Marjorie Ferrar’s marriage was fixed for the day of the Easter Recess; her honeymoon to Lugano; her trousseau with Clothilde; her residence in Eaton Square; her pin-money at two thousand a year; and her affections on nobody. When she received a telephone message: Would she come to breakfast at Shropshire House? she was surprised. What could be the matter with the old boy?
At five minutes past nine, however, on the following day she entered the ancestral precincts, having left almost all powder and pigment on her dressing-table. Was he going to disapprove of her marriage? Or to give her some of her grandmother’s lace, which was only fit to be in a museum?
The marquess was reading the paper in front of an electric fire. He bent on her his bright, shrewd glance.
“Well, Marjorie? Shall we sit down, or do you like to breakfast standing? There’s porridge, scrambled eggs, fish — ah! and grapefruit — very considerate of them! Pour out the coffee, will you?”
“What’ll you have, Grandfather?”
“Thank you, I’ll roam about and peck a bit. So you’re going to be married. Is that fortunate?”
“People say so.”
“He’s in Parliament, I see. Do you think you could interest him in this Electricity Bill of Parsham’s?”
“Oh! yes. He’s dead keen on electricity.”
“Sensible man. He’s got Works, I suppose. Are they electrified?”
“I expect so.”
The marquess gave her another glance.
“You know nothing about it,” he said. “But you’re looking very charming. What’s this I hear of a libel?”
She might have known! Grandfather was too frightfully spry! He missed nothing!
“It wouldn’t interest you, dear.”
“I disagree. My father and OLD Sir Lawrence Mont were great friends. Why do you want to wash linen in Court?”
“Are you the plaintiff?”
“What do you complain of?”
“They’ve said things about me.”
“Fleur Mont and her father.”
“Ah! the relation of the tea-man. What have they said?”
“That I haven’t a moral about me.”
“Well, have you?”
“As much as most people.”
“That I’m a snake of the first water.”
“I don’t like that. What made them say so?”
“Only that I was heard calling her a snob; and so she is.”
The marquess, who had resigned a finished grapefruit, placed his foot on a chair, his elbow on his knee, his chin on his hand, and said:
“No divinity hedges our Order in these days, Marjorie; but we still stand for something. It’s a mistake to forget that.”
She sat very still. Everybody respected grandfather; even her father, to whom he did not speak. But to be told that she stood for something was really too dull for anything! All very well for grandfather at his age, and with his lack of temptations! Besides, SHE had no handle to her name, owing to the vaunted nature of British institutions. Even if she felt that — by Lord Charles out of Lady Ursula — she ought not to be dictated to, she had never put on frills — had always liked to be thought a mere Bohemian. And, after all, she did stand — for not being stuffy, and not being dull.
“Well, Grandfather, I tried to make it up, but she wouldn’t. Coffee?”
“Yes, coffee. But tell me, are you happy about yourself?”
Marjorie Ferrar handed him the cup. “No. Who is?”
“A hit,” said the marquess. “You’re going to be very well off, I hear. That means power. It’s worth using well, Marjorie. He’s a Scotsman, isn’t he? Do you like him?” Again the shrewd bright glance.
“I see. With your hair, you must be careful. Red hair is extraordinarily valuable on occasion. In the Eton and Harrow Match, or for speaking after dinner; but don’t let it run away with you after you’re married. Where are you going to live?”
“In Eaton Square. There’s a Scotch place, too.”
“Have your kitchens electrified. I’ve had it done here. It saves the cook’s temper. I get very equable food. But about this libel. Can’t you all say you’re sorry — why put money into the lawyers’ pockets?”
“She won’t, unless I do, and I won’t, unless she does.”
The marquess drank off his coffee.
“Then what is there in the way? I dislike publicity, Marjorie. Look at that suit the other day. Anything of this nature in Society, nowadays, is a nail in our coffins.”
“I’ll speak to Alec, if you like.”
“Do! Has he red hair?”
“Ah! What would you like for a wedding-present — lace?”
“Oh! no, please, dear. Nobody’s wearing lace.”
With his head on one side, the marquess looked at her. “I can’t get that lace off,” he seemed to say.
“Perhaps you’d like a Colliery. Electrified, it would pay in no time.”
Marjorie Ferrar laughed. “I know you’re hard up, Grandfather; but I’d rather not have a Colliery, thanks. They’re so expensive. Just give me your blessing.”
“I wonder,” said the marquess, “if I could sell blessings? Your uncle Dangerfield has gone in for farming; he’s ruining me. If only he’d grow wheat by electricity; it’s the only way to make it pay at the present price. Well, if you’ve finished breakfast, good-bye. I must go to work.”
Marjorie Ferrar, who had indeed begun breakfast, stood up and pressed his hand. He was a dear old boy, if somewhat rapid! . . .
That same evening, in a box at the St. Anthony, she had her opportunity, when MacGown was telling her of Soames’ visit.
“Oh, dear! Why on earth didn’t you settle it, Alec? The whole thing’s a bore. I’ve had my grandfather at me about it.”
“If they’ll apologise,” said MacGown, “I’ll settle it tomorrow. But an apology they must make.”
“And what about me? I don’t want to stand up to be shot at.”
“There are some things one can’t sit down under, Marjorie. Their whole conduct has been infamous.”
Visited by a reckless impulse, she said:
“What d’you suppose I’m realty like, Alec?”
MacGown put his hand on her bare arm.
“I don’t suppose; I know.”
Curious summary! Strangely good in a way — only —!
“You mean that I like to irritate people till they think I’m — what I’m not. But suppose”— her eyes confronted his —“I really am.”
MacGown’s grasp tightened.
“You’re not; and I won’t have it said.”
“You think this case will whitewash my — defiance?”
“I know what gossip is; and I know it buzzes about you. People who say things are going to be taught, once for all, that they can’t.”
Marjorie Ferrar turned her gaze towards the still life on the dropped curtain, laughed and said:
“My dear man, you’re dangerously provincial.”
“I know a straight line when I see one.”
“Yes; but there aren’t any in London. You’d better hedge, Alec, or you’ll be taking a toss over me.”
MacGown said, simply: “I believe in you more than you believe in yourself.”
She was glad that the curtain rose just then, for she felt confused and rather touched.
Instead of confirming her desire to drop the case, that little talk gave her a feeling that by the case her marriage stood or fell. Alec would know where he was when it was over, and so would she! There would be precious little secret about her and she would either not be married to him, or at least not married under false pretences. Let it rip! It was, however, a terrible bore; especially the preparatory legal catechism she had now to undergo. What effect, for instance, had been produced among her friends and acquaintances by those letters? From the point of view of winning, the question was obviously not without importance. But how was she to tell? Two hostesses had cancelled week-end invitations: a rather prim Countess, and a Canadian millionairess married to a decaying baronet. It had not occurred to her before that this was the reason, but it might have been. Apart from them she would have to say she didn’t know, people didn’t tell you to your face what they heard or thought of you. They were going to try and make her out a piece of injured innocence! Good Lord! What if she declared her real faith in Court, and left them all in the soup! Her real faith — what was it? Not to let a friend down; not to give a man away; not to funk; to do things differently from other people; to be always on the go; not to be ‘stuffy’; not to be dull! The whole thing was topsy-turvy! Well, she must keep her head!
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08