The Golden Calf, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 22

Lady Palliser Studies the Upper Ten.

Ida was not left long in ignorance as to the friendly feelings of those she had left behind at Kingthorpe. Bessie’s first letter reached her within a few days of her arrival at Wimperfield — a loving little letter, full of sorrowful expressions about the two good young fellows who were gone, yet not concealing the writer’s pleasure at her friend’s elevation.

‘When are we to meet again, dearest?’ asked Bessie, after she had given full expression to her feelings; ‘are you to come to us, or are we to go to you? What is the etiquette of the situation? Father and mother know nothing about outside points of etiquette. Beyond the common rules of dinners and calls, calls and dinners, I believe they are in benighted ignorance. Shall we tell John Coachman to put four horses to the landau — with himself and the under-gardener as postilions — and post over to Wimperfield — just as they pay visits in Miss Austin’s novels? Perhaps now we have gone back to Chippendale furniture, we shall return to muslin frocks and the manners of Miss Austin’s time. I’m sure I wish we could. Life seems to have been so much simpler in her day, and so much cheaper. Darling, I am longing to see you. Remember you are my cousin now — my very own near relation. It was Fate, you see, that made me so fond of you, from that first evening when you helped me so kindly with my German exercise.’

There was also a letter from Aunt Betsy, quite as affectionate, but in much fewer words, and more to the purpose.

‘We shall drive over to see your father and mother as soon as we hear that they are disposed to receive visitors,’ said Miss Wendover in conclusion.

‘I wonder Miss Wendover did not say Sir Reginald and Lady Palliser,’ observed Ida’s stepmother, when she had read this letter.

The little woman had been devoting herself very earnestly to the perusal of books of etiquette —‘The Upper Circles,’ ‘What is What,’ ‘The Crême de la Crême,’ and works of a corresponding order, and was now much more learned in the infinitesimals of polite life than was Sir Reginald or his daughter. She had a profound belief in the mysterious authors of these interesting volumes.

‘The “Crême de la Crême” must be right, you know, Ida,’ she said, when some dictum was disputed, ‘for the book was written by a Countess.’

‘A Countess who wears a shoddy tourist suit, and smokes shag, and sleeps in a two pair back in Camden Town, most likely,’ said Sir Reginald, laughing.

The new baronet utterly refused to be governed by the hard and fast rules of the ‘Crême de la Crême.’ He daily did things which were absolute and awful heresies in the sight of that authority, and Lady Palliser was sorely exercised at her very first dinner-party by seeing the county people of Wimperfield setting at naught the precepts of the anonymous Countess at every stage of the evening. They did those things which they ought not to have done, and they left undone those things which they ought to have done, and, from the Countess’s point of view were utterly without manners.

But although Lady Palliser thought Miss Wendover’s letter deficient in ceremony, she was not the less ready to welcome Ida’s Kingthorpe friends; so a hearty invitation to dine and stay the night was sent to the Colonel and his wife, to Aunt Betsy, and as many of the junior members of the family as the biggest available carriage would hold.

It was the beginning of November when this visit occurred, but the foliage was still green on the elm tree tops, while many a lovely tint of yellow and brown still glowed on the woodland. The weather was balmy, sunshiny, the sky as blue as at midsummer; and Ida, with her face as radiant as the sunlight, stood in the porch ready to welcome her friends when the wagonette drove up.

‘Oh! but where are Blanche and Eva? and why did not the boys come?’ she inquired, when she had shaken hands with the Colonel, and had been kissed and embraced by Mrs. Wendover, Aunt Betsy, and Bessie: ‘surely they are coming too?’

‘No, dear; I think we are quite a strong enough party as it is,’ answered Mrs. Wendover.

‘Not half strong enough! you have no idea what a barrack Wimperfield is — but Bessie knows, and ought to have told you. There are two-and-twenty bedrooms. It would have been a charity to have filled some of them. I am dreadfully disappointed!’

‘Never mind, dear, you will see enough of them, depend upon it. But where is Brian?’

