The American Senator, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXIII

“In these Days one can’t make a Man marry”

This was going on while Lord Rufford was shooting in the neighbourhood of Dillsborough; and when the letter was being put into its envelope at the lodgings in Orchard Street, his Lordship was just sitting down to dinner with his guests at the Bush. At the same time John Morton was lying ill at Bragton; — a fact of which Arabella was not aware.

The letter from Lord Augustus was put into the post on Saturday evening; but when that line of action was decided upon by Arabella she was aware that she must not trust solely to her father. Various plans were fermenting in her brain; all, or any of which, if carried out at all, must be carried out at the same time and at once. There must be no delay, or that final chance of Patagonia would be gone. The leader of a forlorn hope, though he be ever so resolved to die in the breach, still makes some preparation for his escape. Among her plans the first in order was a resolution to see Lord Mistletoe whom she knew to be in town. Parliament was to meet in the course of the next week and he was to move the address. There had been much said about all this at Mistletoe from which she knew that he was in London preparing himself among the gentlemen at the Treasury. Then she herself would write to the Duke. She thought that she could concoct a letter that would move even his heart. She would tell him that she was a daughter of the house of Trefoil, and “all that kind of thing.” She had it distinctly laid down in her mind. And then there was another move which she would make before she altogether threw up the game. She would force herself into Lord Rufford’s presence and throw herself into his arms — at his feet if need be — and force him into compliance. Should she fail, then she, too, had an idea what a raging woman could do. But her first step now must be with her cousin Mistletoe. She would not write to the Duke till she had seen her cousin.

Lord Mistletoe when in London lived at the family house in Piccadilly, and thither early on the Sunday morning she sent a note to say that she especially wished to see her cousin and would call at three o’clock on that day. The messenger brought back word that Lord Mistletoe would be at home, and exactly at that hour the hired brougham stopped at the door. Her mother had wished to accompany her but she had declared that if she could not go alone she would not go at all. In that she was right; for whatever favour the young heir to the family honours might retain for his fair cousin, who was at any rate a Trefoil, he had none for his uncle’s wife. She was shown into his own sitting-room on the ground floor, and then he immediately joined her. “I wouldn’t have you shown upstairs,” he said, “because I understand from your note that you want to see me in particular.”

“That is so kind of you.”

Lord Mistletoe was a young man about thirty, less in stature than his father or uncle, but with the same handsome inexpressive face. Almost all men take to some line in life. His father was known as a manager of estates; his uncle as a whist-player; he was minded to follow the steps of his grandfather and be a statesman. He was eaten up by no high ambition but lived in the hope that by perseverance he might live to become a useful Under Secretary, and perhaps, ultimately, a Privy Seal. As he was well educated and laborious, and had no objection to sitting for five hours together in the House of Commons with nothing to do and sometimes with very little to hear, it was thought by his friends that he would succeed. “And what is it I can do?” he said with that affable smile to which he had already become accustomed as a government politician.

“I am in great trouble,” said Arabella, leaving her hand for a moment in his as she spoke.

“I am sorry for that. What sort of trouble?” He knew that his uncle and his aunt’s family were always short of money, and was already considering to what extent he would go in granting her petition.

“Do you know Lord Rufford?”

“Lord Rufford! Yes; — I know him; but very slightly. My father knows him very much better than I do.”

“I have just been at Mistletoe, and he was there. My story is so hard to tell. I had better out with it at once. Lord Rufford has asked me to be his wife.”

“The deuce he has! It’s a very fine property and quite unembarrassed.”

“And now he repudiates his engagement” Upon hearing this the young lord’s face became very long. He also had heard something of the past life of his handsome cousin, though he had always felt kindly to her. “It was not once only.”

“Dear me! I should have thought your father would be the proper person.”

“Papa has written; — but you know what papa is.”

“Does the Duke know of it — or my mother?”

“It partly went on at Mistletoe. I would tell you the whole story if I knew how.” Then she did tell him her story, during the telling of which he sat profoundly silent. She had gone to stay with Lady Penwether at Lord Rufford’s house, and then he had first told her of his love. Then they had agreed to meet at Mistletoe, and she had begged her aunt to receive her. She had not told her aunt at once, and her aunt had been angry with her because they had walked together. Then she had told everything to the Duchess and had begged the Duchess to ask the Duke to speak to Lord Rufford. At Mistletoe Lord Rufford had twice renewed his offer — and she had then accepted him. But the Duke had not spoken to him before he left the place. She owned that she thought the Duchess had been a little hard to her. Of course she did not mean to complain, but the Duchess had been angry with her because she had hunted. And now, in answer to the note from herself, had come a letter from Lord Rufford in which he repudiated the engagement. “I only got it yesterday and I came at once to you. I do not think you will see your cousin treated in that way without raising your hand. You will remember that I have no brother?”

“But what can I do?” asked Lord Mistletoe. She had taken great trouble with her face, so that she was able to burst out into tears. She had on a veil which partly concealed her. She did not believe in the effect of a pocket handkerchief, but sat with her face half averted. “Tell him what you think about it,” she said.

“Such engagements, Arabella,” he said, “should always be authenticated by a third party. It is for that reason that a girl generally refers her lover to her father before she allows herself to be considered as engaged.”

“Think what my position has been! I wanted to refer him to my uncle and asked the Duchess.”

“My mother must have had some reason. I’m sure she must. There isn’t a woman in London knows how such things should be done better than my mother. I can write to Lord Rufford and ask him for an explanation; but I do not see what good it would do.”

