The Kellys and the O'Kellys, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXXVI

Mr Armstrong Visits Grey Abbey on a Delicate Mission

Lord Cashel certainly felt a considerable degree of relief when his daughter told him that Lord Kilcullen had left the house, and was on his way to Dublin, though he had been forced to pay so dearly for the satisfaction, had had to falsify his solemn assurance that he would not give his son another penny, and to break through his resolution of acting the Roman father. He consoled himself with the idea that he had been actuated by affection for his profligate son; but such had not been the case. Could he have handed him over to the sheriff’s officer silently and secretly, he would have done so; but his pride could not endure the reflection that all the world should know that bailiffs had forced an entry into Grey Abbey.

He closely questioned Lady Selina, with regard to all that had passed between her and her brother.

‘Did he say anything?’ at last he said ‘did he say anything about about Fanny?’ ‘Not much, papa; but what he did say, he said with kindness and affection,’ replied her ladyship, glad to repeat anything in favour of her brother.

‘Affection pooh!’ said the earl. ‘He has no affection; no affection for any one; he has no affection even for me. What did he say about her, Selina?’

‘He seemed to wish she should marry Lord Ballindine.’

‘She may marry whom she pleases, now,’ said the earl. ‘I wash my hands of her. I have done my best to prevent what I thought a disgraceful match for her ’

‘It would not have been disgraceful, papa, had she married him six months ago.’

‘A gambler and a rou‚!’ said the earl, forgetting, it is to be supposed, for the moment, his own son’s character. ‘She’ll marry him now, I suppose, and repent at her leisure. I’ll give myself no further trouble about it.’

The earl thought upon the subject, however, a good deal; and before Mr Armstrong’s arrival he had all but made up his mind that he must again swallow his word, and ask his ward’s lover back to his house. He had at any rate become assured that if he did not do so, some one else would do it for him.

Mr Armstrong was, happily, possessed of a considerable stock of self-confidence, and during his first day’s journey, felt no want of it with regard to the delicate mission with which he was entrusted. But when he had deposited his carpet-bag at the little hotel at Kilcullen bridge, and found himself seated on a hack car, and proceeding to Grey Abbey, he began to feel that he had rather a difficult part to play; and by the time that the house was in sight, he felt himself completely puzzled as to the manner in which he should open his negotiation.

He had, however, desired the man to drive to the house, and he could not well stop the car in the middle of the demesne, to mature his plans; and when he was at the door he could not stay there without applying for admission. So he got his card-case in his hand, and rang the bell. After a due interval, which to the parson did not seem a bit too long, the heavy-looking, powdered footman appeared, and announced that Lord Cashel was at home; and, in another minute Mr Armstrong found himself in the book-room.

It was the morning after Lord Kilcullen’s departure, and Lord Cashel was still anything but comfortable. Her ladyship had been bothering him about the poor boy, as she called her son, now that she learned he was in distress; and had been beseeching him to increase his allowance. The earl had not told his wife the extent of their son’s pecuniary delinquencies, and consequently she was greatly dismayed when her husband very solemnly said,

‘My lady, Lord Kilcullen has no longer any allowance from me.’

‘Good gracious!’ screamed her ladyship; ‘no allowance? how is the poor boy to live?’

‘That I really cannot tell. I cannot even guess; but, let him live how he may, I will not absolutely ruin myself for his sake.’

The interview was not a comfortable one, either to the father or mother. Lady Cashel cried a great deal, and was very strongly of opinion that her son would die of cold and starvation: ‘How could he get shelter or food, any more than a common person, if he had no allowance? Mightn’t he, at any rate, come back, and live at Grey Abbey? That wouldn’t cost his father anything.’ And then the countess remembered how she had praised her son to Mrs Ellison, and the bishop’s wife; and she cried worse than ever, and was obliged to be left to Griffiths and her drops.

This happened on the evening of Lord Kilcullen’s departure, and on the next morning her ladyship did not appear at breakfast. She was weak and nervous, and had her tea in her own sitting-room. There was no one sitting at breakfast but the earl, Fanny, and Lady Selina, and they were all alike, stiff, cold, and silent. The earl felt as if he were not at home even in his own breakfast-parlour; he felt afraid of his ward, as though he were conscious that she knew how he had intended to injure her: and, as soon as he had swallowed his eggs, he muttered something which was inaudible to both the girls, and retreated to his private den.

He had not been there long before the servant brought in our friend’s name. ‘The Rev. George Armstrong’, written on a plain card. The parson had not put the name of his parish, fearing that the earl, knowing from whence he came, might guess his business, and decline seeing him. As it was, no difficulty was made, and the parson soon found himself tˆte-…-tˆte with the earl.

