It may be said at once that Mrs Finn knew something of Lady Mary which was not known to her father, and which she was not yet prepared to make known to him. The last winter abroad had been passed at Rome, and there Lady Mary Palliser had become acquainted with a certain Mr Tregear — Francis Oliver Tregear. The Duchess, who had been in constant correspondence with her friend, had asked questions by letter as to Mr Tregear, of whom she had only known that he was the younger son of a Cornish gentleman, who had become Lord Silverbridge’s friend at Oxford. In this there had certainly been but little to recommend him to the intimacy of such a girl as Lady Mary Palliser. Nor had the Duchess, when writing, ever spoken of him as a probable suitor for her daughter’s hand. She had never connected the two names together. But Mrs Finn had been clever enough to perceive that the Duchess had become fond of Mr Tregear, and would willingly have heard something to his advantage. And she did hear something to his advantage — something also to his disadvantage. At his mother’s death, this young man would inherit a property amounting to about fifteen hundred a year. ‘And I am told,’ said Mrs Finn, ‘that he is quite likely to spend his money before it comes to him.’ There had been nothing more written specially about Mr Tregear, but Mrs Finn had feared not only that the young man loved the girl, but that the young man’s love had in some imprudent way been fostered by the mother.
Then there had been some fitful confidence during those few days of acute illness. Why should not the girl have the man if he were lovable? And the Duchess referred to her own early days when she had loved, and to the great ruin that had come upon her heart when she had been severed from the man she loved. ‘Not but that it has been all for the best,’ she had said. ‘Not but that Plantagenet has been to me all that a husband should be. Only if she can be spared what I suffered, let her be spared.’ Even when these things had been said to her, Mrs Finn had found herself unable to ask questions. She could not bring herself to inquire whether the girl had in truth given her heart to his young Tregear. The one was nineteen and the other as yet but two-and-twenty! But though she asked no questions, she almost knew that it must be so. And she knew also that the father was, as yet, quite in the dark on the matter. How was it possible that in such circumstances she should assume the part of the girl’s confidential friend and monitress? Were she to do so she must immediately tell the father everything. In such a position no one could be a better friend than Lady Cantrip, and Mrs Finn had already almost made up her mind that, should Lady Cantrip occupy the place, she would tell her ladyship all that had passed between herself and the Duchess on the subject.
Of what hopes she might have, or what fears, about her girl, the Duchess had said no word to her husband. But when she had believed that the things of the world were fading away from her, and when he was sitting by her bedside — dumb, because at such a moment he knew not how to express the tenderness of his heart — holding her hand, and trying so to listen to her words, that he might collect and remember every wish, she had murmured something about the ultimate division of the great wealth with which she herself had been endowed. She had never, she said, even tried to remember what arrangements had been made by lawyers, but she hoped that Mary might be so circumstanced, that if her happiness depended on marrying a poor man, want of money need not prevent it. The Duke suspecting nothing, believing this to be a not unnatural question expression of maternal interest, had assured her that Mary’s fortune would be ample.
Mrs Finn made the proposition to Lady Mary in respect to Lady Cantrip’s invitation. Lady Mary was very like her mother, especially in having exactly her mother’s tone of voice, her quick manner of speech, and her sharp intelligence. She had also her mother’s eyes, large and round, and almost blue, full of life and full of courage, eyes which never seemed to quail, and her mother’s dark brown hair, never long but very copious in its thickness. She was, however, taller than her mother, and very much more graceful in her movement. And she could already assume a personal dignity of manner which had never been within her mother’s reach. She had become aware of a certain brusqueness of speech in her mother, a certain aptitude to say sharp things without thinking whether the sharpness was becoming to the position which she held, and taking advantage of the example, the girl had already learned that she might gain more than she would lose by controlling her words.
‘Papa wants me to go to Lady Cantrip,’ she said.
‘I think he would like it — just for the present, Lady Mary.’
Though there had been the closest possible intimacy between the Duchess and Mrs Finn, this had hardly been so as to the intercourse between Mrs Finn and the children. Of Mrs Finn it must be acknowledged that she was, perhaps fastidiously, afraid of appearing to take advantage of her friendship with the Duke’s family. She would tell herself that though circumstances had compelled her to be the closest and nearest friend of a Duchess, still her natural place was not among dukes and their children, and therefore in her intercourse with the girl she did not at first assume the manner and bearing which her position in the house would seem to warrant. Hence the ‘Lady Mary’.
‘Why does he want to send me away, Mrs Finn?’
‘It is not true that he wants to send you away, but that he thinks it will be better for you to be with some friend. Here you must be so much alone.’
‘Why don’t you stay? But I suppose Mr Finn wants you to be back in London.’
‘It is not that only, or, to speak the truth, not that at all. Mr Finn could come here if that were suitable. Or for a week or two he might do very well without me. But there are other reasons. There is no one whom your mother respected more than Lady Cantrip.’
‘I never heard her speak a word about Lady Cantrip.’
‘Both he and she are your father’s intimate friends.’
‘Does Papa want to be — alone here?’
‘It is you, not himself, of whom he is thinking.’
‘Therefore, I must think of him. Mrs Finn, I do not wish him to be alone. I am sure it would be better that I should stay with him.’
‘He feels that it would not be well that you should live without the companionship of some lady.’
‘Then let him find some lady. You would be the best, because he knows you so well. I, however, am not afraid of being alone. I am sure he ought not to be here quite by himself. If he bids me go, I must go, and then of course I shall go where he sends me; but I won’t say that I think it best that I should go, and certainly I do not want to go to Lady Cantrip.’ This she said with great decision, as though the matter was one on which she had altogether made up her mind. Then she added, in a lower voice: ‘Why doesn’t papa speak to me about it?’
