felt that it would be almost equally dangerous to refuse or to accept.
"Yes," he said, "I have come."
"And now sit down and make yourself comfortable. It's very bad out of doors, isn't it?"
"Cold, but dry."
"With a wretched east wind. I know it, and I don't mean to stir out the whole day. So you may put your hat down, and not think of going for the next hour and a half." It was true that he had his hat still in his hand, and he deposited it forthwith on the floor, feeling that had he been master of the occasion, he would have got rid of it less awkwardly. "I shouldn't wonder if Mary were to be here by and by. There was a sort of engagement that she and Jack De Baron were to come and play bagatelle in the back drawing-room; but Jack never comes if he says he will, and I daresay she has forgotten all about it."
He found that his purpose was altogether upset. In the first place, he could hardly begin about her unfortunate passion when she received him just as though he were an ordinary acquaintance; and then the whole tenour of his mind was altered by this allusion to Jack De Baron. Had it come to this, that he could not get through a day without having Jack De Baron thrown at his head? He had from the first been averse to living in London; but this was much worse than he had expected. Was it to be endured that his wife should make appointments to play bagatelle with Jack De Baron by way of passing her time? "I had heard nothing about it," he said with gloomy, truthful significance. It was impossible for him to lie even by a glance of his eye or a tone of his voice. He told it all at once; how unwilling he was that his wife should come out on purpose to meet this man, and how little able he felt himself to prevent it.
"Of course dear Mary has to amuse herself," said the lady, answering the man's look rather than his words. "And why should she not?"
"I don't know that bagatelle is a very improving occupation."
"Or Jack a very improving companion, perhaps. But I can tell you, George, that there are more dangerous companions than poor Jack. And then, Mary, who is the sweetest, dearest young woman I know, is not impulsive in that way. She is such a very child. I don't suppose she understands what passion means. She has the gaiety of a lark, and the innocence. She is always soaring upwards, which is so beautiful."
"I don't know that there is much soaring upwards in bagatelle."
"Nor in Jack De Baron, perhaps. But we must take all that as we find it. Of course Mary will have to amuse herself. She will never live such a life as your sisters live at Manor Cross. The word that best describes her disposition is—gay. But she is not mischievous."
"I hope not."
"Nor is she—passionate. You know what I mean." He did know what she meant, and was lost in amazement at finding that one woman, in talking of another, never contemplated the idea that passion could exist in a wife for her husband. He was to regard himself as safe, not because his wife loved himself, but because it was not necessary to her nature to be in love with any one! "You need not be afraid," she went on to say. "I know Jack au fond. He tells me everything; and should there be anything to fear, I will let you know at once."
But what had all this to do with the momentous occasion which had brought him to Berkeley Square? He was almost beginning to be sore at heart because she had not thrown herself into his arms. There was no repetition of that "But you do love me?" which had been so very alarming but at the same time so very exciting on the steps of the Albert Memorial. And then there seemed to be a probability that the words which he had composed with so much care at his club would be altogether wasted. He owed it to himself to do or to say something, to allude in some way to his love and hers. He could not allow himself to be brought there in a flurry of excitement, and there to sit till it was time for him to go, just as though it were an ordinary morning visit. "You bade me come," he said, "and so I came."
"Yes, I did bid you come. I would always have you come."
"That can hardly be; can it?"
"My idea of a friend,—of a man friend, I mean, and a real friend—is some one to whom I can say everything, who will do everything for me, who will come if I bid him and will like to stay and talk to me just as long as I will let him; who will tell me everything, and as to whom I may be sure that he likes me better than anybody else in the world, though he perhaps doesn't tell me so above once a month. And then in return——"
"Well, what in return?"
"I should think a good deal about him, you know; but I shouldn't want always to be telling him that I was thinking about him. He ought to be contented with knowing how much he was to me. I suppose that would not suffice for you?"
Lord George was disposed to think that it would suffice, and that the whole matter was now being represented to him in a very different light than that in which he had hitherto regarded it. The word "friend" softened down so many asperities! With such a word in his mind he need not continually scare himself with the decalogue. All the pleasure might be there, and the horrors altogether omitted. There would, indeed, be no occasion for his eloquence; but he had already become conscious that at this interview his eloquence could not be used. She had given everything so different a turn! "Why not suffice for me?" he said. "Only this,—that all I did for my friend I should expect her to do for me."
"But that is unreasonable. Who doesn't see that in the world at large men have the best of it almost in everything. The husband is not only justified in being a tyrant, but becomes contemptible if he is not so. A man has his pocket full of money; a woman is supposed to take what he gives her. A man has all manner of amusements."
"What amusements have I?"
"You can come to me."
