It was in the forenoon of the same day that Granville entered abruptly his mother’s sanctum. Lady Bligh was busily writing at the great office-table, but she looked up at once and laid down her pen. Granville threw himself into her easiest chair with an air of emancipation.
‘They have gone!’ he ejaculated. If he had referred to the British workman or to the bailiffs he could not have employed more emphatic tones of relief; so Lady Bligh naturally asked to whom he did refer.
‘To the happy pair!’ said Granville.
‘They have gone to town, then?’
‘To town for the day.’
Lady Bligh took up her pen again, but only to wipe it, deliberately. ‘Now, Granville,’ she said, leaning back in her chair, ‘I want you to tell me the truth about — about whatever happened before breakfast. I don’t know yet quite what did happen. I want to get at the truth; but so far I have been able to gather only shreds and patches of the truth.’
Granville rose briskly to his feet and took his stand upon the hearthrug. Then he leant an elbow on the chimney-piece, adjusted his eyeglass, and smiled down upon Lady Bligh. One easily might have imagined that the task imposed upon him was congenial in the extreme. Without further pressing he told the story, and told it succinctly and well, with a zest that was vaguely felt rather than detected, and with an entire and artistic suppression of his usual commentaries. The mere story was so effective in itself that the most humorous parenthesis could not have improved it, and Granville had the wit to tell it simply. But when he reached the point where the Judge appeared on the scene Lady Bligh stopped him; Granville was disappointed.
‘I think perhaps I have been told what happened then,’ said Lady Bligh; ‘at all events I seem to know, and I don’t care to hear it again. Oh! it was too scandalous! But tell me, Gran, how did your father bear it? — at the time, I mean.’
‘Like a man!’ said Granville, with righteous warmth. ‘Like a man! With that vile whip cracking under his very nose, he did not flinch — he did not stir. Then she whipped his hat from his head; and then she saw what she had done, and went down on her knees to him — as if that would undo it!’
‘And your father?’
‘My father behaved splendidly; as no other man in England in his position and — in that position — would have behaved. He told her at once, when she said she had not seen it was he, that he quite understood that; that, in fact, he had seen it for himself from the first. Then he told her to get up that instant; then he smiled — actually smiled; and then — you will hardly believe this, but it is a fact — he gave his arm to Mistress Gladys and took her in to breakfast!’
Lady Bligh sighed, but made no remark.
‘It was more than she deserved; even Alfred admitted that.’
Lady Bligh did not answer.
‘Even Alfred was knocked out of time. I never saw a fellow look more put out than he did at breakfast. He had warned us to prepare for “mannerisms,” but ——’
Granville made a tempting pause. Lady Bligh, however, refused to fill it in. She was engrossed in thought. Her line of thought suddenly flashed across Granville, and he caught it up dexterously.
‘As for the Judge,’ said he, ‘what the Judge feels no one can say. As I said, he behaved as only he could have behaved in the infamous circumstances. But I did see him steal a quiet glance at Alfred; and that glance said plainer than words: “You’ve done it, my boy; this is irrevocable!”’
Lady Bligh was drawn at last.
‘This is very painful,’ she murmured; ‘this is too painful, Granville!’
‘Painful?’ cried Granville. ‘I grant you it’s painful; but it’s the fact; it’s got to be faced.’
‘That may be,’ said Lady Bligh, sadly; ‘that may be. But we ought not to be hasty; and we certainly ought not to make too much of this one escapade.’
Granville shook his head wisely, and smiled.
‘I don’t think there is much fear of that. On the contrary, I doubt if our eyes are even yet fully open to the enormity of this morning’s work. I don’t think we any of us realise the hideous indignity to which my father has been subjected. But we should. We should think of it — and of him. Here we have one of the oldest and ablest of Her Majesty’s judges — a man of the widest experience and of the fairest fame, whose name is a synonym for honour and humanity, not only in the Profession, but throughout every section of the community — a man, my dear mother, with whom the very smartest of us — I tell you frankly — would fight shy of a tilt in court, yet whom we all respect and honour; in very truth, “a wise and upright judge,” though I say it who am his son. And what has happened to him? How has he been treated?’ cried Granville. ‘Well, we know. No need to go into that again. Only try to realise it, dear mother; try to realise it. To me there is, I confess, something almost epic in this business!’
‘I don’t wish to realise it; and I don’t know, I am sure, why you should wish to make me.’
‘For no reason,’ said Granville, shrugging his shoulders, and also looking hurt; ‘for no kind of reason, except that it did strike me that my father’s character had never — never, that is, in his home life — come out more strongly or more generously. Why, I should like to lay ruinous odds that he never refers to the matter again, even to you; while, you shall see, his manner to her will not suffer the slightest change in consequence of what has happened.’