“If you were in earnest about it he would be — afraid of you.”

“I don’t think he would in the least. If I were to make a noise about it, it would only do you harm. You wouldn’t wish all the world to know that he had — jilted me! I don’t care what the world knows. Am I to put up with such treatment as that and do nothing? Do you like to see your cousin treated in that way?”

“I don’t like it at all. Lord Rufford is a good sort of man in his way, and has a large property. I wish with all my heart that it had come off all right; but in these days one can’t make a man marry. There used to be the alternative of going out and being shot at; but that is over now.”

“And a man is to do just as he pleases?”

“I am afraid so. If a man is known to have behaved badly to a girl, public opinion will condemn him.”

“Can anything be worse than this treatment of me?” Lord Mistletoe could not tell her that he had alluded to absolute knowledge and that at present he had no more than her version of the story; — or that the world would require more than that before the general condemnation of which he had spoken would come. So he sat in silence and shook his head. “And you think that I should put up with it quietly!”

“I think that your father should see the man.” Arabella shook her head contemptuously. “If you wish it I will write to my mother.”

“I would rather trust to my uncle.”

“I don’t know what he could do; — but I will write to him if you please.”

“And you won’t see Lord Rufford?”

He sat silent for a minute or two during which she pressed him over and over again to have an interview with her recreant lover, bringing up all the arguments that she knew, reminding him of their former affection for each other, telling him that she had no brother of her own, and that her own father was worse than useless in such a matter. A word or two she said of the nature of the prize to be gained, and many words as to her absolute right to regard that prize as her own. But at last he refused. “I am not the person to do it,” he said. “Even if I were your brother I should not be so — unless with the view of punishing him for his conduct; — in which place the punishment to you would be worse than any I could inflict on him. It cannot be good that any young lady should have her name in the mouths of all the lovers of gossip in the country.”

She was going to burst out at him in her anger, but before the words were out of her mouth she remembered herself. She could not afford to make enemies and certainly not an enemy of him. “Perhaps, then,” she said, “you had better tell your mother all that I have told you. I will write to the Duke myself.”

And so she left him, and as she returned to Orchard Street in the brougham, she applied to him every term of reproach she could bring to mind. He was selfish, and a coward, and utterly devoid of all feeling of family honour. He was a prig, and unmanly, and false. A real cousin would have burst out into a passion and have declared himself ready to seize Lord Rufford by the throat and shake him into instant matrimony. But this man, through whose veins water was running instead of blood, had no feeling, no heart, no capability for anger! Oh, what a vile world it was! A little help — so very little — would have made everything straight for her! If her aunt had only behaved at Mistletoe as aunts should behave, there would have been no difficulty. In her misery she thought that the world was more cruel to her than to any other person in it.

On her arrival at home she was astounded by a letter that she found there — a letter of such a nature that it altogether drove out of her head the purpose which she had of writing to the Duke on that evening. The letter was from John Morton and now reached her through the lawyer to whom it had been sent by private hand for immediate delivery. It ran as follows:

Dearest Arabella,

I am very ill — so ill that Dr. Fanning who has come down from London, has, I think, but a poor opinion of my case. He does not say that it is hopeless — and that is all. I think it right to tell you this, as my affection for you is what it always has been. If you wish to see me, you and your mother had better come to Bragton at once. You can telegraph. I am too weak to write more.

Yours most affectionately,
John Morton.

P.S. There is nothing infectious.

“John Morton is dying,” she almost screamed out to her mother.

“Dying!”

“So he says. Oh, what an unfortunate wretch I am! Everything that touches me comes to grief. Then she burst out into a flood of true unfeigned tears.

“It won’t matter so much,” said Lady Augustus, “if you mean to write to the Duke and go on with this other — affair.”

“Oh, mamma, how can you talk in that way?”

“Well; my dear; you know —”

“I am heartless. I know that. But you are ten times worse. Think how I have treated him!”

“I don’t want him to die, my dear; but what can I say? I can’t do him any good. It is all in God’s hands, and if he must die — why, it won’t make so much difference to you. I have looked upon all that as over for a long time.”

“It is not over. After all he has liked me better than any of them. He wants me to go to Bragton.”

“That of course is out of the question.”

“It is not out of the question at all. I shall go.”

“Arabella!”

“And you must go with me, mamma.”

“I will do no such thing,” said Lady Augustus, to whom the idea of Bragton was terrible.

“Indeed you must. He has asked me to go, and I shall do it. You can hardly let me go alone.”

“And what will you say to Lord Rufford?”

“I don’t care for Lord Rufford. Is he to prevent my going where I please?”

“And your father — and the Duke — and the Duchess! How can you go there after all that you have been doing since you left?”

“What do I care for the Duke and the Duchess. It has come to that, that I care for no one. They are all throwing me over. That little wretch Mistletoe will do nothing. This man really loved me. He has never treated me badly. Whether he live or whether he die, he has been true to me.” Then she sat and thought of it all. What would Lord Rufford care for her father’s letter? If her cousin Mistletoe would not stir in her behalf what chance had she with her uncle? And, though she had thoroughly despised her cousin, she had understood and had unconsciously believed much that he had said to her. “In these days one can’t make a man marry!” What horrid days they were! But John Morton would marry her to-morrow if he were well — in spite of all her ill usage! Of course he would die and so she would again be overwhelmed; but yet she would go and see him. As she determined to do so there was something even in her hard callous heart softer than the love of money and more human than the dream of an advantageous settlement in life.

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