The pity of it! The pity of it! It was thus that Lady Cantrip looked at it. From what the girl’s father had said to her she was disposed to believe that the malady had gone deep with her. ‘All things go deep with her,’ he had said. And she too from other sources had heard something of this girl. She was afraid that it would go deep. It was a thousand pities! Then she asked herself whether the marriage ought to be regarded as impossible. The Duke had been very positive — had declared again and again that it was quite impossible, had so expressed himself as to make her aware that he intended her to understand that he would not yield whatever the sufferings of the girl might be. But Lady Cantrip knew the world well and was aware that in such matters daughters are apt to be stronger than their fathers. He had declared Tregear to be a young man with very small means, and intent on such pleasures as require great means for their enjoyment. No worse character could be given to a gentleman who had proposed himself as a son-in-law. But Lady Cantrip thought it possible that the Duke might be mistaken in this. She had never seen Mr Tregear, but she fancied that she had heard his name, and that the name was connected with a character different from that which the Duke had given him.
Lady Cantrip, who at this time was a young-looking woman, not much above forty, had two daughters, both of whom were married. The younger about a year since had become the wife of Lord Nidderdale, a middle-aged young man who had been long about town, a cousin of the late Duchess, the heir to a marquisate, and a Member of Parliament. The marriage had not been considered very brilliant; but the husband was himself good-natured and pleasant, and Lady Cantrip was fond of him. In the first place she went to him for information.
‘Oh yes, I know him. He’s one of our set at the Beargarden.’
‘Not your set now, I hope,’ she said laughing.
‘Well; — I don’t see so much of them as I used to. Tregear is not a bad fellow at all. He’s always with Silverbridge. When Silverbridge does what Tregear tells him, he goes along pretty straight. But unfortunately there’s another man called Tifto, and when Tifto is in the ascendant then Silverbridge is apt to go a little astray.’
‘He’s not in debt, then?’
‘Who?-Tregear? I should think he’s the last man in the world to owe a penny to anyone.’
‘Is he a betting man?’
‘Oh dear no; quite the other way up. He’s a severe, sarcastic, bookish sort of fellow — a chap who knows everything and turns up his nose at people who know nothing.’
‘Has he got anything of his own?’
‘Not much I should say. If he had had any money he would have married Lady Mab Grex last year.’
Lady Cantrip was inclined from what she now learned to think that the Duke must be wrong about the young man. But before Lady Mary joined her she made further inquiry. She too knew Lady Mabel, and knowing Lady Mabel, she knew Miss Cassewary. She contrived to find herself alone with Miss Cassewary, and asked some further questions about Mr Tregear. ‘He’s a cousin of my Lord’s,’ said Miss Cass.
‘So I thought. I wonder what sort of young man he is. He is a good deal with Lord Silverbridge.’
Then Miss Cassewary spoke her opinion very plainly. ‘If Lord Silverbridge has nobody worse about him than Mr Tregear he would not come to much harm.’
‘I suppose he’s not very well off?’
‘No; — certainly not. He will have a property of some kind, I believe, when his mother dies. I think very well of Mr Tregear; — only I wish that he had a profession. But why are you asking about him, Lady Cantrip?’
‘Nidderdale was talking to me about him and saying that he was so much with Lord Silverbridge. Lord Silverbridge is going into Parliament now, and, as it were, beginning the world, and it would be a thousand pities that he should get into bad hands.’ It may, however, be doubted whether Miss Cassewary was hoodwinked by this little story.
Early in the second week of May the Duke brought his daughter up to The Horns, and at the same time expressed his intention of remaining in London. When he did so Lady Mary at once asked whether she might not be with him, but he would not permit it. The house in London would, he said, be more gloomy even than Matching.
‘I am quite ashamed of giving so much trouble,’ Lady Mary said to her new friend.
‘We are delighted to have you, my dear.’
‘But I know you have been obliged to leave London because I am with you.’
‘There is nothing I like so much as this place, which your father has been kind enough to lend us. As for London, there is nothing now to make me like being there. Both my girls are married, and therefore I regard myself as an old woman who has done her work. Don’t you think this place very much nicer than London at this time of the year?’
‘I don’t know London at all. I had only just been brought out when poor mamma want abroad.’