‘It would be a terrible thing if it did,’ said Lady Bligh; and she added after a pause: ‘She is so beautiful!’
Granville drummed with his fingers upon the chimney-piece. His mother wanted a reply. She wanted sympathy upon this point; it was a very insignificant point, the Bride’s personal beauty; but as yet it seemed to be the only redeeming feature in Alfred’s unfortunate marriage.
‘You can’t deny that, Gran?’ she persisted.
‘Deny what? The young woman’s prepossessing appearance? Certainly not; nobody with eyes to see could deny that.’
‘And after all,’ said Lady Bligh, ‘brought up as she evidently has been, it would be astonishing indeed if her ways were not wild and strange. Consequently, Gran, there is every hope that she will fall into our ways very soon; is there not?’
‘Oh, of course there is hope,’ said Gran, with an emphasis that was the reverse of hopeful; ‘and there is hope, too, that she will ultimately fall into our way of speaking: her own “mannerisms,” in that respect, are just a little too marked. Oh, yes, there is hope; there is hope.’
Lady Bligh said no more; she seemed to have no more to say. Observing this, Granville consulted his watch, said something about an engagement in town, and went to the door.
‘Going to London?’ said Lady Bligh. ‘You might have gone with them, I think.’
‘I think not,’ said Granville. ‘I should have been out of place. They were going to Madame Tussaud’s, or the Tower of London, or the Zoological Gardens — I don’t know which — perhaps to all three. But the Bride will tell us all about it this evening and how the sights of London compare with the sights of Melbourne; we may look forward to that; and, till then — good-bye.’
So Lady Bligh was once more alone. She did not at once resume her correspondence, however. Leaning back in her chair, she gazed thoughtfully through the open window at her side, and across the narrow lawn to where the sunlit river was a silver band behind the trunks and nether foliage of the trees. Lady Bligh was sad, and no wonder; but in her heart was little of the wounded pride, and none of the personal bitterness, that many mothers would feel — and do feel every day — under similar circumstances. What were the circumstances? Simply these: her eldest son had married a wife who was beautiful, it was true, and good-tempered, it appeared; but one who was, on the other hand, both vulgar and ignorant, and, as a daughter, in every way impossible. These hard words Lady Bligh pronounced deliberately in her mind. She was facing the fact, as Granville had said that it should be faced. Yet Granville had used no such words as these; if he had, he would have been given reason to regret them.
For, as has been said already, Lady Bligh had a tolerably just estimate of her son Granville; she thought him only rather more clever, and a good deal more good-natured, than he really was. She knew that a man of any cleverness at all is fond of airing his cleverness — and, indeed, must air it — particularly if he is a young man. For this reason, she made it a rule to listen generously to all Granville had to say to her. But there was another reason: Lady Bligh was a woman who valued highly the confidence and companionship of her sons. Sometimes, it is true, she thought Granville’s cynicism both cheap and worthless; and sometimes (though more rarely) she told him so. Often she thought him absurd: she was amused, for instance, when he solemnly assured her of the Judge’s high standing and fair fame in ‘the Profession’— as if she needed his assurance on that point! But it very seldom seemed to her that the things he said were really ill-natured. There, in the main, she was right. There was no downright malice (as a rule) in Granville; he was merely egotistical and vain; he merely loved more than most things the sound of his own voice. He did not designedly make unkind remarks — at least, not often; but he never took any pains to make kind ones. He passed among men for a fellow of good nature, and unquestionably he was good company. Certainly Lady Bligh overestimated his good nature; but to a great extent she understood Granville; and in any case — of course — she loved him. But she loved Alfred more; and it was Alfred who had made this marriage.
Yet it was only with grief that she could think of the marriage, at present; she found it impossible to harbour bitter feeling against the young handsome face and honest brave eyes that had taken poor Alfred by storm, though they had blinded him to a hundred blemishes. The fact is, her daughter-in-law’s face was haunting Lady Bligh. As the day wore on she found herself longing wistfully to see it again. When she did see it again, the face was changed; its expression was thoughtful, subdued, and even sad. Nor were there any gaucheries at dinner that night, for both Alfred and Gladys were silent and constrained in manner.
Then Lady Bligh took heart afresh.
‘It is only her bringing up,’ she said. ‘She will fall into our ways in time; indeed, she is falling into them already — though not in the way I wish her to; for it must not make her sad, and it must not make her feel ashamed. It shall not; for I mean to help her. I mean to be to her what, indeed, I already am without choice — her mother — if she will only let me!’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55