The yachting scheme was first proposed to Archie by his brother Hugh. “Jack says that he can make a berth for you, and you’d better come,” said the elder brother, understanding that when his edict had thus gone forth, the thing was as good as arranged. “Jack finds the boat and men, and I find the grub and wine-and pay for the fishing,” said Hugh; “so you need not make any bones about it.” Archie was not disposed to make any bones about it as regarded his acceptance either of the berth or of the grub and wine, and as he would be expected to earn his passage by his work, there was no necessity for any scruple; but there arose the question whether he had not got more important fish to fry. He had not as yet made his proposal to Lady Ongar, and although he now knew that he had nothing to hope from the Russian Spy, nevertheless he thought that he might as well try his own hand at the venture. His resolution on this head was always stronger after dinner than before, and generally became stronger and more strong as the evening advanced; so that he usually went to bed with a firm determination “to pop,” as he called it to his friend Doodles, early on the next day; but distance affected him as well as the hour of the day, and his purpose would become surprisingly cool in the neighborhood of Bolton Street. When, however, his brother suggested that he should be taken altogether away from the scene of action, he thought of the fine income and of Ongar Park with pangs of regret, and ventured upon a mild remonstrance. “But there’s this affair of Julia, you know,” said he.
“I thought that was all off,” said Hugh.
“0 dear, no; not off at all. I haven’t asked her yet.”
“I know you’ve not; and I don’t suppose you ever will.”
“Yes, I shall; that is to say, I mean it. I was advised not to be in too much of a hurry; that is to say, I thought it best to let her settle down a little after her first seeing me.”
“To recover from her confusion?”
“Well, not exactly that. I don’t suppose she was confused.”
“I should say not. My idea is that you haven’t a ghost of chance, and that as you haven’t done anything all this time, you need not trouble yourself now.”
“But I have done something,” said Archie, thinking of his seventy pounds.
“You may as well give it up, for she means to marry Harry.”
“But I tell you she does. While you’ve been thinking he’s been doing. From what I hear, he may have her to-morrow for the asking.”
“But he’s engaged to that girl whom they had with them down at the rectory,” said Archie, in a tone which showed with what horror he should regard any inconstancy toward Florence Burton on the part of Harry Clavering.
“What does that matter? You don’t suppose he’ll let seven thousand a year slip through his fingers because he had promised to marry a little girl like her? If her people choose to proceed against him, they’ll make him pay swinging damages; that is all.”
Archie did not like this idea at all, and became more than ever intent on his own matrimonial prospects. He almost thought that he had a right to Lady Ongar’s money, and he certainly did think that a monstrous injustice was done to him by this idea of a marriage between her and his cousin. “I mean to ask her as I’ve gone so far, certainly,” said he.
“You can do as you like about that.”
“Yes; of course I can do as I like; but when a fellow has gone in for a thing, he likes to see it through.” He was still thinking of the seventy pounds which he had invested, and which he could now recover only out of Lady Ongar’s pocket.
“And you mean to say that you won’t come to Norway?”
“Well; if she accepts me —”
“If she accepts you,” said Hugh, “of course you can’t come; but supposing she don’t?”
“In that case, I might as well do that as anything else,” said Archie. Whereupon Sir Hugh signified to Jack Stuart that Archie would join the party, and went down to Clavering with no misgiving on that head.
Some few days after this there was another little dinner at the military club, to which no one was admitted but Archie and his friend Doodles. Whenever these prandial consultations were held, Archie paid the bill. There were no spoken terms to that effect, but the regulation seemed to come naturally to both of them. Why should Doodles be taken from his billiards half-an-hour earlier than usual, and devote a portion of the calculating powers of his brain to Archie’s service without compensation? And a richer vintage was needed when so much thought was required, the burden of which Archie would not of course allow to fall on his friend’s shoulders. Were not this explained, the experienced reader would regard the devoted friendship of Doodles as exaggerated.
“I certainly shall ask her to-morrow,” said Archie, looking with a thoughtful cast of countenance through the club window into the street. “It may be hurrying the matter a little, but I can’t help that.” He spoke in a somewhat boastful tone, as though he were proud of himself and had forgotten that he had said the same words once or twice before.
“Make her know that you’re there; that’s everything,” said Doodles. “Since I fathomed that woman in Mount Street, I’ve felt that you must make the score off your own bat, if you’re to make it at all.”
