‘That’s nonsense, Miss Cass, and I shall,’ said Lady Mabel. They were together on the morning after the little dinner-party described in the last chapter, in a small back sitting-room which was supposed to be Lady Mabel’s own, and the servant had just announced that Mr Tregear was below.
‘Then I shall go down too,’ said Miss Cassewary.
‘You’ll do nothing of the kind. Will you please to tell me what it is you are afraid of? Do you think that Frank is going to make love to me again?’
‘Or that if I chose that he should I would let you stop me? He is in love with somebody else — and perhaps I am too. And we are two paupers.’
‘My lord would not approve of it.’
‘If you know what my lord approves of and he disapproves you understand a great deal better than I do. And if you mind what he approves or disapproves, you care for his opinion a great deal more than I do. My cousin is here now to talk to me — about his own affairs, and I mean to see him — alone.’ Then she left the room, and went down to that in which Frank was waiting for her, without the company of Miss Cassewary.
‘Do you really mean,’ she said, after they had been together for some minutes, ‘that you had the courage to ask the Duke for his daughter’s hand?’
‘I believe you would dare to do anything.’
‘I couldn’t very well take it without asking him.’
‘As I am not acquainted with the young lady I don’t know how that might be.’
‘And if I took her so, I should have to take her empty-handed.’
‘Which wouldn’t suit; — would it?’
‘It wouldn’t suit for her — whose comforts and happiness are much more to me than my own.’
‘No doubt! Of course you are terribly in love.’
‘Very thoroughly in love, I think I am.’
‘For the tenth time, I should say.’
‘For the second only. I don’t regard myself as a monument of constancy, but I think I am less fickle than some other people.’
‘Frank, that is ill-natured, and almost unmanly — and false also. When have been I fickle? You say that there was one before with you. I say that thee has never really been one with me at all. No one knows that better than yourself. I cannot afford to be in love till I am quite sure that the man is fit to be, and will be, my husband.
‘I doubt sometimes whether you are capable of being in love with anyone.’
‘I think I am,’ she said, very gently. ‘But I am at any rate capable of not being in love till I wish it. Come, Frank, do not quarrel with me. You know — you ought to know — that I should have loved you had not been that such love would have been bad for both of us.’
‘It is a kind of self-restraint I do not understand.’
‘Because you are not a woman.’
‘Why did you twit me with changing my love?’
‘Because I am a woman. Can’t you forgive as much as that to me?’
‘Certainly. Only you must not think that I have been false because I now love so dearly.’
‘I do not think you are false. I would do anything to help you if there were anything I could do. But when you spoke so like a Romeo of your love — ’
‘Why not like a Romeo, if I feel like a Romeo?’
‘But I doubt whether Romeo talked much to Rosaline of his love for Juliet. But you shall talk to me of yours for Lady Mary, and I will listen to you patiently and encourage you, and will not even think of those former vows.’
‘The former vows were foolish.’
‘Oh — of course.’
‘You at least used to say so.’
‘I say so now, and they shall be as though they had never been spoken. So you bearded the Duke in his den, and asked him for Lady Mary’s hand — just as though you had been a young Duke yourself and owned half a county?’
‘Just the same.’
‘And what did he say?’
‘He swore that it was impossible.-Of course I knew all that before.’
‘How will it be now? You will not give it up?’
‘And Lady Mary?’
‘One human being can perhaps never answer for another with perfect security.’
‘But you feel sure of her.’
‘He, I should think, be very imperious.’
‘And so can she. The Pallisers are all obstinate.’
‘Is Silverbridge obstinate?’ she asked.
‘Stiff-necked as a bull if he takes it into his head to be so.’
‘I shouldn’t have thought it.’
‘No; — because he is so soft in his manner, and often finds it easier to be led by others than to direct himself.’
Then she remained silent for a few seconds. They were both thinking of the same thing, and both wishing to speak of it. But the words came to her first. ‘I wonder what he thinks of me.’ Whereupon Tregear only smiled. ‘I suppose he has spoken to you about me?’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘And why should I tell you? Suppose he should have said to me in the confidence of friendship that he thinks you ugly and stupid.’
‘I am sure he has not said that. He has eyes to see and ears to hear. But, though I am neither ugly nor stupid, he needn’t like me.’
‘Do you want him to like you?’
‘Yes, I do. Oh yes; you may laugh; but if I did not think that I could be a good wife to him I would not take his hand even to become the Duchess of Omnium.’
‘Do you mean that you love him, Mabel?’
‘No; I do not mean that. But I would learn to love him. You do not believe that?’ Here he again smiled and shook his head. ‘It is as I said before, because you are not a woman, and do not understand how woman are trammelled. Do you think ill of me because I say this?’
‘Do not think ill of me if you can help it, because you are almost the only friend that I trust. I almost trust dear old Cass, but not quite. She is old-fashioned and I shock her. As for other women, there isn’t one anywhere to whom I would say a word. Only think how a girl such as I am is placed; or indeed any girl. You, if you see a woman that you fancy, can pursue her, can win her and triumph, or lose her and gnaw your heart; — at any rate you can do something. You can tell her that you love her; can tell her so again and again even though she should scorn you. You can set yourself about the business you have taken in hand and can work hard at it. What can a girl do?’