‘Oh! it is one of his harrier days. He left all sorts of apologies for not being at home to receive you. He will be home before dinner. Here is mamma,’ as Lady Palliser came sailing out, in a forty-guinea gown from Jay, all glitter of bugles, and sheen of satin, putting Mrs. Wendover’s homespun travelling dress to shame. There was a dinner-gown with the luggage, but a gown which, in comparison with Lady Palliser’s satin and jet, would be like the cloudy countenance of Luna on a November night, as compared with the glory of Sol on a midsummer morning. But then, happily, Mrs. Wendover was not the kind of person to suffer at being worse dressed than her hostess. Lady Palliser sank in a low curtsey when Ida murmured a rather vague presentation, and again beheld the Countess’s eternal laws violated by her guests, for the Colonel and his wife shook hands with a vigour which in the ‘Crême de la Crême’ was stigmatised as a barbarous vulgarity; while Aunt Betsy was so taken up with Ida that, after a smile and a nod, she actually turned her back upon the lady of the house.

‘My poor child, how horridly ill you are looking,’ Miss Wendover exclaimed, holding Ida by both hands and looking searchingly into her face. ‘Prosperity has not agreed with you. I can see the traces of sleepless nights under your eyes.’

‘It was such a shock,’ murmured Ida.

‘Yes, it was a terrible shock. Those fine frank young fellows! It was ever so long before I could get the images of them out of my mind. And I could not help feeling very sorry for them, in spite of your good fortune —’

‘Don’t call it my good fortune,’ said Ida; ‘I am glad my father is better off; but I was happier when I was poor.’

‘And yet you used to say such bitter things about poverty?’

‘Yes, I was a worshipper of Mammon in those days; but now I have got inside the temple and have found out that he is a false god.’

‘He is not a god, but a devil. “The least erected spirit that fell from heaven.” My poor Ida! And so you have found out that there are dust and ashes inside golden apples! Never mind; you will learn to enjoy the privileges and comforts of wealth better when you are better used to being rich. And in the meantime tell me that you are happy in your married life, that you and Brian are getting on pleasantly together.’

‘We never quarrel,’ said Ida, looking downward.

‘Oh, that is a bad sign. Tell me something better than that.’

‘You all told me that it was my duty to live with my husband. I am trying to do my duty,’ Ida answered gravely.

There was no radiance upon her face now. All the happiness — the unselfish delight of welcoming her friends — had faded, and left her pale and despondent.

She threw off all gloomy thoughts presently, and was running about the house, showing her friends their rooms, giving directions to servants, making a good deal more fuss, and making more use of her own hands, than the author of ‘La Crême de la Crême’ would have tolerated.

‘A lady’s hands,’ said that exalted personage, ‘are not for use, but for ornament. Her first object should be to preserve their delicacy of form and colour; her second to be always bien gantée. She should never lift anything heavier than her teacup; and she should rather endure some inconvenience from cold while waiting the attendance of her footman than she should so far derogate from feminine dignity as to put on a shovel of coals. The rule of her life should be to do nothing which her domestics or her dame de compagnie can do for her.’

‘My dearest Ida,’ remonstrated Lady Palliser, remembering this classic passage, ‘what do you mean by carrying that bag?’ Are there no servants in the house?’

‘Half-a-dozen too many, mamma; but I like to do something with my own hands for those I love.’

Lady Palmer sighed, recalling the days when she had cooked her husband’s breakfasts and dinners, and had been happier — so it seemed to her now — in performing that domestic duty than in giving orders to a housekeeper of whom she stood in awe. But Fanny Palliser had made up her mind that she ought to become a fine lady, in order to do credit to her husband’s altered fortunes, and she was working assiduously with that intent.

The guests had arrived in time for luncheon, and after luncheon Lady Palliser and the three elders went for a long drive in the landau, to explore the best points in the surrounding scenery, while Ida and Bessie, with Vernon in their company, started for a long ramble in the Park and woods. The boy ran about hither and thither, flitting from bank to bank, in quest of flowers or insects, curious about everything in nature, vivid as a flash in all his movements. Thus the two girls were left very much to themselves, and were able to talk as they liked, only occasionally giving their attention to some newly-discovered wonder of Vernon’s, a tadpole in the act of shedding his horny beak, or some gigantic development of the genus toadstool, which species was just then in full season.

