On the following morning Mr Plantagenet Palliser was off upon his political mission before breakfast — either that, or else some private comfort was afforded to him in guise of solitary rolls and coffee. The public breakfast at Courcy Castle was going on at eleven o’clock, and at that hour Mr Palliser was already closeted with the Mayor of Silverbridge.
“I must get off by the train,” said Mr Palliser.
“Who is there to speak after me?
“Well, I shall say a few words; and Growdy — he’ll expect them to listen to him. Growdy has always stood very firm by his grace, Mr Palliser.”
“Mind we are in the room sharp at one. And you can have a fly, for me to get away to the station, ready in the yard. I won’t go a moment before I can help. I shall be just an hour and a half myself. No, thank you, I never take any wine in the morning.” And I may here state that Mr Palliser did get away by the 3.45 train, leaving Mr Growdy still talking on the platform. Constituents must be treated with respect; but time has become so scarce nowadays that that respect has to be meted out by the quarter of an hour with parsimonious care.
In the meantime there was more leisure at Courcy Caste. Neither the countess nor Lady Alexandrina came down to breakfast, but their absence gave rise to no special remark. Breakfast at the castle was a morning meal at which people showed themselves, or did not show themselves, as it pleased them. Lady Julia was there looking very glum, and Crosbie was sitting next to his future sister-in-law Margaretta, who already had placed herself on terms of close affection with him. As he finished his tea she whispered into his ear,
“Mr Crosbie, if you could spare half an hour, mamma would so like to see you in her own room.” Crosbie declared that he would be delighted to wait upon her, and did in truth feel some gratitude in being welcomed as a son-in-law into the house. And yet he felt also that he was being caught, and that in ascending into the private domains of the countess he would be setting the seal upon his own captivity.
Nevertheless, he went with a smiling face and a light steps Lady Margaretta ushering him the way.
“Mamma,” said she, “I have brought Mr Crosbie up to you. I did not know that you were here, Alexandrina, or I should have warned him.”
The countess and her youngest daughter had been breakfasting together in the elder lady’s sitting-room, and were now seated in a very graceful and well-arranged deshabille. The tea-cups out of which they had been drinking were made of some elegant porcelain, the teapot and cream-jug were of chased silver and as delicate in their sway. The remnant of food consisted of morsels of French roll which had not even been allowed to crumble themselves in a disorderly fashion, and of infinitesimal pats of butter. If the morning meal of the two ladies had been as unsubstantial as the appearance of the fragments indicated, it must be presumed that they intended to lunch early. The countess herself was arrayed in an elaborate morning wrapper of figured silk, but the simple Alexandrina wore a plain white muslin peignoir, fastened with pink ribbon. Her hair, which she usually carried in long rolls, now hung loose over her shoulders, and certainly added something to her stock of female charms. The countess got up as Crosbie entered and greeted him with an open hand; but Alexandrina kept her seat, and merely nodded at him a little welcome.
“I must run down again,” said Margaretta, “or I shall have left Amelia with all the cares of the house upon her.”
“Alexandrina has told me all about it,” said the countess, with her sweetest smile, “and I have given her my approval. I really do think you will suit each other very well.”
“I am very much obliged to you,” said Crosbie.
“I’m sure at any rate of this — that she will suit me very well.”
“Yes; I think she will. She is a good sensible girl.”
“Psha, mamma; pray don’t go on in that Goody Twoshoes sort of way.”
“So you are, my dear. If you were not it would not be well for you to do as you are going to do. If you were giddy and harum-scarum, and devoted to rank and wealth and that sort of thing, it would not be well for you to marry a commoner without fortune. I’m sure Mr Crosbie will excuse me for saying so much as that.”
“Of course I know,” said Crosbie, “that I had no right to look so high.”
“Well; we’ll say nothing more about it,” said the countess.
“Pray don’t,” said Alexandrina.
“It sounds so like a sermon.”
“Sit down, Mr Crosbie,” said the countess, “and let us have a little conversation. She shall sit by you, if you like it. Nonsense, Alexandrina — if he asks it!”
“Don’t, mamma — I mean to remain where I am.”
“Very well, my dear — then remain where you are. She is a wilful girl, Mr Crosbie; as you will say when you hear that she has told me all that you told her last night.” Upon hearing this, he changed colour a little, but said nothing.
“She has told me,” continued the countess, “about that young lady at Allington. Upon my word, I’m afraid you have been very naughty.”
“I have been foolish, Lady de Courcy.”
“Of course; I did not mean anything worse than that. Yes, you have been foolish — amusing yourself in a thoughtless way, you know, and, perhaps, a little piqued because a certain lady was not to be won so easily as your Royal Highness wished. Well, now, all that must be settled, you know, as quickly as possible. I don’t want to ask any indiscreet questions; but if the young lady has really been left with any idea that you meant anything, don’t you think you should undeceive her at once?”
