A week had passed since the evening which Harry had spent in Bolton Street, and he had not again seen Lady Ongar. He had professed to himself that his reason for not going there was the non-performance of the commission which Lady Ongar had given him with reference to Count Pateroff. He had not yet succeeded in catching the Count, though he had twice asked for him in Mount Street and twice at the club in Pall Mall. It appeared that the Count never went to Mount Street, and was very rarely seen at the club. There was some other club which he frequented, and Harry did not know what club. On both the occasions of Harry’s calling in Mount Street, the servant had asked him to go up and see madame; but he had declined to do so, pleading that he was hurried. He was, however, driven to resolve that he must go direct to Sophie, as otherwise he could find no means of doing as he had promised. She probably might put him on the scent of her brother.
But there had been another reason why Harry had not gone to Bolton Street, though he had not acknowledged it to himself. He did not dare to trust himself with Lady Ongar. He feared that he would be led on to betray himself and to betray Florence — to throw himself at Julia’s feet and sacrifice his honesty, in spite of all his resolutions to the contrary. He felt when there as the accustomed but repentant dram-drinker might feel, when, having resolved to abstain, he is called upon to sit with the full glass offered before his lips. From such temptations as that the repentant dram-drinker knows that he must fly. But though he did not go after the fire-water of Bolton Street, neither was he able to satisfy himself with the cool fountain of Onslow Crescent. He was wretched at this time — ill-satisfied with himself and others — and was no fitting companion for Cecilia Burton. The world, he thought, had used him ill. He could have been true to Julia Brabazon when she was well-nigh penniless. It was not for her money that he had regarded her. Had he been now a free man — free from those chains with which he had fettered himself at Stratton — he would again have asked this woman for her love, in spite of her past treachery; hut it would have been for her love, and not for her money, that he would have sought her. Was it his fault that he had loved her, that she had been false to him, and that she had now come back and thrown herself before him? or had he been wrong because he had ventured to think that he loved another when Julia had deserted him? Or could he help himself if he now found that his love in truth belonged to her whom he had known first? The world had been very cruel to him, and he could not go to Onslow Crescent, and behave there prettily, hearing the praises of Florence with all the ardor of a discreet lover.
He knew well what would have been his right course, and yet he did not follow it. Let him but once communicate to Lady Ongar the fact of his engagement, and the danger would be over, though much, perhaps, of the misery might remain. Let him write to her, and mention the fact, bringing it up as some little immaterial accident, and she would understand what he meant. But this he abstained from doing. Though he swore to himself that he would not touch the dram, he would not dash down the full glass that was held to his lips. He went about the town very wretchedly, looking for the Count, and regarding himself as a man specially marked out for sorrow by the cruel hand of misfortune. Lady Ongar, in the meantime, was expecting him, and was waxing angry and becoming bitter toward him because he came not.
Sir Hugh Clavering was now in London, and with him was his brother Archie. Sir Hugh was a man who strained an income, that was handsome and sufficient for a country gentleman, to the very utmost, wanting to get out of it more than it could be made to give. He was not a man to be in debt, or indulge himself with present pleasures to be paid for out of the funds of future years. He was possessed of a worldly wisdom which kept him from that folly, and taught him to appreciate fully the value of independence. But he was ever remembering how many shillings there are in a pound, and how many pence in a shilling. He had a great eye to discount, and looked closely into his bills. He searched for cheap shops; and some men began to say of him that he had found a cheap establishment for such wines as he did not drink himself! In playing cards and in betting, he was very careful, never playing high, never risking much, but hoping to turn something by the end of the year, and angry with himself if he had not done so. An unamiable man he was, but one whose heir would probably not quarrel with him — if only he would die soon enough. He had always had a house in town — a moderate house in Berkeley Square, which belonged to him, and had belonged to his father before him. Lady Clavering had usually lived there during the season; or, as had latterly been the case, during only a part of the season. And now it had come to pass, in this year, that Lady Clavering was not to come to London at all, and that Sir Hugh was meditating whether the house in Berkeley Square might not be let. The arrangement would make the difference of considerably more than a thousand a year to him. For himself, he would take lodgings. He had no idea of giving up London in the Spring and early Summer. But why keep up a house in Berkeley Square, as Lady Clavering did not use it?