The life they led was very quiet, and most probably have been felt to be dull by Lady Cantrip, in spite of her old age and desire for retirement. But the place itself was very lovely. May of all the months of the year is in England the most insidious, the most dangerous, and the most inclement. A greatcoat can not be endured, and without a greatcoat who can endure a May wind and live? But of all months it is the prettiest. The grasses are then the greenest, and the young foliage of the trees, while it has all the glory and all the colour of spring vegetation, does not hide the form of the branches as do the heavy masses of the larger leaves which come in the advancing summer. And of all the villas near London The Horns was the sweetest. The broad green lawn swept down to the very margins of the Thames, which absolutely washed the fringe of grass when the tide was high. And here, along the bank, was a row of flowering ashes the drooping boughs of which in places touched the water. It was one of those spots which when they are first seen make the beholder feel that to be able to live there and look at it always would be happiness for life.
At the end of the week there came a visitor to see Lady Mary. A very pretty carriage was driven up to the door of The Horns, and the servant asked for Lady Mary Palliser. The owner of the carriage was Mrs Finn. Now it must be explained to the reader that there had never been any friendship between Mrs Finn and Lady Cantrip, though the ladies had met each other. The great political intimacy which had existed between the Duke and Lord Cantrip had created some intimacy between their wives. The Duchess and Lady Cantrip had been friends — after a fashion. But Mrs Finn had never been cordially accepted by those among whom Lady Cantrip chiefly lived. When therefore the name was announced, the servant expressly stating that the visitor had asked for Lady Mary, Lady Cantrip, who was with her guest, had to bethink herself what she would do. The Duke, who was at this time very full of wrath against Mrs Finn, had not mentioned this lady’s name when delivering up the charge of his daughter to Lady Cantrip. At this moment it occurred to her that not improbably Mrs Finn would cease to be included in the intimacies of the Palliser family from the time of the death of the Duchess — -that the Duke would not care to maintain the old relations, and that he would be as little anxious to do it for his daughter as for himself. If so, could it be right that Mrs Finn should come down her, to a house which was now in the occupation of a lady with whom she was not on inviting terms, in order that she might thus force herself on the Duke’s daughter? Mrs Finn had not left her carriage, but had sent to ask of Lady Mary could see her. In all this there was considerable embarrassment. She looked round at her guest, who had at once risen from her chair. ‘Would you wish to see her?’ asked Lady Cantrip.
‘Oh yes, certainly.’
‘Have you seen her since — since you came home from Italy?’
‘Oh dear, yes! She was down at Matching when poor mamma died. And papa persuaded her to remain afterwards. Of course I will see her.’ Then the servant was desired to ask Mrs Finn to come in; — and while this was being done Lady Cantrip retired.
Mrs Finn embraced her young friend, and asked after her welfare, and after the welfare of the house in which she was staying — a house with which Mrs Finn had been well acquainted — and said half-a-dozen pretty little things in her own quiet pretty way, before she spoke of the matter which had really brought her to The Horns on that day.
‘I have had a correspondence with your father, Mary,’
‘And unfortunately one that has been far from agreeable to me.’
‘I am sorry for that, Mrs Finn.’
So am I, very sorry. I may say with perfect truth that there is no man in the world, except my own husband, for whom I feel so perfect an esteem as I do for your father. If it were not that I do not like to be carried away by strong language, I would speak of more than esteem. Through your dear mother I have watched his conduct closely, and have come to think that perhaps no other man at the same time so just and patriotic. Now he is very angry with me — and most unjustly angry.’
‘Is it about me?’
‘Yes; — it is about you. Had it not been altogether about you I would not have troubled you.’
‘Yes; — about Mr Tregear also. When I tell you that there has been a correspondence I must explain that I have written one long letter to the Duke, and that in answer I have received a very short one. That his been the whole correspondence. Here is your father’s letter to me.’ Then she brought out of her pocket a note, which Lady Mary read — covered with blushes as she did so. The note was as follows:
‘The Duke of Omnium understands from Mrs Finn’s letter that Mrs Finn, while she was the Duke’s guest at Matching, was aware of a certain circumstance affecting the Duke’s honour and happiness — which circumstance she certainly did not communicate to the Duke. The Duke thinks that the trust which had been placed in Mrs Finn should have made such a communication imperative. The Duke feels that no further correspondence between himself and Mrs Finn on the matter could lead to any good result.’
‘Do you understand it?’ asked Mrs Finn.