“Of course he will, mamma.”
“Of course you will; and it will be a great comfort to Alexandrina to know that the matter is arranged. You hear what Lady Julia is saying almost every hour of her life. Now, of course, Alexandrina does not care what an old maid like Lady Julia may say; but it will be better for all parties that the rumour should be put a stop to.
“If the earl were to hear it, he might, you know —” And the countess shook her head, thinking that she could thus best indicate what the earl might do, if he were to take it into his head to do anything.
Crosbie could not bring himself to hold any very confidential intercourse with the countess about Lily; but he gave a muttered assurance that he should, as a matter of course, make known the truth to Miss Dale with as little delay as possible. He could not say exactly when he would write, nor whether he would write to her or to her mother; but the thing should be done immediately on his return to town.
“If it will make the matter easier, I will write to Mrs Dale,” said the countess. But to this scheme Mr Crosbie objected very strongly.
And then a few words were said about the earl. “I will tell him this afternoon,” said the countess; “and then you can see him tomorrow morning. I don’t suppose he will say very much, you know; and perhaps he may think — you won’t mind my saying it, I’m sure — that Alexandrina might have done better. But I don’t believe that he’ll raise any strong objection. There will be something about settlements, and that sort of thing, of course.” Then the countess went away, and Alexandrina was left with her lover for half an hour. When the half-hour was over, he felt that he would have given all that he had in the world to have back the last four-and-twenty hours of his existence. But he had no hope. To jilt Lily Dale would, no doubt, be within his power, but he knew that he could not jilt Lady Alexandrina de Courcy.
On the next morning at twelve o’clock he had his interview with the father, and a very unpleasant interview it was. He was ushered into the earl’s room, and found the great peer standing on the rug, with his back to the fire, and his hands in his breeches pockets.
“So you mean to marry my daughter?” said he. “I’m not very well, as you see; I seldom am.”
These last words were spoken in answer to Crosbie’s greeting. Crosbie had held out his hand to the earl, and had carried his point so far that the earl had been forced to take one of his own out of his pocket, and give it to his proposed son-in-law.
“If your lordship has no objection. I have, at any rate, her permission to ask for yours.”
“I believe you have not any fortune, have you? She’s got none; of course you know that?”
“I have a few thousand pounds, and I believe she has as much.”
“About as much as will buy bread to keep the two of you from starving. It’s nothing to me. You can marry her if you like; only, look here, I’ll have no nonsense. I’ve had an old woman in with me this morning — one of those that are here in the house — telling me some story about some other girl that you have made a fool of. It’s nothing to me how much of that sort of thing you may have done, so that you do none of it here. But — if you play any prank of that kind with me, you’ll find that you’ve made a mistake.”
Crosbie hardly made any answer to this, but got himself out of the room as quickly as he could.
“You’d better talk to Gazebee about the trifle of money you’ve got,” said the earl. Then he dismissed the subject from his mind, and no doubt imagined that he had fully done his duty by his daughter.
On the day after this, Crosbie was to go. On the last afternoon, shortly before dinner, he was waylaid by Lady Julia, who had passed the day in preparing traps to catch him.
“Mr Crosbie,” she said, “let me have one word with you. Is this true?”
“Lady Julia,” he said, “I really do not know why you should inquire into my private affairs.”
“Yes, sir, you do know, you know very well. That poor young lady who has no father and no brother, is my neighbour, and her friends are my friends. She is a friend of my own, and being an old woman, I have a right to speak for her. If this is true, Mr Crosbie, you are treating her like a villain.”
“Lady Julia, I really must decline to discuss the matter with you.”
“I’ll tell everybody what a villain you are; I will, indeed — a villain and a poor weak silly fool. She was too good for you; that’s what she was.” Crosbie, as Lady Julia was addressing to him the last words, hurried upstairs away from her, but her ladyship, standing on a landing-place, spoke up loudly, so that no word should be lost on her retreating enemy.
“We positively must get rid of that woman,” the countess, who heard it all, said to Margaretta. “She is disturbing the house and disgracing herself every day.”
“She went to papa this morning, mamma.”
“She did not get much by that move,” said the countess.
On the following morning Crosbie returned to town, but just before he left the castle he received a third letter from Lily Dale.
“I have been rather disappointed at not hearing this morning,” said Lily, “for I thought the postman would have brought me a letter. But I know you’ll be a better boy when you get back to London, and I won’t scold you. Scold you, indeed! No; I’ll never scold you, not though I shouldn’t hear for a month.”
He would have given all that he had in the world, three times told, if he could have blotted out that visit to Courcy Castle from the past facts of his existence.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55