The Duke's Children, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 37

Grex

Far away from all known places, in the northern limit of the Craven district, on the borders of Westmoreland but in Yorkshire, there stands a large rambling most picturesque old house called Grex. The people around call it the Castle, but it is not a castle. It is an old brick building supposed to have been erected in the days of James the First, having oriel windows, twisted chimneys, long galleries, gable ends, a quadrangle of which the house surrounds three sides, terraces, sundials, and fish-ponds. But it is sadly out of repair as to be altogether unfit for the residence of a gentleman and his family. It stands not in a park, for the land about it is divided into paddocks by low stone walls, but in the midst of lovely scenery, the ground rising all round it in low irregular hills or fells, and close to it, a quarter of a mile from the back of the house, there is a small dark lake, not serenely lovely as are some of the lakes in Westmoreland, but attractive by the darkness of its waters and the gloom of the woods around it.

This is the country seat of Earl Grex — which however he had not visited for some years. Gradually the place had got into such a condition in his absence was not surprising. An owner of Grex, with large means at his disposal and with a taste for the picturesque to gratify — one who could afford to pay for memories and who was willing to pay dearly for such luxuries, might no doubt restore Grex, but the Earl had neither the money nor the taste.

Lord Grex had latterly never gone near the place, nor was his son Lord Percival fond of looking upon the ruin of his property. But Lady Mabel loved it with a fond love. With all her lightness of spirit she was prone to memories, prone to melancholy, prone at times almost to seek the gratification of sorrow. Year after year when the London season was over she would come down to Grex and spend a week or two amidst its desolation. She was now going to a seat in Scotland belonging to Mrs Montacute Jones called Killancodlem; but she was now passing a desolate fortnight in company with Miss Cassewary. The gardens were let — and being let of course were not kept in further order than as profit might require. The man who rented it lived in the big house with his wife, and they on occasions as this would cook and wait upon Lady Mabel.

Lady Mabel was at the home of her ancestors, and the faithful Miss Cass was with her. But at the moment and at the spot at which the reader shall see her, Miss Cass was not with her. She was sitting on a rock about twelve feet above the lake looking upon the black water; and on another rock a few feet from her sat Frank Tregear. ‘No,’ she said, ‘you should not have come. Nothing can justify it. Of course, as you are here I could not refuse to come out with you. To make a fuss about it would be the worst of all. But you should not have come.’

‘Why not? Whom does it hurt? It is a pleasure to me. If it be the reverse to you, I will go.’

‘Men are so unmanly. They take such mean advantages. You know it is a pleasure to me to see you.’

‘I had hoped so.’

‘But it is a pleasure I ought not to have — at least not here.’

‘That is what I do not understand,’ said he. ‘In London, where the Earl could bark at me if he happened to find me, I could see the inconvenience of it. But here, where there is nobody but Miss Cass —’

‘There are a great many others. There are the rooks and stones and old women; —-all of which have ears.’

‘But of what is there to be ashamed? There is nothing in the world to me so pleasant as the companionship of old friends.’

‘Then go after Silverbridge.’

‘I mean to do so; — but I am taking you by the way.’

‘It is all unmanly,’ she said, rising from her stone; ‘you know that it is so. Friends! Do you mean to say that it would make no difference whether you were here with me or Miss Cass?’

‘The greatest difference in the world.’

‘Because she is an old woman and I am a young one, and because in intercourse between young men and young women there is something dangerous to the woman and therefore pleasant to the man.’

‘I never heard anything more unjust. You cannot think I desire anything injurious to you.’

‘I do think so.’ She was still standing and spoke now with great vehemence. ‘I do think so. You force me to throw aside the reticence I ought to keep. Would it help me in my purpose if your friend Lord Silverbridge knew that I was here?’

‘How should he know?’

‘But if he did? Do you suppose that I want to have visits paid to me of which I am afraid to speak? Would you dare tell Lady Mary that you had been sitting alone with me on the rocks at Grex?’

‘Certainly I would.’

‘Then it would be because you have not dared to tell her certain other things which have gone before. You have sworn to her no doubt that you love her better than all the world.’

‘I have.’

‘And you have taken the trouble to come her to tell me that — to wound me to the core by saying so; to show me that though I may still be sick, you have recovered — that is if you ever suffered! Go your way and let me go mine. I do not want you.’

‘Mabel!’

‘I do not want you. I know you will not help me, but you need not destroy me.’

‘You know that you are wronging me.’

‘No! You understand it all though you look so calm. I hate your Lady Mary Palliser. There! But if by anything I could do I could secure her to you I would do it — because you want it.’

‘She will be your sister-in-law — probably.’

‘Never. It will never be so.’

‘Why do you hate me?’

‘There again! You are so little of a man that you can ask me why!’ Then she turned away as though she intended to go down to the marge of the lake.

But he rose up and stopped her. ‘Let us have this out, Mabel, before we go,’ he said. ‘Unmanly is a heavy word to hear from you, and you have used it a dozen times.’

‘It is because I have thought it a thousand times. Go and get her if you can — but why tell me about it?’

‘You said you would help me.’

‘So I would, as I would help you do anything you might want; but you can hardly think that after what has passed I can wish to hear about her.’

‘It was you spoke of her.’

‘I told you you should not be here — because of her and because of me. And I tell you again. I hate her. Do you think I can hear you speak of her as though she were the only woman you had ever seen without feeling it? Did you ever swear that you loved anyone else?’

‘Certainly, I have so sworn.’

‘Have you ever said that nothing could alter that love?’

‘Indeed I have.’

‘But it is altered. It has all gone. It has been transferred to one who has more advantages of beauty, youth, wealth, and position.’

‘Oh Mabel, Mabel!’