‘Girls work hard sometimes.’
‘Of course they do; — but everybody feels that they are sinning against their sex. Of love, such as a man’s is, a woman ought to know nothing. How can she love with passion when she should never give her love till it has been asked, and not then unless her friends tell her that the thing is suitable? Love such as that to me is out of the question. But, as it is fit that I should be married, I wish to be married well.’
‘And you will love him after a fashion?’
‘Yes; — after a very sterling fashion. I will make his wishes my wishes, his ways my ways, his party my party, his home my home, his ambition my ambition — his honour my honour.’ As she said this she stood up with her hands clenched and head erect, and her eyes flashing. ‘Do you not know me well enough to be sure that I should be loyal to him?’
‘Yes; — I think that you would be loyal.’
‘Whether I loved him or not, he should love me.’
‘And you think that Silverbridge would do?’
‘Yes. I think that Silverbridge would do. You, no doubt, will say that I am flying high.’
‘Not too high. Why should you not fly high? If I can justify myself, surely I cannot accuse you.’
‘It is hardly the same thing, Frank. Of course there is not a girl in London to whom Lord Silverbridge would not be the best match that she could make. He has the choice of us all.’
‘Most girls would think twice before refusing him.’
‘Very few would think twice before accepting him. Perhaps he wishes to add to his wealth by marrying richly — as his father did.’
‘No thought on that subject would ever trouble him. That will be all as it happens. As soon as he takes sufficient fancy to a girl he will ask her straight off. I do not say that he might not change afterwards, but he would mean it at the time.’
‘If he had once said the word to me, he should not change. But then what right have I to expect it? What has he ever said about me?’
‘Very little. But had he said much I should not tell you.’
‘You are my friend — but you are his too; and he, perhaps, is more to you than I am. As his friend it may be your duty to tell him all that I am saying. If so, I have been wrong.’
‘Do you think that I shall do that, Mabel?’
‘I do not know. Men are so strong in their friendships.’
‘Mine with you is the older, and the sweeter. Though we may not be more than friends, I will say that it is the more tender. In my heart of hearts, I do not think that Silverbridge could do better.’
‘Thanks for that, Frank.’
‘I shall tell him nothing of you that can set him against you.’
‘And you would be glad to see me his wife?’ she said.
‘As you must be somebody’s wife, and not mine.’
‘I cannot be yours, Frank.’
‘And not mine,’ he repeated. ‘I will endeavour to be glad. Who can explain his feelings in such a matter? Though I most truly love the girl I hope to marry, yet my heart goes back to former things and opens itself to past regrets.’
‘I know it all,’ she whispered.
‘But you and I must be too wise to permit ourselves to be tormented by such foolish melancholy.’ As he said this he took her hand, half with the purpose of bidding her good-bye, but partly with the idea of giving some expression of tenderness of his feelings. But as he did so, the door was opened, and the old Earl shambled into the room.
‘What the deuce are you doing here?’ he said.
‘I have been talking to Lady Mabel.’
‘For about an hour.’
‘Indeed I do not know for how long.’
‘Papa, he is going to be married.’ When she said this Frank Tregear turned round and looked at her almost in anger.
‘Going to be married, is he? And who is the fortunate woman?
‘I don’t think he will let me tell you.’
‘Not yet, I think,’ said Frank, gloomily. ‘There is nothing settled.’
The old Earl looked puzzled, but Lady Mabel’s craft had been successful. If this objectionable young second-cousin had come there to talk about his marriage with another young woman, the conversation must have been innocent. ‘Where is Miss Cassewary?’ asked the Earl.
‘I asked her not to come down with me because Frank wished to speak to me about his own affairs. You have no objection to his coming, papa?’
There had been objections raised to any intimacy with Frank Tregear, but all that was now nearly two years since. He had been assured over and over again by Miss Cassewary that he need not be afraid of Frank Tregear, and had in a sort of way assented to the young man’s visits. ‘I think he might find something better to do with his time than hanging about here all day.’ Frank, shrugging his shoulders, and having shaken hands with both the daughter and father, took his hat and departed. ‘Who is the girl?’ asked the Earl.
‘You heard him say that I was not to tell.’
‘Has she got money?’
‘I believe she will have a great deal.’
‘Then she is a great fool for her pains,’ said the Earl, shambling off again.
Lady Mabel spent the greater part of the afternoon alone, endeavouring to recall to her mind all that she had said to Frank Tregear, and questioning herself as to the wisdom and truth of her own words. She had intended to tell the truth — but hardly perhaps the whole truth. The life which was before her — which it was necessary that she should lead — seemed to her to be so difficult! She could not clearly see her way to be pure and good and feminine, and at the same time wise. She had been false now — so far false that she had told her friend that she had never been in love. But she was in love; — in love with him, Frank Tregear. She knew it as thoroughly as it was possible for her to know anything; — and had acknowledged it to herself a score of times.
But, she could not marry him. And it was expected, nay, almost necessary that she should marry someone. To that someone, how good she would be! How she would strive by duty and attention, and if possible by affection, to make up for the misfortune of her early love.
And so I hope that I have brought my cart to its appointed place in the front, without showing too much of the horse.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01