‘I think so.’
‘It simply means this — that when at Matching he had thought me worthy of having for a time the charge of you and your welfare, that he had trusted me, who was the friend of your dear mother, to take for time in regard to you the place which had been so unhappily left vacant by her death; and it means also that I deceived and betrayed that trust by being privy to an engagement on your part, of which he disapproves, and of which he was not then aware.’
‘I suppose he does mean that.’
‘Yes, Lady Mary; that is what he means. And he means further to let me know that as I did so foully betray the trust which he had placed in me — that as I had consented to play the part of assistant to you in that secret engagement — therefore he casts me off as altogether unworthy of his esteem and acquaintance. It is as though he had told me in so many words that among women he had known none more vile or more false than I.’
‘Not that, Mrs Finn.’
‘Yes, that; — all of that. He tells me that, and then says that there shall be no more words spoken or written about it. I can hardly submit to so stern a judgement. You know the truth, Lady Mary.’
‘Do not call me Lady Mary. Do not quarrel with me.’
‘If your father has quarrelled with me, it would not be fit that you and I should be friends. Your duty to him would forbid it. I should not have come to you now did I not feel that I am bound to justify myself. The thing of which I am accused is so repugnant to me, that I am obliged to do something and to say something, even though the subject itself be one on which I would willing be silent.’
‘What can I do, Mrs Finn?’
‘It was Mr Tregear who first told me that your father was very angry with me. He knew what I had done and why, and he was bound to tell me in order that I might have an opportunity of setting myself right with the Duke. Then I wrote and explained everything — how you had told me of the engagement, and how I then urged Mr Tregear that he should not keep such a matter secret from your father. In answer to my letter I have received — that.’
‘Shall I write and tell papa?’
‘He should be made to understand that from the moment in which I heard of the engagement I was urgent with you and with Mr Tregear that he should be informed of it. You will remember what passed.’
‘I remember it all.’
‘I did not conceive it to my duty to tell the Duke myself, but I did conceive it to be my duty to see that he should be told. Now he writes to as though I had known the secret from the first, and as though I had been concealing it from him at the very moment in which he was asking me to remain at Matching on your behalf. That I consider to be hard — and unjust. I cannot deny what he says I did know of it while I was at Matching, for it was at Matching that you told me. But he implies that I knew it before. When you told me your story I did feel that it was my duty to see that the matter was not kept longer from him; — and I did my duty. Now your father takes it upon himself to rebuke me — and takes upon himself at the same time to forbid me to write to him again!’
‘I will tell him, Mrs Finn.’
‘Let him understand this. I do not wish to write to him again. After what has passed I cannot say I wish to see him again. But I think he should acknowledge to me that he has been mistaken. He need not then fear that I shall trouble him with any reply. But I shall know that he has acquitted me of a fault of which I cannot bear to think I should be accused.’ Then she took a somewhat formal though still an affectionate farewell to the girl.
‘I want to see papa as soon as possible,’ said Lady Mary when she was again with Lady Cantrip. The reason for her wish was soon given, and then the whole story told. ‘You do not think that she should have gone to papa at once?’ Lady Mary asked. It was a point of moral law on which the elder woman, who had girls of her own, found it hard to give an immediate answer. It certainly is expedient that parents should know at once of any engagement by which their daughters may seek to contract themselves. It is expedient that they should be able to prevent any secret contracts. Lady Cantrip felt strongly that Mrs Finn having accepted the confidential charge of the daughter, could not, without gross betrayal of trust, allow herself to be the depositary of such a secret. ‘But she did not allow herself,’ said Lady Mary, pleading for her friend.
‘But she left the house without telling him, my dear.’
‘But it was because of what she did that he was told.’
‘That is true; but I doubt whether she should have left him an hour in ignorance.’
‘But it was I who told her. She would have betrayed me.’
‘She was not a fit recipient for your confidence, Mary. But I do not wish to accuse her. She seems a high-minded woman, and I think that your papa has been hard upon her.’
‘And mamma knew it always,’ said Mary. To this Lady Cantrip could give no answer. Whatever the cause for anger the Duke might have against Mrs Finn, there had been cause for much more against his wife. But she had freed herself from all accusation by death.
Lady Mary wrote to her father, declaring that she was most particularly anxious to see him and talk to him about Mrs Finn.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01