At first there was a shadow of constraint upon Bessie’s manner; and in one whose nature was so frank, the faintest touch of reserve was painfully obvious. For a little while all her talk was of Wimperfield and its beauties.

‘And to think that my dear old pet should be a leading member of our county families!’ she exclaimed; ‘it is too delightful.’

‘Indeed, Bess, I am nothing of the kind. I am a very insignificant person — nothing but my father’s daughter. Brian and I are only here on sufferance.’

‘Oh, that’s nonsense, dear. I heard Sir Reginald tell my father that Wimperfield was to be your home and Brian’s as long as ever you both like — as long as your father lives, in fact. Brian can have his chambers in town, and work at his profession, but you are to live at Wimperfield.’

‘That can hardly be,’ answered Ida, gloomily; ‘when Brian goes to London, I must go with him. It will be my duty, you know,’ with a shade of bitterness.

‘Well, then, this will be your country house — and that will be ever so much better; for after all, you know, however delightful the country may be, it is rather like being buried alive to live in it all the year round. I suppose Brian will soon begin to work at his profession — to read law books, and wait for briefs, don’t you know.’

‘I hope so,’ answered Ida, coldly; ‘but I do not think your cousin is very fond of hard work.’

‘Oh, but he must work — manhood demands it. He cannot possibly go on sponging upon your father for ever.’

‘There is no question of sponging. Brian is welcome here, as you have heard. Lady Palliser likes him very much, and we all get on very well together.’

‘But you would like your husband to work, wouldn’t you, Ida?’

‘I should like him to be a man,’ answered Ida, curtly.

In all this time there had been no mention of that other Brian — the owner of Wendover Abbey. No word of congratulation had come to Ida from him upon the change in her fortunes; nor had her husband told her of any communication from his cousin. She concluded, therefore, that Brian the elder had made no sign. It might be that he had dismissed her from his mind as unworthy of further thought or care. He had discovered her falsehood, her worthlessness, and she was no longer the woman he had once loved and honoured She had passed out of his life, like an evil dream which he had dreamed and forgotten.

His voice had been silent when those other voices — the Colonel’s and the Curate’s — had told her that it was her duty to fulfil the vow she had vowed before God’s altar: to share her husband’s fate for good or ill. Brian, her lover of a few minutes before, had held his peace. What had he thought of her in those bitter moments? Had there been one touch of pity mingled with his scorn? She could not tell. He had made no sign.

From the moment of her friends arrival she had tremulously expected some mention of Mr. Wendover’s name; but that name had not been spoken. The silence was a relief: and yet she yearned to know something more: whether he had spoken of her with friendly feeling, whether he thought of her with compassion.

Not for worlds would she have questioned Bessie upon this subject: not even Bessie, whose childish love so invited confidence, before whose tender eyes she could never feel ashamed.

After that little talk about Brian Walford there followed a good deal of talk about Mr. Jardine. He was promised a living, not a big benefice by any means, but still an actual living and an actual Vicarage, in the vicinity of Salisbury Plain; and he and Bessie were to be married early in the following year, as soon as there were enough spring flowers to decorate Kingthorpe Church, the Colonel had said.

‘It is to be in the time of daffodils, just before Lent,’ said Bess; ‘Easter comes late next year, you know.’

‘I don’t know; but no doubt you have found out all about it,’ Ida answered, laughing. ‘God bless you, dear, and make your wedded life one long honeymoon!’

‘I have seen marriages like that,’ said Bess. ‘Father and mother, for instance. They are always spooning. Oh, Ida! doesn’t it seem dreadfully soon to be married?’

‘There is plenty of time for reflection,’ answered Ida, with a sigh.

Bessie remembered how sudden a thing matrimony had been in her friend’s case.

