Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 29

The Spooner Correspondence

It will be remembered that Adelaide Palliser had accepted the hand of Mr Maule, junior, and that she and Lady Chiltern between them had despatched him up to London on an embassy to his father, in which he failed very signally. It had been originally Lady Chiltern’s idea that the proper home for the young couple would be the ancestral hall, which must be theirs some day, and in which, with exceeding prudence, they might be able to live as Maules of Maule Abbey upon the very limited income which would belong to them. How slight were the grounds for imputing such stern prudence to Gerard Maule both the ladies felt — but it had become essential to do something; the young people were engaged to each other, and a manner of life must be suggested, discussed, and as far as possible arranged. Lady Chiltern was useful at such work, having a practical turn of mind, and understanding well the condition of life for which it was necessary that her friend should prepare herself. The lover was not vicious, he neither drank nor gambled, nor ran himself hopelessly in debt. He was good-humoured and tractable, and docile enough when nothing disagreeable was asked from him. He would have, he said, no objection to live at Maule Abbey if Adelaide liked it. He didn’t believe much in farming, but would consent at Adelaide’s request to be the owner of bullocks. He was quite ready to give up hunting, having already taught himself to think that the very few good runs in a season were hardly worth the trouble of getting up before daylight all the winter. He went forth, therefore, on his embassy, and we know how he failed. Another lover would have communicated the disastrous tidings at once to the lady; but Gerard Maule waited a week before he did so, and then told his story in half-a-dozen words. “The governor cut up rough about Maule Abbey, and will not hear of it. He generally does cut up rough.”

“But he must be made to hear of it,” said Lady Chiltern. Two days afterwards the news reached Harrington of the death of the Duke of Omnium. A letter of an official nature reached Adelaide from Mr Fothergill, in which the writer explained that he had been desired by Mr Palliser to communicate to her and the relatives the sad tidings. “So the poor old man has gone at last,” said Lady Chiltern, with that affectation of funereal gravity which is common to all of us.

“Poor old Duke!” said Adelaide. “I have been hearing of him as a sort of bugbear all my life. I don’t think I ever saw him but once, and then he gave me a kiss and a pair of earrings. He never paid any attention to us at all, but we were taught to think that Providence had been very good to us in making the Duke our uncle.”

“He was very rich?”

“Horribly rich, I have always heard.”

“Won’t he leave you something? It would be very nice now that you are engaged to find that he has given you five thousand pounds.”

“Very nice indeed — but there is not a chance of it. It has always been known that everything is to go to the heir, Papa had his fortune and spent it. He and his brother were never friends, and though the Duke did once give me a kiss I imagine that he forgot my existence immediately afterwards.”

“So the Duke of Omnium is dead,” said Lord Chiltern when he came home that evening.

“Adelaide has had a letter to tell her so this afternoon.”

“Mr Fothergill wrote to me,” said Adelaide — “the man who is so wicked about the foxes.”

“I don’t care a straw about Mr Fothergill; and now my mouth is closed against your uncle. But it’s quite frightful to think that a Duke of Omnium must die like anybody else.”

“The Duke is dead — long live the Duke,” said Lady Chiltern. “I wonder how Mr Palliser will like it.”

“Men always do like it, I suppose,” said Adelaide.

“Women do,” said Lord Chiltern. “Lady Glencora will be delighted to reign — though I can hardly fancy her by any other name. By the bye, Adelaide, I have got a letter for you.”

“A letter for me, Lord Chiltern!”

“Well — yes; I suppose I had better give it you. It is not addressed to you, but you must answer it.”

“What on earth is it?”

“I think I can guess,” said Lady Chiltern, laughing. She had guessed rightly, but Adelaide Palliser was still altogether in the dark when Lord Chiltern took a letter from his pocket and handed it to her. As he did so he left the room, and his wife followed him. “I shall be upstairs, Adelaide, if you want advice,” said Lady Chiltern.