“You did that well,” said Archie, who knew that the amount of pleasing encouragement which he might hope to get from his friend, must depend on the praise which he himself should bestow. “Yes; you certainly did bowl her over uncommon well.”
“That kind of thing just comes within my line,” said Doodles, with conscious pride. “Now, as to asking Lady Ongar downright to marry me — upon my word I believe I should be half afraid of doing it myself.”
“I’ve none of that kind of feeling,” said Archie.
“It comes more in your way, I daresay,” said Doodles. “But for me, what I like is a little bit of management — what I call a touch of the diplomatic. You’ll be able to see her to-morrow?”
“I hope so. I shall go early — that is, as soon as I’ve looked through the papers and written a few letters. Yes, I think she’ll see me. And as for what Hugh says about Harry Clavering, why, d — it, you know, a fellow can’t go on in that way; can he?”
“Because of the other girl, you mean?”
“He has had her down among all our people, just as though they were going to be married to-morrow. If a man is to do that kind of thing, what woman can be safe?”
“I wonder whether she likes him?” asked the crafty Doodles.
“She did like him, I fancy, in her calf days; but that means nothing. She knows what she’s at now, bless you, and she’ll look to the future. It’s my son who’ll have the Clavering property and be the baronet, not his. You see what a string to my bow that is.”
When this banquet was over, Doodles made something of a resolution that it should be the last to be eaten on that subject. The matter had lost its novelty, and the price paid to him was not sufficient to secure his attention any longer. “I shall be here to-morrow at four,” he said, as he rose from his chair with the view of retreating to the smoking-room, “and then we shall know all about it.”
“Whichever way it’s to be, it isn’t worth your while keeping such a thing as that in hand any longer. I should say give her her chance to-morrow, and then have done with it.” Archie in reply to this declared that those were exactly his sentiments, and then went away to prepare himself in silence and solitude for the next day’s work.
On the following day at two o’clock Lady Ongar was sitting alone in the front room on the ground-floor in Bolton Street. Of Harry Clavering’s illness she had as yet heard nothing, nor of his absence from London. She had not seen him since he had parted from her on that evening when he had asked her to be his wife, and the last words she had heard from his lips had made this request. She. indeed, had then bade him be true to her rival — to Florence Burton. She had told him this in spite of her love — of her love for him and of his for her. They two, she had said, could not now become man and wife; but he had not acknowledged the truth of what she had said. She could not write to him. She could make no overtures. She could ask no questions. She had no friend in whom she could place confidence. She could only wait for him, till he shouid come to tier or send to her, and let her know what was to be her fate.
As she now sat she held a letter in her hand which had just been brought to her from Sophie — from her poor, famished, but indefatigable Sophie. Sophie she had not seen since they had parted on the railway platform, and then the parting was supposed to be made in lasting enmity. Desolate as she was, she had congratulated herself much on her escape from Sophie’s friendship, and was driven by no qualms of her heart to long for a renewal of the old ties. But it was not so with the more affectionate Sophie; and Sophie therefore had written — as follows:
Mount Street — Friday Morning
DEAREST, DEAREST JULIE:— My heart is so sad that I cannot keep my silence longer. What; can such friendship as ours has been be made to die all in a minute? Oh, no — not at least in my bosom, which is filled with love for my Julie. And my Julie will not turn from her friend, who has been so true to her — ah, at such moments too — oh, yes, at such moments! — just for an angry word, or a little indiscretion. What was it after all about my brother? Bah! He is a fool; that is all. If you shall wish it, I will never speak to him again. What is my brother to me, compared to my Julie? My brother is nothing to me. I tell him we go to that accursed island — accursed island because my Julie has quarrelled with me there — and he arranges himself to follow us. What could I do? I could not tie him up by the leg in his London club. He is a man whom no one can tie up by the leg. Mon Dieu, no. He is very hard to tie up.
Do I wish him for your husband? Never! Why should I wish him for your husband? If I was a man, my Julie, I should wish you for myself. But I am not, and why should you not have him whom you like the best? If I was you, with your beauty and money and youth, I would have any man that I liked — everything. I know, of course — for did I not see? It is that young Clavering to whom your little heart wishes to render itself — not the captain who is a fool — such a fool! but the other who is not a fool, but a fine fellow — and so handsome! Yes; there is no doubt as to that. He is beautiful as a Phœbus. [This was good-natured on the part of Sophie, who, as the reader may remember, hated Harry Clavering herself.]
