Phineas Finn, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 62

The letter that was sent to Brighton

Monday morning came and Madame Goesler had as yet written no answer to the Duke of Omnium. Had not Lady Glencora gone to Park Lane on the Sunday afternoon, I think the letter would have been written on that day; but, whatever may have been the effect of Lady Glencora’s visit, it so far disturbed Madame Goesler as to keep her from her writing-table. There was yet another night for thought, and then the letter should be written on the Monday morning.

When Lady Glencora left Madame Goesler she went at once to the Duke’s house. It was her custom to see her husband’s uncle on a Sunday, and she would most frequently find him just at this hour — before he went upstairs to dress for dinner. She usually took her boy with her, but on this occasion she went alone. She had tried what she could do with Madame Goesler, and she found that she had failed. She must now make her attempt upon the Duke. But the Duke, perhaps anticipating some attack of the kind, had fled. “Where is His Grace, Barker?” said Lady Glencora to the porter. “We do not know, your ladyship. His Grace went away yesterday evening with nobody but Lapoule.” Lapoule was the Duke’s French valet. Lady Glencora could only return home and consider in her own mind what batteries might yet be brought to bear upon the Duke, towards stopping the marriage, even after the engagement should have been made — if it were to be made. Lady Glencora felt that such batteries might still be brought up as would not improbably have an effect on a proud, weak old man. If all other resources failed, royalty in some of its branches might be induced to make a request, and every august relation in the peerage should interfere. The Duke no doubt might persevere and marry whom he pleased — if he were strong enough. But it requires much personal strength — that standing alone against the well-armed batteries of all one’s friends. Lady Glencora had once tried such a battle on her own behalf, and had failed. She had wished to be imprudent when she was young; but her friends had been too strong for her. She had been reduced, and kept in order, and made to run in a groove — and was now, when she sat looking at her little boy with his bold face, almost inclined to think that the world was right, and that grooves were best. But if she had been controlled when she was young, so ought the Duke to be controlled now that he was old. It is all very well for a man or woman to boast that he — or she — may do what he likes with his own — or with her own. But there are circumstances in which such self-action is ruinous to so many that coercion from the outside becomes absolutely needed. Nobody had felt the injustice of such coercion when applied to herself more sharply than had Lady Glencora. But she had lived to acknowledge that such coercion might be proper, and was now prepared to use it in any shape in which it might be made available. It was all very well for Madame Goesler to laugh and exclaim, “Psha!” when Lady Glencora declared her real trouble. But should it ever come to pass that a black-browed baby with a yellow skin should be shown to the world as Lord Silverbridge, Lady Glencora knew that her peace of mind would be gone for ever. She had begun the world desiring one thing, and had missed it. She had suffered much, and had then reconciled herself to other hopes. If those other hopes were also to be cut away from her, the world would not be worth a pinch of snuff to her. The Duke had fled, and she could do nothing today; but tomorrow she would begin with her batteries. And she herself had done the mischief! She had invited this woman down to Matching! Heaven and earth! — that such a man as the Duke should be such a fool! — The widow of a Jew banker! He, the Duke of Omnium — and thus to cut away from himself, for the rest of his life, all honour, all peace of mind, all the grace of a noble end to a career which, if not very noble in itself, had received the praise of nobility! And to do this for a thin, black-browed, yellow-visaged woman with ringlets and devil’s eyes, and a beard on her upper lip — a Jewess — a creature of whose habits of life and manners of thought they all were absolutely ignorant; who drank, possibly; who might have been a forger, for what anyone knew; an adventuress who had found her way into society by her art and perseverance — and who did not even pretend to have a relation in the world! That such a one should have influence enough to intrude herself into the house of Omnium, and blot the scutcheon, and — what was worst of all — perhaps be the mother of future dukes! Lady Glencora, in her anger, was very unjust to Madame Goesler, thinking all evil of her, accusing her in her mind of every crime, denying her all charm, all beauty. Had the Duke forgotten himself and his position for the sake of some fair girl with a pink complexion and grey eyes, and smooth hair, and a father, Lady Glencora thought that she would have forgiven it better. It might be that Madame Goesler would win her way to the coronet; but when she came to put it on, she should find that there were sharp thorns inside the lining of it. Not a woman worth the knowing in all London should speak to her — nor a man either of those men with whom a Duchess of Omnium would wish to hold converse. She should find her husband rated as a doting fool, and herself rated as a scheming female adventuress. And it should go hard with Lady Glencora, if the Duke were not separated from his new Duchess before the end of the first year! In her anger Lady Glencora was very unjust.