‘Ah, darling, I know what you are thinking about,’ she said tenderly. ‘You married on the spur of the moment, and were just a little sorry afterwards; but I have been so fenced and guarded by parental wisdom that I could not do anything foolish — if I tried ever so. And then John is far too wise to propose anything wild or romantic — yet I think if he had come to me and said, “There is a dog-cart at the gate, let us drive over to Romsey Church and be married,” I should hardly have known how to say no. But, Ida, dear, tell me that your hasty marriage has turned out a happy one after all. Brian is so very nice. Confess now that you are happy with him!’

Bessie had intended scrupulously to avoid any such home question; but her feelings carried her away directly she began to talk of John Jardine.

‘I cannot tell you a lie. Bessie; no, my life is not a happy one. All colour and brightness, all youthfulness and fervour, went out of me when I left Kingthorpe; but it is an endurable life, and I make the best of it.’

‘Brian is not unkind to you, I hope?’ cried Bessie, prepared to be indignant.

‘No, he is not unkind. I have no complaint to make against him.’

‘But surely he is nice,’ argued Bessie; ‘I have always thought him one of the nicest young men I know. He has very good manners, he knows a good deal, can talk of almost any subject, and he is full of life and spirits, when he wants to be amusing.’

‘I have no doubt he is a very agreeable person,’ answered Ida, gloomily. ‘I have never disputed that. And yet our marriage was a mistake, all the same.’

‘But when you married him, surely then you must have cared for him, just a little?’

‘I thought I did. It was the glamour of his imaginary wealth. It was the worship of the golden calf, exemplified in one of its vilest phases, a mercenary marriage.’

‘Do not lower yourself too much, dearest,’ pleaded Bessie hugging her friend’s arm affectionately, as they tramped across the withered bracken.’ You are too good to have been governed by any sordid feeling. The delusion must have gone deeper?’

‘It did. I married in a rhapsody of gratitude, thinking that I had found a modern Cophetua. Say no more about it, Bess, if you love me!’

‘I will never say another word, dear,’ sighed Bess; ‘but I do wish you had been single when you met the other Brian, for I know he was more than half in love with you. And now he is going off to the other end of the world again, and goodness knows if he will ever come back.’

The upper tracts of heaven were beginning to grow gray, the sun was sinking in a bed of red and gold behind a clump of oaks on the edge of the horizon — the dark and delicate outline of leafless branches distinctly marked against that yellow light. Wimperfield Park was almost at its best upon such an afternoon as this, the turf soft and springy after autumnal rains, the atmosphere tranquil and balmy, and all animal creation — deer, oxen, rabbits, feathered game, and an innumerable army of rooks — full of life and motion. Ida was slow to reply to Bessie’s news about her cousin. The two girls walked on in silence for a little way, Vernon running ever so far ahead of them to look for fallen nuts in a grove of fine old Spanish chestnuts, which stood boldly out on the top of a hill.

‘Don’t you feel sorry that he is going away?’ asked Bessie at last; ‘just as he had established himself among us, and begun all kinds of improvement at the Abbey farm, and was even thinking of building new schools.’

‘It is a pity,’ said Ida.

‘It is simply horrid. He is quite as bad as those Irish Absentees who are continually getting murdered; or he would be as bad, if he had not arranged with my father for the carrying on of all his plans while he is away.’

‘That is very good of him.’

‘Good, yes; but it will be a dreadful responsibility for poor father, and I daresay we shall all be worried about it. He will have builders on the brain till the work is finished. My poor John has promised to look after the schools; and he is so conscientious that he will wear himself to a shadow rather than neglect the smallest detail.’

‘But are you not pleased that he can be of so much use?’

‘I am obliged to be pleased. I am going to be a clergyman’s wife; and I must teach myself to look at everything from the parochial point of view. John and I will not belong to ourselves, but to our parish. Our own pleasure, our own health, our own interests, must be as nothing to us. We must only exist as machines for the maintenance of the proper church services and for the relief of the sick and poor.’

‘If you think it too hard a life, dear, there is time for you to draw back!’

‘Oh, Ida, do you think I am like Lot’s wife, regretting the false frivolous world I am going to renounce? What life could be too hard shared with him?