Well — why should he not be your own? As for your poor Sophie, she would do all in her power to assist the friend whom she love. There is that little girl — yes; it is true as I told you. But little girls cannot have all they want always. He is a gay deceiver. These men who are so beautiful as Phœbus are always deceivers. But you need not be the one deceived — you with your money and your beauty and your — what you call rank. No, I think not; and I think that little girl must put up with it, as other little girls have done, since the men first learned how to tell lies. That is my advice, and if you will let me I can give you good assistance.
Dearest Julie, think of all this, and do not banish your Sophie. I am so true to you, that I cannot live without you. Send me back one word of permission, and I will come to you, and kneel at your feet. And in the meantime, I am your most devoted friend,
Lady Ongar, on the receipt of this letter, was not at all changed in her purpose with reference to Madam Gordeloup. She knew well enough where her Sophie’s heart was placed, and would yield to no further pressure from that quarter; but Sophie’s reasoning, nevertheless, had its effect. She, Lady Ongar, with her youth, her beauty, her wealth, and her rank, why should she not have that one thing which alone could make her happy, seeing, as she did see, or as she thought she saw, that in making herself happy she could do so much, could confer such great blessings on him she loved? She had already found that the money she had received as the price of herself had done very little toward making her happy in her present state. What good was it to her that she had a carriage and horses and two footmen six feet high? One pleasant word from lips that she could love — from the lips of man or woman that she could esteem — would be worth it all. She had gone down to her pleasant place in the country — a place so pleasant that it had a fame of its own among the luxuriantly pleasant seats of the English country gentry; she had gone there, expecting to be happy in the mere feeling that it was all her own; and the whole thing had been to her so unutterably sad, so wretched in the severity of its desolation, that she had been unable to endure her life amid the shade of her own trees. All her apples hitherto had turned to ashes between her teeth, because her fate had forced her to attempt the eating of them alone. But if she could give the fruit to him — if she could make the apples over, so that they should all be his, and not hers, then would there not come to her some of the sweetness of the juice of them?
She declared to herself that she would not tempt this man to be untrue to his troth, were it not that in doing so she would so greatly benefit himself. Was it not manifest that Harry Clavering was a gentleman, qualified to shine among men of rank and fashion, but not qualified to make his way by his own diligence? In saying this of him, she did not know how heavy was the accusation that she brought against him; but what woman, within her own breast, accuses the man she loves? Were he to marry Florence Burton, would he not ruin himself and probably ruin her also? But she could give him all that he wanted. Though Ongar Park to her alone was, with its rich pastures, and spreading oaks, and lowing cattle, desolate as the Dead Sea shore, for him — and for her with him — would it not be the very paradise suited to them? Would it not be the heaven in which such a Phœbus should shine amid the gyrations of his satellites? A Phœbus going about his own field in knickerbockers, and with attendant satellites, would possess a divinity which, as she thought, might make her happy. As she thought of all this, and asked herself these questions, there was an inner conscience which told her that she had no right to Harry’s love or Harry’s hand; but still she could not cease to long that good things might come to her, though those good things had not been deserved. Alas, good things not deserved too often lose their goodness when they come! As she was sitting with Sophie’s letter in her hand, the door was opened and Captain Clavering was announced.
Captain Archibald Clavering was again dressed in his very best, but he did not even yet show by his demeanor that aptitude for the business now in hand, of which he had boasted on the previous evening to his friend. Lady Ongar, I think, partly guessed the object of his visit. She had perceived, or perhaps had unconsciously felt, on the occasion of his former coming, that the visit had not been made simply from motives of civility. She had known Archie in old days, and was aware that the splendor of his vestments had a significance. Well, if anything of that kind was to be done, the sooner it was done the better.
“Julia,” he said, as soon as he was seated, “I hope I have the pleasure of seeing you quite well?”
“Pretty well, I thank you,” said she.
“You have been out of town, I think?” She told him that she had been in the Isle of Wight for a day or two, and then there was a short silence. “When I heard that you were gone,” he said, “I feared that perhaps you were ill!”
“0 dear, no; nothing of that sort.”