The letter was from Mr Spooner. He had left Harrington Hall after the uncourteous reception which had been accorded to him by Miss Palliser in deep disgust, resolving that he would never again speak to her, and almost resolving that Spoon Hall should never have a mistress in his time. But with his wine after dinner his courage came back to him, and he began to reflect once more that it is not the habit of young ladies to accept their lovers at the first offer. There was living with Mr Spooner at this time a very attached friend, whom he usually consulted in all emergencies, and to whom on this occasion he opened his heart. Mr Edward Spooner, commonly called Ned by all who knew him, and not unfrequently so addressed by those who did not, was a distant cousin of the Squire’s, who unfortunately had no particular income of his own. For the last ten years he had lived at Spoon Hall, and had certainly earned his bread. The Squire had achieved a certain credit for success as a country gentleman. Nothing about his place was out of order. His own farming, which was extensive, succeeded. His bullocks and sheep won prizes. His horses were always useful and healthy. His tenants were solvent, if not satisfied, and he himself did not owe a shilling. Now many people in the neighbourhood attributed all this to the judicious care of Mr Edward Spooner, whose eye was never off the place, and whose discretion was equal to his zeal. In giving the Squire his due, one must acknowledge that he recognised the merits of his cousin, and trusted him in everything. That night, as soon as the customary bottle of claret had succeeded the absolutely normal bottle of port after dinner, Mr Spooner of Spoon Hall opened his heart to his cousin.

“I shall have to walk, then,” said Ned.

“Not if I know it,” said the Squire. “You don’t suppose I’m going to let any woman have the command of Spoon Hall?”

“They do command — inside, you know.”

“No woman shall ever turn you out of this house, Ned.”

“I’m not thinking of myself, Tom,” said the cousin. “Of course you’ll marry some day, and of course I must take my chance. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be Miss Palliser as well as another.”

“The jade almost made me angry.”

“I suppose that’s the way with most of ’em. “ Ludit exultim metuitque tangi ‘’.” For Ned Spooner had himself preserved some few tattered shreds of learning from his school days. “You don’t remember about the filly?”

“Yes I do; very well,” said the Squire.

“{” Nuptiarum expers ‘’. That’s what it is, I suppose. Try it again.” The advice on the part of the cousin was genuine and unselfish. That Mr Spooner of Spoon Hall should be rejected by a young lady without any fortune seemed to him to be impossible. At any rate it is the duty of a man in such circumstances to persevere. As far as Ned knew the world, ladies always required to be asked a second or a third time. And then no harm can come from such perseverance. “She can’t break your bones, Tom.”

There was much honesty displayed on this occasion. The Squire, when he was thus instigated to persevere, did his best to describe the manner in which he had been rejected. His powers of description were not very great, but he did not conceal anything wilfully. “She was as hard as nails, you know.”

“I don’t know that that means much. Horace’s filly kicked a few, no doubt.”

“She told me that if I’d go one way, she’d go the other!”

“They always say about the hardest things that come to their tongues. They don’t curse and swear as we do, or there’d be no bearing them. If you really like her — ”

“She’s such a well-built creature! There’s a look of blood about her I don’t see in any of ’em. That sort of breeding is what one wants to get through the mud with.”

Then it was that the cousin recommended a letter to Lord Chiltern. Lord Chiltern was at the present moment to be regarded as the lady’s guardian, and was the lover’s intimate friend. A direct proposal had already been made to the young lady, and this should now be repeated to the gentleman who for the time stood in the position of her father. The Squire for a while hesitated, declaring that he was averse to make his secret known to Lord Chiltern. “One doesn’t want every fellow in the country to know it,” he said. But in answer to this the cousin was very explicit. There could be but little doubt that Lord Chiltern knew the secret already; and he would certainly be rather induced to keep it as a secret than to divulge it if it were communicated to him officially. And what other step could the Squire take? It would not be likely that he should be asked again to Harrington Hall with the express view of repeating his offer. The cousin was quite of opinion that a written proposition should be made; and on that very night the cousin himself wrote out a letter for the Squire to copy in the morning. On the morning the Squire copied the letter — not without additions of his own, as to which he had very many words with his discreet cousin — and in a formal manner handed it to Lord Chiltern towards the afternoon of that day, having devoted his whole morning to the finding of a proper opportunity for doing so. Lord Chiltern had read the letter, and had, as we see, delivered it to Adelaide Palliser. “That’s another proposal from Mr Spooner,” Lady Chiltern said, as soon as they were alone.