‘I have taken the liberty of calling on you, Lord Cashel,’ said Mr Armstrong, having accepted the offer of a chair, ‘on a rather delicate mission.’

The earl bowed, and rubbed his hands, and felt more comfortable than he had done for the last week. He liked delicate missions coming to him, for he flattered himself that he knew how to receive them in a delicate manner; he liked, also, displaying his dignity to strangers, for he felt that strangers stood rather in awe of him: he also felt, though he did not own it to himself, that his manner was not so effective with people who had known him some time.

‘I may say, a very delicate mission,’ said the parson; ‘and one I would not have undertaken had I not known your lordship’s character for candour and honesty.’

Lord Cashel again bowed and rubbed his hands.

‘I am, my lord, a friend of Lord Ballindine; and as such I have taken the liberty of calling on your lordship.’

‘A friend of Lord Ballindine?’ said the earl, arching his eyebrows, and assuming a look of great surprise.

‘A very old friend, my lord; the clergyman of his parish, and for many years an intimate friend of his father. I have known Lord Ballindine since he was a child.’

‘Lord Ballindine is lucky in having such a friend: few young men now, I am sorry to say, care much for their father’s friends. Is there anything, Mr Armstrong, in which I can assist either you or his lordship?’

‘My lord,’ said the parson, ‘I need not tell you that before I took the perhaps unwarrantable liberty of troubling you, I was made acquainted with Lord Ballindine’s engagement with your ward, and with the manner in which that engagement was broken off.’

‘And your object is, Mr Armstrong?’

‘My object is to remove, if possible, the unfortunate misunderstanding between your lordship and my friend.’.

‘Misunderstanding, Mr Armstrong? There was no misunderstanding between us. I really think we perfectly understood each other. Lord Ballindine was engaged to my ward; his engagement, however, being contingent on his adoption of a certain line of conduct. This line of conduct his lordship did not adopt; perhaps, he used a wise discretion; however, I thought not. I thought the mode of life which he pursued ’

‘But ’

‘Pardon me a moment, Mr Armstrong, and I shall have said all which appears to me to be necessary on the occasion; perhaps more than is necessary; more probably than I should have allowed myself to say, had not Lord Ballindine sent as his ambassador the clergyman of his parish and the friend of his father,’ and Lord Cashel again bowed and rubbed his hands. ‘I thought, Mr Armstrong, that your young friend appeared wedded to a style of life quite incompatible with his income with his own income as a single man, and the income which he would have possessed had he married my ward. I thought that their marriage would only lead to poverty and distress, and I felt that I was only doing my duty to my ward in expressing this opinion to her. I found that she was herself of the same opinion; that she feared a union with Lord Ballindine would not ensure happiness either to him or to herself. His habits were too evidently those of extravagance, and hers had not been such as to render a life of privation anything but a life of misery.’

‘I had thought ’

‘One moment more, Mr Armstrong, and I shall have done. After mature consideration, Miss Wyndham commissioned me to express her sentiments and I must say they fully coincided with my own to Lord Ballindine, and to explain to him, that she found herself obliged to to to retrace the steps which she had taken in the matter. I did this in a manner as little painful to Lord Ballindine as I was able. It is difficult, Mr Armstrong, to make a disagreeable communication palatable; it is very difficult to persuade a young man who is in love, to give up the object of his idolatry; but I trust Lord Ballindine will do me the justice to own that, on the occasion alluded to, I said nothing unnecessarily harsh nothing calculated to harass his feelings. I appreciate and esteem Lord Ballindine’s good qualities, and I much regretted that prudence forbad me to sanction the near alliance he was anxious to do me the honour of making with me.’ Lord Cashel finished his harangue, and felt once more on good terms with himself. He by no means intended offering any further vehement resistance to his ward’s marriage. He was, indeed, rejoiced to have an opportunity of giving way decently. But he could not resist the temptation of explaining his conduct, and making a speech.

‘My lord,’ said the parson, ‘what you tell me is only a repetition of what I heard from my young friend.’

‘I am glad to hear it. I trust, then, I may have the pleasure of feeling that Lord Ballindine attributes to me no personal unkindness?’

‘Not in the least, Lord Cashel; very far from it. Though Lord Ballindine may not be may not hitherto have been, free from the follies of his age, he has had quite sense enough to appreciate your lordship’s conduct.’

‘I endeavoured, at any rate, that it should be such as to render me liable to no just imputation of fickleness or cruelty.’