“I am so glad,” said Archie; and then he was silent again. He had, however, as he was aware, thrown a great deal of expression into his inquiries after her health, and he had, now to calculate how he could best use the standing-ground that he had made for himself.
“Have you seen my sister lately?” she asked.
“Your sister? no. She is always at Clavering. I think it doosed wrong of Hugh, the way he goes on, keeping her down there, while he is up here in London. It isn’t at all my idea of what a husband ought to do.”
“I suppose she likes it,” said Lady Ongar.
“Oh, if she likes it, that’s a different thing, of course,” said Archie. Then there was another pause.
“Don’t you find yourself rather lonely here sometimes?” he asked.
Lady Ongar felt that it would be better for all parties that it should be over, and that it would not be over soon unless she could help him. “Very lonely indeed,” she said; “but then I suppose that it is the fate of widows to be lonely.”
“I don’t see that at all,” said Archie, briskly; “— unless they are old and ugly, and that kind of thing. When a widow has become a widow after she has been married ever so many years, why then I suppose she looks to be left alone; and I suppose they like it.”
“Indeed, I can’t say. I don’t like it.”
“Then you would wish to change?”
“It is a very intricate subject, Captain Clavering, and one which I do not think I am quite disposed to discuss at present. After a year or two, perhaps I shall go into society again. Most widows do, I believe.”
“But I was thinking of something else,” said Archie, working himself up to the point with great energy, but still with many signs that he was ill at ease at his work. “I was, by Jove!”
“And of what were you thinking, Captain Clavering?”
“I was thinking — of course you know, Julia, that since poor little Hughy’s death, I am the next in for the title?”
“Poor Hughy! I’m sure you are too generous to rejoice at that.”
“Indeed I am. When two fellows offered me a dinner at the club on the score of my chances, I wouldn’t have it. But there’s the fact; isn’t it?”
“There is no doubt of that, I believe.”
“None on earth; and the most of it is entailed, too; not that Hugh would leave an acre away from the title. I’m as safe as wax as far as that is concerned. I don’t suppose he ever borrowed a shilling or mortgaged an acre in his life.”
“I should think he was a prudent man.”
“We are both of us prudent. I will say that of myself; though I oughtn’t to say it. And now, Julia — a few words are the best after all. Look here — if you’ll take me just as I am, I’m blessed if I shan’t be the happiest fellow in all London. I shall indeed. I’ve always been uncommon fond of you, though I never said anything about it in the old days, because — because you see, what’s the use of a man asking a girl to marry him if they haven’t got a farthing between them. I think it’s wrong; I do, indeed; but it’s different now, you know.” It certainly was very different now.
“Captain Clavering,” she said, “I’m sorry you should have troubled yourself with such an idea as this.”
“Don’t say that, Julia. It’s no trouble; it’s a pleasure.”
“But such a thing as you mean never can take place.”
“Yes, it can. Why can’t it? I ain’t in a hurry. I’ll wait your own time, and do just whatever you wish all the while. Don’t say no without thinking about it, Julia.”
“It is one of those things, Captain Clavering, which want no more thinking than what a woman can give to it at the first moment.”
“Ah — you think so now, because you’re surprised a little.”
“Well; I am surprised a little, as our previous intercourse was never of a nature to make such a proposition as this at all probable.”
“That was merely because I didn’t think it right,” said Archie, who, now that he had worked himself into the vein, liked the sound of his own voice. “It was indeed.”
“And I don’t think it right now. You must listen to me for a moment, Captain Clavering — for fear of a mistake. Believe me, any such plan as this is quite out of the question; quite.” In uttering that last word she managed to use a tone of voice which did make an impression on him. “I never can, under any circumstances, become your wife. You might as well look upon that as altogether decided, because it will save us both annoyance.”
“You needn’t be so sure yet, Julia.”
“Yes, I must be sure. And unless you will promise to drop the matter, I must — to protect myself — desire my servants not to admit you into the house again. I shall be sorry to do that, and I think you will save me from the necessity.”
He did save her from that necessity, and before he went he gave her the required promise. “That’s well,” said she, tendering him her hand; “and now we shall part friends.”
“I shall like to be friends,” said he, in a crestfallen voice, and with that he took his leave. It was a great comfort to him that he had the scheme of Jack Stuart’s yacht and the trip to Norway for his immediate consolation.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55