Red Pottage, by Mary Cholmondeley

Chapter XIX

Le bruit est pour le fat.

La plainte est pour le sot.

L’honnête homme trompé

S’en va et ne dit mot.

M. DELANONI.

AND so you cannot persuade Miss Gresley to come to us next week?” said Lord Newhaven, strolling into the dining-room at Westhope Abbey, where Rachel and Dick were sitting at a little supper-table laid for two in front of the high altar. The dining-room had formerly been the chapel, and the carved stone altar still remained under the east window.

Lord Newhaven drew up a chair, and Rachel felt vaguely relieved at his presence. He had a knack of knowing when to appear, and when to efface himself.

“She can’t leave her book,” said Rachel.

“Her first book was very clever,” said Lord Newhaven, “and what was more, it was true. I hope for her own sake she will outgrow her love of truth, or it will make deadly enemies for her.”

“And good friends,” said Rachel.

“Possibly,” said Lord Newhaven, looking narrowly at her, and almost obliged to believe that she had spoken without self-consciousness. “But if she outgrows all her principles, I hope at any rate she won’t outgrow her sharp tongue. I liked her ever since she first came to this house, ten years ago, with Lady Susan Gresley. I remember saying that Captain Pratt, who called while she was here, was a ‘bounder.’ And Miss Gresley said she did not think he was quite a bounder, only on the boundary line. If you knew Captain Pratt, that describes him exactly.”

“I wish she had not said it,” said Rachel with a sigh. “She makes trouble for herself by saying things like that. Is Lady Newhaven in the drawing-room?”

“Yes, I heard her singing ‘The Lost Chord’ not ten minutes ago.”

“I will go up to her,” said Rachel.

“I do believe,” said Lord Newhaven, when Rachel had departed, “that she has an affection for Miss Gresley.”

“It is not necessary to be a detective in plain clothes to see that,” said Dick.

“No. It generally needs to be a magnifying glass to see a woman’s friendship, and then they are only expedients till we arrive, Dick. You need not be jealous of Miss Gresley. Miss West will forget all about her when she is Mrs. Vernon.”

“She does not seem very keen about that,” said Dick grimly. “I’m only marking time. I’m no forwarder than I was.”

“Well, it’s your own fault for fixing your affections on a woman who is not anxious to marry. She has no objection to you. It is marriage she does not like.”

“Oh! That’s bosh,” said Dick. “All women wish to be married, and if they don’t they ought to.”

He felt that an invidious reflection had been cast on Rachel.

“All the same, a man with one eye can see that women with money or anything that makes them independent of us don’t flatter us by their alacrity to marry us. They will make fools of themselves for love, none greater, and they will marry for love. But their different attitude towards us, their natural lords and masters, directly we are no longer necessary to them as stepping-stones to a home and a recognised position revolts me. If you had taken my advice at the start, you would have made up to one among the mob of women who are dependent on marriage for their very existence. If a man goes into that herd he will not be refused. And if he is it does not matter. It is the blessed custom of piling everything on to the eldest son, and leaving the women of the family almost penniless, which provides half of us with wives without any trouble to ourselves. Whatever we are, they have got to take us. The average dancing young woman living in luxury in her father’s house is between the devil and the deep sea. We are frequently the devil, but it is not surprising that she can’t face the alternative, a poverty to which she was not brought up, and in which she has seen her old spinster aunts. But I suppose in your case you really want the money?”

Dick looked rather hard at Lord Newhaven.

“I should not have said that unless I had known it to be a lie,” continued the latter, “because I dislike being kicked. But, Dick, listen to me. You have not,” with sudden misgiving, “laid any little matrimonial project before her this evening, have you?”

“No, I was not quite such a fool as that.”

“Well! Such things do occur. Moonlight, you know, &c. &c. I was possessed by a devil once, and proposed by moonlight, as all my wife’s friends know, and probably her maid. But seriously, Dick, you are not making progress, as you say yourself.”

“Well!” rather sullenly.

“Well, onlookers see most of the game. Miss West may — I don’t say she is — but if things go on as they are for another week she may become slightly bored. That was why I joined you at supper. She had had, for the time, enough.”

“Of me?” said Dick, reddening under his tan.

“Just so. It is a matter of no importance after marriage, but it should be avoided beforehand. Are you really in earnest about this?”

Dick delivered himself slowly and deliberately of certain platitudes.

“Well, I hope I shall hear you say all that again some day in a condensed form before a clergyman. In the meanwhile —”

“In the meanwhile I had better clear out.”

“Yes; I don’t enjoy saying so in the presence of my own galantine and mayonnaise, but that is it. Go, and — come back.”

“If you have a Bradshaw,” said Dick, “I’ll look out my train now. I think there is an express to London about seven in the morning, if you can send me to the station.”

“But the post only comes in at eight.”

“Well, you can send my letters after me.”

“I daresay I can, my diplomatist. But you are not going to leave till the post has arrived, when you will receive business letters, requiring your immediate presence in London. You are not going to let a woman know that you leave on her account.”

“You are very sharp, Cackles,” said Dick, drearily. “And I’ll take a leaf out of your book and lie, if you think it is the right thing. But I expect she will know very well that the same business which took me to that infernal temperance meeting has taken me to London.”

Rachel was vaguely relieved when Dick went off next morning. She was not, as a rule, oppressed by the attentions she received from young men, which in due season became “marked,” and then resulted in proposals neatly or clumsily expressed. But she was disturbed when she thought of Dick, and his departure was like the removal of a weight, not a heavy, but still a perceptible one. For Rachel was aware that Dick was in deadly earnest, and that his love was growing steadily, almost unconsciously, was accumulating like snow, flake by flake, upon a mountain-side. Some day, perhaps not for a long time, but some day, there would be an avalanche, and, in his own language, she “would be in it.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37