He was partly driven to this by a desire to shake off the burden of his brother. When Archie chose to go to Clavering, the house was open to him. That was the necessity of Sir Hugh’s position, and he could not avoid it unless he made it worth his while to quarrel with his brother. Archie was obedient, ringing the bell when he was told, looking after the horses, spying about, and perhaps saving as much money as he cost. But the matter was very different in Berkeley Square. No elder brother is bound to find break fast and bed for a younger brother in London. And yet, from his boyhood upward, Archie had made good his footing in Berkeley Square. In the matter of the breakfast, Sir Hugh had indeed, of late, got the better of him. The servants were kept on board wages,and there were no household accounts. But there was Archie’s room, and Sir Hugh felt this to be a hardship.
The present was not the moment for actually driving forth the intruder, for Archie was now up in London, especially under his brother’s auspices. And if the business on which Captain Clavering was now intent could be brought to a successful issue, the standing in the world of that young man would be very much altered. Then he would be a brother of whom Sir Hugh might be proud — a brother who would pay his way, and settle his points at whist if he lost them, even to a brother. If Archie could induce Lady Ongar to marry him, he would not be called upon any longer to ring the bells and look after the stable. He would have bells of his own, and stables, too, and perhaps some captain of his own to ring them and look after them. The expulsion, therefore, was not to take place till Archie should have made his attempt upon Lady Ongar.
But Sir Hugh would admit of no delay, whereas Archie himself seemed to think that the iron was not yet quite hot enough for striking. It would be better, he had suggested, to postpone the work till Julia could be coaxed down to Clavering in the Autumn. He could do the work better, he thought; down at Clavering than in London. But Sir Hugh was altogether of a different opinion. Though he had already asked his sister-in-law to Clavering, when the idea had first come up, he was glad that she had declined the visit. Her coming might be very well, if she accepted Archie; but he did not want to be troubled with any renewal of his responsibility respecting her, if, as was more probable, she should reject him. The world still looked askance at Lady Ongar, and Hugh did not wish to take up the armor of a paladin in her favor. If Archie married her, Archie would be the paladin; though, indeed, in that case, no paladin would be needed.
“She has only been a widow, you know, four months,” said Archie, pleading for delay. “It won’t be delicate, will it?”
“Delicate!” said Sir Hugh. “I don’t know whether there is much of delicacy in it at all.”
“I don’t see why she isn’t to be treated like any other woman. If you were to die, you’d think it very odd if any fellow came up to Hermy before the season was over.
“Archie, you are a fool,” said Sir Hugh; and Archie could see, by his brother’s brow, that Hugh was angry. “You say things that, for folly and absurdity, are beyond belief. If you can’t see the peculiarities of Julia’s position, I am not going to point them out to you.”
“She is peculiar, of course — having so much money, and that place near Guilford, all her own for her life. Of course it’s peculiar. But four months, Hugh!”
“If it had been four days it need have made no difference. A home, with some one to support her, is everything to her. If you wait till lots of fellows are buzzing around her you won’t have a chance. You’ll find that by this time next year she’ll be the top of the fashion; and if not engaged to you, she will be to some one else. I shouldn’t be surprised if Harry were after her again.”
“He’s engaged to that girl we saw down at Clavering.”
“What of that? Engagements can be broken as well as made. You have this great advantage over every one, except him, that you can go to her at once without doing anything out of the way. That girl that Harry has in tow may perhaps keep him away for some time.”
“I tell you what, Hugh, you might as well call with me the first time.”
“So that I may quarrel with her, which I certainly should do — or, rather, she with me. No, Archie; if you’re afraid to go alone, you’d better give it up.”
“Afraid! I’m not afraid!”
“She can’t eat you. Remember that with her you needn’t stand on your p’s and q’s, as you would with another woman. She knows what she is about, and will understand what she has to get as well as what she is expected to give. All I can say is, that if she accepts you, Hermy will consent that she shall go to Clavering as much as she pleases till the marriage takes place. It couldn’t be done, I suppose, till after a year; and in that case she shall be married at Clavering.”
Here was a prospect for Julia Brabazon — to be led to the same altar, at which she had married Lord Ongar, by Archie Clavering, twelve month’s after her first husband’s death, and little more than two years after her first wedding! The peculiarity of the position did not quite make itself apparent either to Hugh or to Archie; but there was one point which did suggest itself to the younger brother at that moment.
“I don’t suppose there was anything really wrong, eh?”
“Can’t say, I’m sure,” said Sir Hugh.
“Because I shouldn’t like —”
“If I were you I wouldn’t trouble myself about that. Judge not, that you be not judged.”
“Yes, that’s true, to be sure,” said Archie; and on that point he went forth satisfied.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01