The Duke, when he left his house without telling his household whither he was going, did send his address to — the top brick of the chimney. His note, which was delivered at Madame Goesler’s house late on the Sunday evening, was as follows: “I am to have your answer on Monday. I shall be at Brighton. Send it by a private messenger to the Bedford Hotel there. I need not tell you with what expectation, with what hope, with what fear I shall await it. — O.” Poor old man! He had run through all the pleasures of life too quickly, and had not much left with which to amuse himself. At length he had set his eyes on a top brick, and being tired of everything else, wanted it very sorely. Poor old man! How should it do him any good, even if he got it? Madame Goesler, when she received the note, sat with it in her hand, thinking of his great want. “And he would be tired of his new plaything after a month,” she said to herself. But she had given herself to the next morning, and she would not make up her mind that night. She would sleep once more with the coronet of a duchess within her reach. She did do so; and woke in the morning with her mind absolutely in doubt. When she walked down to breakfast, all doubt was at an end. The time had come when it was necessary that she should resolve, and while her maid was brushing her hair for her she did make her resolution.

“What a thing it is to be a great lady,” said the maid, who may probably have reflected that the Duke of Omnium did not come here so often for nothing.

“What do you mean by that, Lotta?”

“The women I know, madame, talk so much of their countesses, and ladyships, and duchesses. I would never rest till I had a title in this country, if I were a lady — and rich and beautiful.”

“And can the countesses, and the ladyships, and the duchesses do as they please?”

“Ah, madame — I know not that.”

“But I know. That will do, Lotta. Now leave me.” Then Madame Goesler had made up her mind; but I do not know whether that doubt as to having her own way had much to do with it. As the wife of an old man she would probably have had much of her own way. Immediately after breakfast she wrote her answer to the Duke, which was as follows:

“ Park Lane, Monday

“ MY DEAR DUKE OF OMNIUM,

I find so great a difficulty in expressing myself to Your Grace in a written letter, that since you left me I have never ceased to wish that I had been less nervous, less doubting, and less foolish when you were present with me here in my room. I might then have said in one word what will take so many awkward words to explain.

“Great as is the honour you propose to confer on me, rich as is the gift you offer me, I cannot accept it. I cannot be Your Grace’s wife. I may almost say that I knew it was so when you parted from me; but the surprise of the situation took away from me a part of my judgment, and made me unable to answer you as I should have done. My lord, the truth is, that I am not fit to be the wife of the Duke of Omnium. I should injure you; and though I should raise myself in name, I should injure myself in character. But you must not think, because I say this, that there is any reason why I should not be an honest man’s wife. There is none. I have nothing on my conscience which I could not tell you — or to another man; nothing that I need fear to tell to all the world. Indeed, my lord, there is nothing to tell but this — that I am not fitted by birth and position to be the wife of the Duke of Omnium. You would have to blush for me, and that no man shall ever have to do on my account.

“I will own that I have been ambitious, too ambitious, and have been pleased to think that one so exalted as you are, one whose high position is so rife in the eyes of all men, should have taken pleasure in my company. I will confess to a foolish woman’s silly vanity in having wished to be known to be the friend of the Duke of Omnium. I am like the other moths that flutter near the light and have their wings burned. But I am wiser than they in this, that having been scorched, I know that I must keep my distance. You will easily believe that a woman such as I am does not refuse to ride in a carriage with Your Grace’s arms on the panels without a regret. I am no philosopher. I do not pretend to despise the rich things of the world, or the high things. According to my way of thinking a woman ought to wish to be Duchess of Omnium — but she ought to wish also to be able to carry her coronet with a proper grace. As Madame Goesler I can live, even among my superiors, at my ease. As Your Grace’s wife, I should be easy no longer — nor would Your Grace.

“You will think perhaps that what I write is heartless, that I speak altogether of your rank, and not at all of the affection you have shown me, or of that which I might possibly bear towards you. I think that when the first flush of passion is over in early youth men and women should strive to regulate their love, as they do their other desires, by their reason. I could love Your Grace, fondly, as your wife, if I thought it well for Your Grace or for myself that we should be man and wife. As I think it would be ill for both of us, I will restrain that feeling, and remember Your Grace ever with the purest feeling of true friendship.