‘God bless you, dear. I believe your life will be a very happy one,’ said Ida, earnestly, and with a touch of melancholy. There was so much that was enviable in Bessie’s fate. Then, after a pause, she said hesitatingly, ‘Do you know why your cousin is going to leave England?’

‘No; I know no reason except his natural restlessness. He is a member of the Geographical, you know, and attends all their meetings. The other day he went up to hear some old fellow prose about the regions north of Afghanistan, and he was so interested that he made arrangements at once for an exploration on his own account. And I daresay he will get killed by some savage tribe, or die of fever.’

‘He is not going alone, I hope?’

‘No, he has a friend almost as mad as himself, and they are going together. That will mean two for the savages to kill instead of one; and I suppose they will have an interpreter and two or three servants, which will be a few more for the savages.’

‘Let us hope they will not go into really dangerous places, There must be so much for a traveller to see in India, without running any great risks,’ said Ida, affecting a cheerful tone.

‘But you know English travellers love to run risks. It is their only idea of enjoyment. A man like Brian is told of some mountain or some settlement where no Englishman has ever set his foot before, and he says, “That is the very place for me,” and the experiment naturally results in his getting murdered.’ They had finished their ramble, and were in front of the portico by this time.

‘Oh, Bessie!’ said Ida, with a stifled sob, ‘life is full of sad changes. Do you remember that summer afternoon, three mouths ago, when Vernon and Peter stood on those steps bidding us good-bye, as we drove away with your cousin? and now those two are lying at the bottom of the sea, and he is going to the other end of the world.’

The Wendover visit was altogether a success. There was something so conciliating, so sympathetic, so entirely comfortable in Mrs. Wendover’s nature and outward characteristics, that Lady Palliser felt almost immediately at her ease with her, and forgot her newly-acquired manners, becoming a good deal more ladylike in consequence; since the strict and stern system of etiquette, formulated in the ‘Crême de la Crême,’ did not lie conformably to the original formation of the little woman’s disposition. To be free and easy, loquacious, fussy, and kind was Fanny Palliser’s nature, and she became odious when she tried to restrain those simple impulses by the armour of formal manners.

‘I never had a lady friend I liked better than Mrs. Wendover,’ she told Ida, in confidence, on the second day of the visit.

Fanny Palliser was not quite so much at ease with Aunt Betsy. She had an idea that the spinster was satirical, and was inwardly critical of her shortcomings. She was impressed by the wide extent of Aunt Betsy’s information, most especially when that lady talked politics with Sir Reginald, and contrived to hem him into corners whence there was no logical thoroughfare. Aunt Betsy was Liberal to the verge of Radicalism; Sir Reginald a Tory of the good old pig-headed type, who looked upon all advance movements as revolutionary, and thought that his own party had gone mad.

‘I don’t like strong-minded women,’ Lady Palliser told Ida when the guests had left. ‘I have no doubt Miss Wendover is very kind-hearted and generous — I’m sure her kindness to you was wonderful — but she is not my idea of a lady. That brocade dinner-gown was lovely, and fitted her like a glove; but the way she put her elbows on the table when she talked to Sir Reginald at dessert — well, I never did!’

Brian Walford had made himself particularly agreeable during the brief visit of his kindred — agreeable to both sides of the house. It was his desire to stand well with both. He wanted his uncle and aunts to see that he was thought much of at Wimperfield — that he was a valued member of the household, respected and liked by his wife’s family, that he had done well for himself by his marriage, and that whatever cloud had overshadowed the opening of his wedded life had vanished altogether from his horizon. People so soon forgive and forget a little wrong-doing if the sinner comes comfortably out of his difficulties, and becomes a prosperous member of society. The Colonel and his wife, who had always liked Ida, liked her all the better now that they saw her established in a stately home — the only daughter of a man of fortune and position.

On the morning of her departure, Miss Wendover contrived to have a téte-â-téte with Sir Reginald; in the course of which she informed him that she meant to leave half her money to her niece Bessie, and the other half to her nephew — Brian Walford.