“Exactly that.”

“I knew he’d go on with it. Men are such fools.”

“I don’t see that he’s a fool at all;” said Lord Chiltern, almost in anger. “Why shouldn’t he ask a girl to be his wife? He’s a rich man, and she hasn’t got a farthing.”

“You might say the same of a butcher, Oswald.”

“Mr Spooner is a gentleman.”

“You do not mean to say that he’s fit to marry such a girl as Adelaide Palliser?”

“I don’t know what makes fitness. He’s got a red nose, and if she don’t like a red nose — that’s unfitness. Gerard Maule’s nose isn’t red, and I daresay therefore he’s fitter. Only, unfortunately, he has no money.”

“Adelaide Palliser would no more think of marrying Mr Spooner than you would have thought of marrying the cook.”

“If I had liked the cook I should have asked her, and I don’t see why Mr Spooner shouldn’t ask Miss Palliser. She needn’t take him.”

In the meantime Miss Palliser was reading the following letter:

“ Spoon Hall, 11th March, 18 — MY DEAR LORD CHILTERN—

“I venture to suppose that at present you are acting as the guardian of Miss Palliser, who has been staying at your house all the winter. If I am wrong in this I hope you will pardon me, and consent to act in that capacity for this occasion. I entertain feelings of the greatest admiration and warmest affection for the young lady I have named, which I ventured to express when I had the pleasure of staying at Harrington Hall in the early part of last month. I cannot boast that I was received on that occasion with much favour; but I know that I am not very good at talking, and we are told in all the books that no man has a right to expect to be taken at the first time of asking. Perhaps Miss Palliser will allow me, through you, to request her to consider my proposal with more deliberation than was allowed to me before, when I spoke to her perhaps with injudicious hurry.” So far the Squire adopted his cousin’s words without alteration.

“I am the owner of my own property — which is more than everybody can say. My income is nearly oe4,000 a year. I shall be willing to make any proper settlement that may be recommended by the lawyers — though I am strongly of opinion that an estate shouldn’t be crippled for the sake of the widow. As to refurnishing the old house, and all that, I’ll do anything that Miss Palliser may please. She knows my taste about hunting, and I know hers, so that there need not be any difference of opinion on that score.

“Miss Palliser can’t suspect me of any interested motives. I come forward because I think she is the most charming girl I ever saw, and because I love her with all my heart. I haven’t got very much to say for myself, but if she’ll consent to be the mistress of Spoon Hall, she shall have all that the heart of a woman can desire.

“Pray believe me, “My dear Lord Chiltern, Yours very sincerely, ” THOMAS PLATTER SPOONER

“As I believe that Miss Palliser is fond of books, it may be well to tell her that there is an uncommon good library at Spoon Hall. I shall have no objection to go abroad for the honeymoon for three or four months in the summer.”