“Before I close this letter, I must utter a word of gratitude. In the kind of life which I have led as a widow, a life which has been very isolated as regards true fellowship, it has been my greatest effort to obtain the good opinion of those among whom I have attempted to make my way. I may, perhaps, own to you now that I have had many difficulties. A woman who is alone in the world is ever regarded with suspicion. In this country a woman with a foreign name, with means derived from foreign sources, with a foreign history, is specially suspected. I have striven to live that down, and I have succeeded. But in my wildest dreams I never dreamed of such success as this — that the Duke of Omnium should think me the worthiest of the worthy. You may be sure that I am not ungrateful — that I never will be ungrateful. And I trust it will not derogate from your opinion of my worth, that I have known what was due to Your Grace’s highness.

“I have the honour to be,

“My Lord Duke,

“Your most obliged and faithful servant,

“ MARIE MAX GOESLER

“How many unmarried women in England are there would do the same?” she said to herself, as she folded the paper, and put it into an envelope, and sealed the cover. The moment that the letter was completed she sent it off, as she was directed to send it, so that there might be no possibility of repentance and subsequent hesitation. She had at last made up her mind, and she would stand by the making. She knew that there would come moments in which she would deeply regret the opportunity that she had lost — the chance of greatness that she had flung away from her. But so would she have often regretted it, also, had she accepted the greatness. Her position was one in which there must be regret, let her decision have been what it might. But she had decided, and the thing was done. She would still be free — Marie Max Goesler — unless in abandoning her freedom she would obtain something that she might in truth prefer to it. When the letter was gone she sat disconsolate, at the window of an upstairs room in which she had written, thinking much of the coronet, much of the name, much of the rank, much of that position in society which she had flattered herself she might have won for herself as Duchess of Omnium by her beauty, her grace, and her wit. It had not been simply her ambition to be a duchess, without further aim or object. She had fancied that she might have been such a duchess as there is never another, so that her fame might have been great throughout Europe, as a woman charming at all points. And she would have had friends, then — real friends, and would not have lived alone as it was now her fate to do. And she would have loved her ducal husband, old though he was, and stiff with pomp and ceremony. She would have loved him, and done her best to add something of brightness to his life. It was indeed true that there was one whom she loved better; but of what avail was it to love a man who, when he came to her, would speak to her of nothing but of the charms which he found in another woman!

She had been sitting thus at her window, with a book in her hand, at which she never looked, gazing over the park which was now beautiful with its May verdure, when on a sudden a thought struck her. Lady Glencora Palliser had come to her, trying to enlist her sympathy for the little heir, behaving, indeed, not very well, as Madame Goesler had thought, but still with an earnest purpose which was in itself good. She would write to Lady Glencora and put her out of her misery. Perhaps there was some feeling of triumph in her mind as she returned to the desk from which her epistle had been sent to the Duke — not of that triumph which would have found its gratification in boasting of the offer that had been made to her, but arising from a feeling that she could now show the proud mother of the bold-faced boy that though she would not pledge herself to any woman as to what she might do or not do, she was nevertheless capable of resisting such a temptation as would have been irresistible to many. Of the Duke’s offer to her she would have spoken to no human being, had not this woman shown that the Duke’s purpose was known at least to her, and now, in her letter, she would write no plain word of that offer. She would not state, in words intelligible to anyone who might read, that the Duke had offered her his hand and his coronet. But she would write so that Lady Glencora should understand her. And she would be careful that there should be no word in the letter to make Lady Glencora think that she supposed herself to be unfit for the rank offered to her. She had been very humble in what she had written to the Duke, but she would not be at all humble in what she was about to write to the mother of the bold-faced boy. And this was the letter when it was written:

“ MY DEAR LADY GLENCORA,

“I venture to send you a line to put you out of your misery — for you were very miserable when you were so good as to come here yesterday. Your dear little boy is safe from me — and, what is more to the purpose, so are you and your husband — and your uncle, whom, in truth, I love. You asked me a downright question which I did not then choose to answer by a downright answer. The downright answer was not at that time due to you. It has since been given, and as I like you too well to wish you to be in torment, I send you a line to say that I shall never be in the way of you or your boy.

“And now, dear Lady Glencora, one word more. Should it ever again appear to you to be necessary to use your zeal for the protection of your husband or your child, do not endeavour to dissuade a woman by trying to make her think that she, by her alliance, would bring degradation into any house, or to any man. If there could have been an argument powerful with me, to make me do that which you wished to prevent, it was the argument which you used. But my own comfort, and the happiness of another person whom I value almost as much as myself, were too important to be sacrificed even to a woman’s revenge. I take mine by writing to you and telling you that I am better and more rational and wiser than you took me to be.