‘No one would for a moment accuse your lordship of either. It is my knowledge of your lordship’s character in this particular which has induced me to undertake the task of begging you to reconsider the subject. Lord Ballindine has, you are aware, sold his race-horses.’

‘I had heard so, Mr Armstrong; though, perhaps, not on good authority.’

‘He has; and is now living among his own tenantry and friends at Kelly’s Court. He is passionately, devotedly attached to your ward, Lord Cashel; and with a young man’s vanity he still thinks that she may not be quite indifferent to him.’

‘It was at her own instance, Mr Armstrong, that his suit was rejected.’

‘I am well aware of that, my lord. But ladies, you know, do sometimes mistake their own feelings. Miss Wyndham must have been attached to my friend, or she would not have received him as her lover. Will you, my lord, allow me to see Miss Wyndham? If she still expresses indifference to Lord Ballindine, I will assure her that she shall be no further persecuted by his suit. If such be not the case, surely prudence need not further interfere to prevent a marriage desired by both the persons most concerned. Lord Ballindine is not now a spendthrift, whatever he may formerly have been; and Miss Wyndham’s princely fortune, though it alone would never have induced my friend to seek her hand, will make the match all that it should be. You will not object, my lord, to my seeing Miss Wyndham?’

‘Mr Armstrong really you must be aware such a request is rather unusual.’

‘So are the circumstances,’ replied the parson. ‘They also are unusual. I do not doubt Miss Wyndham’s wisdom in rejecting Lord Ballindine, when, as you say, he appeared to be wedded to a life of extravagance. I have no doubt she put a violent restraint on her own feelings; exercised, in fact, a self-denial which shows a very high tone of character, and should elicit nothing but admiration; but circumstances are much altered.’

Lord Cashel continued to raise objections to the parson’s request, though it was, throughout the interview, his intention to accede to it. At last, he gave up the point, with much grace, and in such a manner as he thought should entitle him to the eternal gratitude of his ward, Lord Ballindine, and the parson. He consequently rang the bell, and desired the servant to give his compliments to Miss Wyndham and tell her that the Rev. Mr Armstrong wished to see her, alone, upon business of importance.

Mr Armstrong felt that his success was much greater than he had had any reason to expect, from Lord Ballindine’s description of his last visit at Grey Abbey. He had, in fact, overcome the only difficulty. If Miss Wyndham really disliked his friend, and objected to the marriage, Mr Armstrong was well aware that he had only to return, and tell his friend so in the best way he could. If, however, she still had a true regard for him, if she were the Fanny Wyndham Ballindine had described her to be, if she had ever really been devoted to him, if she had at all a wish in her heart to see him again at her feet, the parson felt that he would have good news to send back to Kelly’s Court; and that he would have done the lovers a service which they never could forget.

‘At any rate, Mr Armstrong,’ said Lord Cashel, as the parson was bowing himself backwards out of the room, ‘you will join our family circle while you are in the neighbourhood. Whatever may be the success of your mission and I assure you I hope it may be such as will be gratifying to you, I am happy to make the acquaintance of any friend of Lord Ballindine’s, when Lord Ballindine chooses his friends so well.’ (This was meant as a slap at Dot Blake.) ‘You will give me leave to send down to the town for your luggage.’ Mr Armstrong made no objection to this proposal, and the luggage was sent for.

The powder-haired servant again took him in tow, and ushered him out of the book-room, across the hall through the billiard-room, and into the library; gave him a chair, and then brought him a newspaper, giving him to understand that Miss Wyndham would soon be with him.

The parson took the paper in his hands, but he did not trouble himself much with the contents of it. What was he to say to Miss Wyndham? how was he to commence? He had never gone love-making for another in his life; and now, at his advanced age, it really did come rather strange to him. And then he began to think whether she were short or tall, dark or fair, stout or slender. It certainly was very odd, but, in all their conversations on the subject, Lord Ballindine had never given him any description of his inamorata. Mr Armstrong, however, had not much time to make up his mind on any of these points, for the door opened, and Miss Wyndham entered.

She was dressed in black, for she was, of course, still in mourning for her brother; but, in spite of her sable habiliments, she startled the parson by the brilliance of her beauty. There was a quiet dignity of demeanour natural to Fanny Wyndham; a well-balanced pose, and a grace of motion, which saved her from ever looking awkward or confused. She never appeared to lose her self-possession. Though never arrogant, she seemed always to know what was due to herself. No insignificant puppy could ever have attempted to flirt with her. When summoned by the servant to meet a strange clergyman alone in the library, at the request of Lord Cashel, she felt that his visit must have some reference to her lover; indeed, her thoughts for the last few days had run on little else. She had made up her mind to talk to her cousin about him; then, her cousin had matured that determination by making love to her himself: then, she had talked to him of Lord Ballindine, and he had promised to talk to his father on the same subject; and she had since been endeavouring to bring herself to make one other last appeal to her uncle’s feelings. Her mind was therefore, full of Lord Ballindine, when she walked into the library. But her face was no tell-tale; her gait and demeanour were as dignified as though she had no anxious love within her heart no one grand desire, to disturb the even current of her blood. She bowed her beautiful head to Mr Armstrong as she walked into the room, and, sitting down herself, begged him to take a chair.