The postscript was the Squire’s own, and was inserted in opposition to the cousin’s judgment. “She won’t come for the sake of the books,” said the cousin. But the Squire thought that the attractions should be piled up. “I wouldn’t talk of the honeymoon till I’d got her to come round a little,” said the cousin. The Squire thought that the cousin was falsely delicate, and pleaded that all girls like to be taken abroad when they’re married. The second half of the body of the letter was very much disfigured by the Squire’s petulance; so that the modesty with which he commenced was almost put to the blush by a touch of arrogance in the conclusion. That sentence in which the Squire declared that an estate ought not to be crippled for the sake of the widow was very much questioned by the cousin. “Such a word as “widow’” never ought to go into such a letter as this.” But the Squire protested that he would not be mealy-mouthed. “She can bear to think of it, I’ll go bail; and why shouldn’t she hear about what she can think about?” “Don’t talk about furniture yet, Tom,” the cousin said; but the Squire was obstinate, and the cousin became hopeless. That word about loving her with all his heart was the cousin’s own, but what followed, as to her being mistress of Spoon Hall, was altogether opposed to his judgment. “She’ll be proud enough of Spoon Hall if she comes here,” said the Squire. “I’d let her come first,” said the cousin.

We all know that the phraseology of the letter was of no importance whatever. When it was received the lady was engaged to another man; and she regarded Mr Spooner of Spoon Hall as being guilty of unpardonable impudence in approaching her at all.

“A red-faced vulgar old man, who looks as if he did nothing but drink,” she said to Lady Chiltern.

“He does you no harm, my dear.”

“But he does do harm. He makes things very uncomfortable. He has no business to think it possible. People will suppose that I gave him encouragement.”

“I used to have lovers coming to me year after year — the same people — whom I don’t think I ever encouraged; but I never felt angry with them.”

“But you didn’t have Mr Spooner.”

“Mr Spooner didn’t know me in those days, or there is no saying what might have happened.” Then Lady Chiltern argued the matter on views directly opposite to those which she had put forward when discussing the matter with her husband. “I always think that any man who is privileged to sit down to table with you is privileged to ask. There are disparities of course which may make the privilege questionable — disparities of age, rank, and means.”

“And of tastes,” said Adelaide.

“I don’t know about that. — A poet doesn’t want to marry a poetess, nor a philosopher a philosopheress. A man may make himself a fool by putting himself in the way of certain refusal; but I take it the broad rule is that a man may fall in love with any lady who habitually sits in his company.”

“I don’t agree with you at all. What would be said if the curate at Long Royston were to propose to one of the FitzHoward girls?”

“The Duchess would probably ask the Duke to make the young man a bishop out of hand, and the Duke would have to spend a morning in explaining to her the changes which have come over the making of bishops since she was young. There is no other rule that you can lay down, and I think that girls should understand that they have to fight their battles subject to that law. It’s very easy to say, ““No.’’{”

“But a man won’t take “No.’’{”

“And it’s lucky for us sometimes that they don’t,” said Lady Chiltern, remembering certain passages in her early life.

The answer was written that night by Lord Chiltern after much consultation. As to the nature of the answer — that it should be a positive refusal — of course there could be no doubt; but then arose a question whether a reason should be given, or whether the refusal should be simply a refusal. At last it was decided that a reason should be given, and the letter ran as follows:

MY DEAR MR SPOONER, “I am commissioned to inform you that Miss Palliser is engaged to be married to Mr Gerard Maule.

“Yours faithfully, “ CHILTERN .”

The young lady had consented to be thus explicit because it had been already determined that no secret should be kept as to her future prospects.

“He is one of those poverty-stricken wheedling fellows that one meets about the world every day,” said the Squire to his cousin — “a fellow that rides horses that he can’t pay for, and owes some poor devil of a tailor for the breeches that he sits in. They eat, and drink, and get along heaven only knows how. But they’re sure to come to smash at last. Girls are such fools nowadays.”

“I don’t think there has ever been much difference in that,” said the cousin.

“Because a man greases his whiskers, and colours his hair, and paints his eyebrows, and wears kid gloves, by George, they’ll go through fire and water after him. He’ll never marry her.”

“So much the better for her.”

“But I hate such d — impudence. What right has a man to come forward in that way who hasn’t got a house over his head, or the means of getting one? Old Maule is so hard up that he can barely get a dinner at his club in London. What I wonder at is that Lady Chiltern shouldn’t know better.”

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