“If, after this, you choose to be on good terms with me, I shall be happy to be your friend. I shall want no further revenge. You owe me some little apology; but whether you make it or not, I will be contented, and will never do more than ask whether your darling’s prospects are still safe. There are more women than one in the world, you know, and you must not consider yourself to be out of the wood because you have escaped from a single danger. If there arise another, come to me, and we will consult together.

“Dear Lady Glencora, yours always sincerely,

“ MARIE M. G .”

There was a thing or two besides which she longed to say, laughing as she thought of them. But she refrained, and her letter, when finished, was as it is given above.

On the day following, Lady Glencora was again in Park Lane. When she first read Madame Goesler’s letter, she felt herself to be annoyed and angry, but her anger was with herself rather than with her correspondent. Ever since her last interview with the woman whom she had feared, she had been conscious of having been indiscreet. All her feelings had been too violent, and it might well have been that she should have driven this woman to do the very thing that she was so anxious to avoid. “You owe me some little apology,” Madame Goesler had said. It was true — and she would apologise. Undue pride was not a part of Lady Glencora’s character. Indeed, there was not enough of pride in her composition. She had been quite ready to hate this woman, and to fight her on every point as long as the danger existed; but she was equally willing to take the woman to her heart now that the danger was over. Apologise! Of course she would apologise. And she would make a friend of the woman if the woman wished it. But she would not have the woman and the Duke at Matching together again, lest, after all, there might be a mistake. She did not show Madame Goesler’s letter to her husband, or tell him anything of the relief she had received. He had cared but little for the danger, thinking more of his budget than of the danger; and would be sufficiently at his ease if he heard no more rumours of his uncle’s marriage. Lady Glencora went to Park Lane early on the Tuesday morning, but she did not take her boy with her. She understood that Madame Goesler might perhaps indulge in a little gentle raillery at the child’s expense, and the mother felt that this might be borne the more easily if the child were not present.

“I have come to thank you for your letter, Madame Goesler,” said Lady Glencora, before she sat down.

“Oh, come ye in peace here, or come ye in war, or to dance at our bridal?” said Madame Goesler, standing up from her chair and laughing, as she sang the lines.

“Certainly not to dance at your bridal,” said Lady Glencora.

“Alas! no. You have forbidden the banns too effectually for that, and I sit here wearing the willow all alone. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to get married as well as another woman, I wonder? I think you have been very hard upon me among you. But sit down, Lady Glencora. At any rate you come in peace.”

“Certainly in peace, and with much admiration — and a great deal of love and affection, and all that kind of thing, if you will only accept it.”

“I shall be too proud, Lady Glencora — for the Duke’s sake, if for no other reason.”

“And I have to make my apology.”

“It was made as soon as your carriage stopped at my door with friendly wheels. Of course I understand. I can know how terrible it all was to you — even though the dear little Plantagenet might not have been in much danger. Fancy what it would be to disturb the career of a Plantagenet! I am far too well read in history, I can assure you.”

“I said a word for which I am sorry, and which I should not have said.”

“Never mind the word. After all, it was a true word. I do not hesitate to say so now myself, though I will allow no other woman to say it — and no man either. I should have degraded him — and disgraced him.” Madame Goesler now had dropped the bantering tone which she had assumed, and was speaking in sober earnest. “I, for myself, have nothing about me of which I am ashamed. I have no history to hide, no story to be brought to light to my discredit. But I have not been so born, or so placed by circumstances, as make me fit to be the wife of the Duke of Omnium. I should not have been happy, you know.”

“You want nothing, dear Madame Goesler. You have all that society can give you.”

“I do not know about that. I have much given to me by society, but there are many things that I want — a bright-faced little boy, for instance, to go about with me in my carriage. Why did you not bring him, Lady Glencora?”

“I came out in my penitential sheet, and when one goes in that guise, one goes alone. I had half a mind to walk.”

“You will bring him soon?”

“Oh, yes. He was very anxious to know the other day who was the beautiful lady with the black hair.”

“You did not tell him that the beautiful lady with the black hair was a possible aunt, was a possible —? But we will not think any more of things so horrible.”

“I told him nothing of my fears, you may be sure.”

“Some day when I am a very old woman, and when his father is quite an old duke, and when he has a dozen little boys and girls of his own, you will tell him the story. Then he will reflect what a madman his great-uncle must have been, to have thought of making a duchess out of such a wizened old woman as that.”

They parted the best of friends, but Lady Glencora was still of opinion that if the lady and the Duke were to be brought together at Matching, or elsewhere, there might still be danger.

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