"Yes, I can do that."
"I cannot go to you. But when you come to me,—if I am to believe that I am really your friend,—then I am to be the tyrant of the moment. Is it not so? Do you think you would find me a hard tyrant? I own to you freely that there is nothing in the world I like so much as your society. Do I not earn by that a right to some obedience from you, to some special observance?"
All this was so different from what he had expected, and so much more pleasant! As far as he could look into it and think of it at the pressure of the moment he did not see any reason why it should not be as she proposed. There was clearly no need for those prepared words. There had been one embrace,—an embrace that was objectionable because, had either his wife seen it or Mr. Houghton, he would have been forced to own himself wrong; but that had come from sudden impulse, and need not be repeated. This that was now proposed to him was friendship, and not love. "You shall have all observance," he said with his sweetest smile.
"And as to obedience? But you are a man, and therefore must not be pressed too hard. And now I may tell you what is the only thing that can make me happy, and the absence of which would make me miserable."
"Your society." He blushed up to his eyes as he heard this. "Now that, I think, is a very pretty speech, and I expect something equally pretty from you." He was much embarrassed, but was at the moment delivered from his embarrassment by the entrance of his wife. "Here she is," said Mrs. Houghton, getting up from her chair. "We have been just talking about you, my dear. If you have come for bagatelle, you must play with Lord George, for Jack De Baron isn't here."
"But I haven't come for bagatelle."
"So much the better, for I doubt whether Lord George would be very good at it. I have been made to play so much that I hate the very sound of the balls."
"I didn't expect to find you here," said Mary, turning to her husband.
"Nor I you, till Mrs. Houghton said that you were coming."
After that there was nothing of interest in their conversation. Jack did not come, and after a few minutes Lord George proposed to his wife that they should return home together. Of course she assented, and as soon as they were in the brougham made a little playful attack upon him. "You are becoming fond of Berkeley Square, I think."
"Mrs. Houghton is a friend of mine, and I am fond of my friends," he said, gravely.
"Oh, of course."
"You went there to play that game with Captain De Baron."
"No, I didn't. I did nothing of the kind."
"Were you not there by appointment?"
"I told her that I should probably call. We were to have gone to some shop together, only it seems she has changed her mind. Why do you tell me that I had gone there to play some game with Captain De Baron?"
"Bagatelle, or anything else! It isn't true. I have played bagatelle with Captain de Baron, and I daresay I may again. Why shouldn't I?"
"And if so, would probably make some appointment to play with him."
"That was all I said. What I suggested you had done is what you declare you will do."
"But I had done nothing of the kind. I know very well, from the tone of your voice, that you meant to scold me. You implied that I had done something wrong. If I had done it, it wouldn't be wrong, as far as I know. But your scolding me about it when I hadn't done it at all is very hard to bear."
"I didn't scold you."
"Yes you did, George. I understand your voice and your look. If you mean to forbid me to play bagatelle with Captain De Baron, or Captain anybody else, or to talk with Mr. This, or to laugh with Major That, tell me so at once. If I know what you want, I will do it. But I must say that I shall feel it very, very hard if I cannot take care of myself in such matters as that. If you are going to be jealous, I shall wish that I were dead."
Then she burst out crying; and he, though he would not quite own that he had been wrong, was forced to do so practically by little acts of immediate tenderness.
THE MARQUIS COMES HOME.
Some little time after the middle of April, when the hunting was all over, and Mr. Price had sunk down into his summer insignificance, there came half a dozen telegrams to Manor Cross, from Italy, from Mr. Knox, and from a certain managing tradesman in London, to say that the Marquis was coming a fortnight sooner than he had expected. Everything was at sixes and sevens. Everything was in a ferment. Everybody about Manor Cross seemed to think that the world was coming to an end. But none of these telegrams were addressed to any of the Germain family, and the last people in the county who heard of this homeward rush of the Marquis were the ladies at Cross Hall, and they heard it from Lord George, upon whom Mr. Knox called in London; supposing, however, when he did call that Lord George had already received full information on the subject. Lord George's letter to Lady Sarah was full of dismay, full of horror. "As he has not taken the trouble to communicate his intentions to me, I shall not go down to receive him." "You will know how to deal with the matter, and will, I am sure, support our mother in this terrible trial." "I think that the child should, at any rate, at first be acknowledged by you all as Lord Popenjoy." "We have to regard, in the first place, the honour of the family. No remissness on his part should induce us to forget for a moment what is due to the title, the property, and the name." The letter was very long, and was full of sententious instructions, such as the above. But the purport of it was to tell the ladies at Cross Hall that they must go through the first burden of receiving the Marquis without any assistance from himself.