The parson had by no means made up his mind as to what he was to say to the young lady, so he shut his eyes, and rushed at once into the middle of his subject. ‘Miss Wyndham,’ he said, ‘I have come a long way to call on you, at the request of a friend of yours a very dear and old friend of mine at the request of Lord Ballindine.’

Fanny’s countenance became deeply suffused at her lover’s name, but the parson did not observe it; indeed he hardly ventured to look in her face. She merely said, in a voice which seemed to him to be anything but promising, ‘Well, sir?’ The truth was, she did not know what to say. Had she dared, she would have fallen on her knees before her lover’s friend, and sworn to him how well she loved him.

‘When Lord Ballindine was last at Grey Abbey, Miss Wyndham, he had not the honour of an interview with you.’

‘No, sir,’ said Fanny. Her voice, look, and manner were still sedate and courtly; her heart, however, was beating so violently that she hardly knew what she said.

‘Circumstances, I believe, prevented it,’ said the parson. ‘My friend, however, received, through Lord Cashel, a message from you, which which which has been very fatal to his happiness.’

Fanny tried to say something, but she was not able.

‘The very decided tone in which your uncle then spoke to him, has made Lord Ballindine feel that any further visit to Grey Abbey on his own part would be an intrusion.’

‘I never —’ said Fanny, ‘I never —’

‘You never authorised so harsh a message, you would say. It is not the harshness of the language, but the certainty of the fact, that has destroyed my friend’s happiness. If such were to be the case if it were absolutely necessary that the engagement between you and Lord Ballindine should be broken off, the more decided the manner in which it were done, the better. Lord Ballindine now wishes I am a bad messenger in such a case as this, Miss Wyndham: it is, perhaps, better to tell you at once a plain tale. Frank has desired me to tell you that he loves you well and truly; that he cannot believe you are indifferent to him; that your vows, to him so precious, are still ringing in his ears; that he is, as far as his heart is concerned, unchanged; and he has commissioned me to ascertain from yourself, whether you have really changed your mind since he last had the pleasure of seeing you.’ The parson waited a moment for an answer, and then added, ‘Lord Ballindine by no means wishes to persecute you on the subject; nor would I do so, if he did wish it. You have only to tell me that you do not intend to renew your acquaintance with Lord Ballindine, and I will leave Grey Abbey.’ Fanny still remained silent. ‘Say the one word “go”, Miss Wyndham, and you need not pain yourself by any further speech. I will at once be gone.’

Fanny strove hard to keep her composure, and to make some fitting reply to Mr Armstrong, but she was unable. Her heart was too full; she was too happy. She had, openly, and in spite of rebuke, avowed her love to her uncle, her aunt, to Lady Selina, and her cousin. But she could not bring herself to confess it to Mr Armstrong. At last she said:

‘I am much obliged to you for your kindness, Mr Armstrong. Perhaps I owe it to Lord Ballindine to to . . . I will ask my uncle, sir, to write to him.’

‘I shall write to Lord Ballindine this evening, Miss Wyndham; will you intrust me with no message? I came from him, to see you, with no other purpose. I must give him some news: I must tell him I have seen you. May I tell him not to despair?’

‘Tell him — tell him —’ said Fanny, and she paused to make up her mind as to the words of her message, ‘tell him to come himself.’ And, hurrying from the room, she left the parson alone, to meditate on the singular success of his mission. He stood for about half an hour, thinking over what had occurred, and rejoicing greatly in his mind that he had undertaken the business. ‘What fools men are about women!’ he said at last, to himself. ‘They know their nature so well when they are thinking and speaking of them with reference to others; but as soon as a man is in love with one himself, he is cowed! He thinks the nature of one woman is different from that of all others, and he is afraid to act on his general knowledge. Well; I might as well write to him! for, thank God, I can send him good news —’ and he rang the bell, and asked if his bag had come. It had, and was in his bed-room. ‘Could the servant get him pen, ink, and paper?’ The servant did so; and, within two hours of his entering the doors of Grey Abbey, he was informing his friend of the success of his mission.

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