‘The land, of course, will go to Brian of the Abbey,’ she said. ‘We Wendovers can’t afford to divide the soil. Out chances of doing good in the land depend upon our having a large interest in the neighbourhood.’

‘Why, Miss Wendover, I thought you were a Radical!’ exclaimed Sir Reginald.

‘So I am in many of my ideas, but not for cutting up the land into little bits, to pass from hand to hand like a ten-pound note, until there should not be an estate left in England with a long family history, nor a rich man left in the rural districts to take care of the poor. England would be badly off without her squirearchy.’

Sir Reginald and Miss Wendover were thoroughly agreed upon this point. He thanked her for her generous intentions towards her nephew; and he told her that he meant to provide fairly for his daughter. ‘The entail expires in my person,’ he said; ‘I can do what I like for my girl. Of course the whole of the estate will go to Vernon. He is the last of his race, and I hope I may live to see him married, and the father of sons to inherit his name. It is a hard thing to think that a good old name must perish off the face of the land. However, I am free to make my will as I like, and I shall leave Ida six or seven hundred a year. She and Brian ought to get on very well with that, and his profession. I should like to see him a little more energetic — a little fonder of hard work,’ pursued Sir Reginald, with a sigh, conscious of having never felt a strong inclination that way on his own part; ‘but I suppose all young men are idle.’

‘No, they are not,’ retorted Aunt Betsy, sharply. ‘There are workers and idlers in all families — men born to honour or to dishonour — races apart — like the drones and the working bees. Look at my other nephew, for example — a man who has seven thousand a year, and not a creature to gainsay him if he chose to dissipate his days and nights on worldly pleasures. He is your true type of worker — a fine Greek scholar — a naturalist, a traveller, a thorough sportsman, where sport means courage, adventure, intelligence, endurance. Fortune made him a rich man, but he has made himself a man of mark in every circle in which he has ever lived, and I am proud to own him for my own flesh and blood. Nature gave Brian Walford many gifts, and what has he done for himself? Learnt to dress as foplings dress, and to think as foplings think!’

‘He is a very nice young fellow!’ said Sir Reginald kindly; ‘we are all fond of him; only we think — for his own sake — it would be better if he took life more seriously.’

‘He must be made to take life seriously,’ replied the spinster sternly. ‘Yes, he is very nice — that is the worst of it; if he were nasty no one would tolerate him. I’m afraid his good qualities will be his ruin.’ And thus, promising good things, yet prophesying evil, Miss Wendover left Wimperfield. Ida was to go and stay with her later on at the Homestead, when Brian Walford should be reading law in those new Chambers which he often talked about. There were times when to hear him talk people thought him a youth gnawed and consumed by ambition, only panting for the opportunity to work.

Two days after the Wendovers had gone back, Brian showed his wife a letter from his cousin, Brian of the Abbey.

‘I am leaving England for a longer period than usual, and going farther afield,’ wrote the master of Wendover Abbey; ‘so before starting I feel myself bound to do something definite for you.’

‘He has helped me with odd sums now and then, I suppose you know?’ said Brian, as Ida read this passage.

‘I did not know,’ she answered coldly; ‘but I am not surprised to hear that he has been generous to you.’

‘No, he is your paragon — your preux chevalier — is he not?’ sneered Brian. ‘Bessie told me as much.’

‘She told you only the truth. No one who lives at Kingthorpe can help knowing that your cousin is a good man.’

She went on with the letter.

‘Now you are married the claims upon you will be larger than they have been, and I know you will not care to be a pensioner upon your father-in-law’s bounty. I have, therefore, arranged with my bankers that you should draw on me quarterly for a hundred and fifty pounds while I am away. This will help you to keep the wolf from the door while you are reading for the Bar. I hope to find you a successful junior, in the first stage of a prosperous journey to the Bench, when I come back.’

‘Six hundred a year. Not half bad, is it, Ida?’

‘It is very good of him. I hope you will do as he suggests.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Work hard at your profession.’

‘I shall work hard enough,’ answered Brian, turning sullen, ‘unless you all badger me. I hate being badgered.’

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/braddon/mary_elizabeth/golden_calf/chapter22.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31