‘But it is so.’

‘When you say this do you think of yourself?’

‘Yes. But I have never been false to anyone. You are false to me.’

‘Have I not offered to face all the world with you?’

‘You would not offer it now?’

‘No,’ he said, after a pause — ‘not now. Were I to do so, I should be false. You bade me take my love elsewhere, and I did so.’

‘With the greatest care.’

‘We agreed it should be so; and you have done the same.’

‘That is false. Look me in the face and tell me whether you do not know it to be false?’

‘And yet I am told that I am injuring you with Silverbridge.’

‘Oh — so unmanly again! Of course I have to marry. Who does not know it? Do you want to see me begging my bread about the streets? You have bread; or if not, you might earn it. If you marry for money —’

‘The accusation is altogether unjustifiable.’

‘Allow me to finish what I have to say. If you marry for money you will do that which is in itself bad, and which is also unnecessary. What other course would you recommend me to take? No one goes into the gutter while there is a clean path open. If there be no escape but through the gutter, one has to take it.’

‘You mean that my duty to you should have kept me from marrying all my life.’

‘Not that; — but a little while, Frank; just a little while. Your bloom is not fading; your charms are not running from you. Have you not a strength which I cannot have? Do you not feel that you are a tree, standing firm in the ground, while I am a bit of ivy that will be trodden in the dirt unless it can be made to cling to something? You should not liken yourself to me, Frank.’

‘If I could do you any good!’

‘Good! What is the meaning of good? If you love, it is good to be loved again. It is good not to have your heart torn to pieces. You know that I love you.’ He was standing close to her, and put out his hand as though he would twine his arm round her waist. ‘Not for worlds,’ she said. ‘It belongs to the Palliser girl. And as I have taught myself to think that what there is left of me may perhaps belong to some other one, worthless as it is, I will keep it for him. I love you — but there can be none of that softness of love between us.’

Then there was a pause, but as he did not speak she went on. ‘But remember, Frank — our position is not equal. You have got over your little complaint. It probably did not go deep with you, and you have found a cure. Perhaps there is a satisfaction in finding that two young women love you.’

‘You are trying to be cruel to me.’

‘Why else should you be here? You know I love you — with all my heart, with all my strength, and that I would give the world to cure myself. Knowing this, you come and talk to me of your passion for this other girl.’

‘I had hoped we might both talk rationally as friends.’

‘Friends! Frank Tregear, I have been bold enough to tell you I love you; but you are not my friend, and cannot be my friend. If I have before asked you to help me in this mean catastrophe of mine, in my attack upon that poor boy, I withdraw my request. I think I will go back to the house now.’

‘I will walk back to Ledburgh if you wish it without going to the house again.’

‘No; I will have nothing that looks like being ashamed. You ought not to have come, but you need not run away.’ Then they walked back to the house together and found Miss Casseawary on the terrace. ‘We have been to the lake,’ said Mabel, ‘and have been talking of old days. I have but one ambition now in the world.’ Of course Miss Cassewary asked what the remaining ambition was. ‘To get money enough to purchase this place from the ruins of the Grex property. If I could own the house and the lake, and the paddocks about, and had enough income to keep one servant and bread for us to eat — of course including you, Miss Cass —’

‘Thank’ee, my dear; but I am not sure I should like it.’

‘Yes; you would. Frank would come and see us perhaps once a year. I don’t suppose anybody else cares about the place, but to me it is the dearest spot in the world.’ So she went on in almost high spirits, though alluding to the general decadence of the Grex family, till Tregear took his leave.

‘I wish he had not come,’ said Miss Cassewary when he was gone.

‘Why should you wish that? There is not so much here to amuse me that you should begrudge me a stray visitor.’

‘I don’t think I grudge you anything in the way of pleasure, my dear, but still he should not have come. My Lord, if he knew it, would be angry.’

‘Then let him be angry. Papa does not do much for me that I am bound to think of him at every turn.’

‘But I am — or rather I am bound to think of myself, if I take his bread.’

‘Bread!’

‘Well; — I do take his bread, and I take it on the understanding that I will be to you what a mother might be — or an aunt.’

‘Well — and if so! Had I a mother living would not Frank Tregear have come to visit her, and in visiting her, would he not have seen me — and should not we have walked out together?’

‘Not after all that has come and gone.’

‘But you are not a mother nor yet an aunt, and you have to do just what I tell you. And don’t I know that you trust me in all things? And am I not trustworthy?’

‘I think you are trustworthy.’

‘I know what my duty is and I mean to do it. No one shall ever have to say of me that I have given way to self-indulgence. I couldn’t help his coming here, you know.’

That same night, after Miss Cassewary had gone to bed, when the moon was high in the heavens and the world round her was all asleep, Lady Mabel again wandered out to the lake, and again seated herself on the same rock, and there sat thinking of her past life and trying to think of that before her. It is so much easier to think of the past than of the future — to remember what has been than to resolve what shall be! She had reminded him of the offer which he had made and repeated to her more than once — to share with her all his chances in life. There would have been almost no income for them. All the world would have been against her. She would have caused his ruin. Her light on the matter had been so clear that it had not taken her very long to decide that such a thing must not be thought of. She had at last been quite stern in her decision.

Now she was broken-hearted because she found that he had left her in very truth. Oh yes; — she would marry the boy, if she could so arrange. Since that meeting at Richmond he had sent her the ring reset. She was to meet him down in Scotland within a week or two from the present time. Mrs Montacute Jones had managed that. He had all but offered to her a second time at Richmond. But all that would not serve to make her happy. She declared to herself that she did not wish to see Frank Tregear again; but still it was a misery to her that his heart should in truth be given to another woman.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43