‘He is thinking only of what may be best for you.’
‘It would be best for me to stay near him. Whom else has he got?’
All this Mrs Finn repeated to the Duke as closely as she could, and then of course the father was obliged to speak to his daughter.
‘Don’t send me away, papa,’ she said at once.
‘You life here, Mary, will be inexpressibly sad.’
‘It must be sad anywhere. I cannot go to college like Gerald, or live anywhere just like Silverbridge.’
‘Do you envy them that?’
‘Sometimes, papa. Only I shall think of more of poor mama by being alone, and I should like to be thinking of her always.’ He shook his head mournfully. ‘I do not mean that I shall always be unhappy, as I am now.’
‘No, dear; you are too young for that. It is only the old who suffer in that way.’
‘You will suffer less if I am with you; won’t you, papa? I do not want to go to Lady Cantrip. I hardly remember her at all.’
‘She is very good.’
‘Oh, yes. That is what they used to say to mamma about Lady Midlothian. Papa, do not send me to Lady Cantrip.’
Of course it was decided that she should not go to Lady Cantrip at once, or to Mrs Jeffrey Palliser, and, after a short interval of doubt, it was decided also that Mrs Finn should remain at Matching for at least a fortnight. The Duke declared that he would be glad to see Mr Finn, but she knew in his present mood the society of any one man to whom he would feel himself called upon to devote his time, would be a burden to him, and she plainly said that Mr Finn had better not come to Matching at present. ‘There are old occasions,’ she said, ‘which will enable you to bear with me as you will with your butler or your groom, but you are not as yet quite able to make yourself happy with company.’ This he bore with perfect equanimity, and then, as it were, handed over his daughter to Mrs Finn’s care.
Very quickly there came a close intimacy between Mrs Finn and Lady Mary. For a day or two the elder woman, though the place she filled was one of absolute confidence, rather resisted than encouraged the intimacy. She always remembered that the girl was the daughter of a great duke, and that her position in the house had sprung from circumstances which would not, perhaps, in the eyes of the world at large, have recommended her for such a friendship. She knew — the reader may possibly know — that nothing had ever been purer, nothing more disinterested than her friendship. But she knew also — no one knew better — that the judgement of men and women does not always run parallel with facts. She entertained, too, a conviction with regard to herself, that hard words and hard judgements were to be expected from the world — and were to be accepted by her without any strong feeling of injustice — because she had been elevated by chance to the possession of more good things than she merited. She weighed all this with a very fine balance, and even after the encouragement she had received from the Duke, was intent on confining herself to some position about the girl inferior to that which such a friend as Lady Cantrip might have occupied. But the girl’s manner and the girl’s speech about her own mother, overcame her. It was the unintentional revelation of the Duchess’s constant reference to her — the way in which Lady Mary would assert that ‘Mamma used always to say this of you; mamma always knew that you would think so and so; mamma used to say that you had told her’. It was the feeling thus conveyed, that the mother who was now dead had in her daily dealings with her own child spoke of her as her nearest friend, which mainly served to conquer the deference of manner which she had assumed.
Then gradually there came confidences — and at last absolute confidence. The whole story of Mr Tregear was told. Yes; she loved Mr Tregear. She had given him her heart, and had told him so.
‘Then, my dear, your father ought to know about it,’ said Mrs Finn.
‘No; not yet. Mamma knew it.’
‘Did she know all that you have told me?’
‘Yes; all. And Mr Tregear spoke to her, and she said that papa ought not to be told quite yet.’ Mrs Finn could not but remember that the friend she had lost was not, among women, the one best able to give a girl good counsel in such a crisis.
‘Why not yet, dear?’
‘Well, because-. It is very hard to explain. In the first place, because Mr Tregear himself does not wish it.’
‘That is a very bad reason; the worst in the world.’
‘Of course you will say so. Of course everybody would say so. But when there is one person whom one loves better than all the rest, for whom one would be ready to die, to whom one is determined that everything shall be devoted, surely the wishes of the person so dear as that ought to have weight.’
‘Not in persuading you to do that which is acknowledged to be wrong.’
‘What wrong? I am going to do nothing wrong.’
‘The very concealment of your love is wrong, after that love has been not only given but declared. A girl’s position in such matters is so delicate, especially that of such a girl as you!’
‘I know all about that,’ said Lady Mary, with something almost like scorn in her tone. ‘Of course I have to be — delicate. I don’t quite know what the word means. I am not ashamed of being in love with Mr Tregear. He is a gentleman, highly educated, very clever, of an old family — older, I believe, than papa’s. And he is manly and handsome; just what a man should be. Only he is not rich.’
‘If he be all that you say, ought you not to trust your papa? If he approve of it, he should give you money.’
‘Of course he must be told; but not now. He is nearly broken-hearted about dear mamma. He could not bring himself to care about anything of that kind at present. And then it is Mr Tregear that should speak to him first.’
‘Not now, Mary.’
‘How do you mean not now?’
‘If you had a mother you would talk to her about it.’
‘If she were still living she would tell your father.’
‘But she didn’t tell him, though she did know. She didn’t mean to tell him quite yet. She wanted to see Mr Tregear here in England first. Of course I shall do nothing till papa does know.’
‘You will not see him?’
‘How can I see him here? He will not come here, if you mean that.’
‘You do not correspond with him?’ Here for the first time the girl blushed. ‘Oh, Mary! if you are writing to him your father ought to know it.’
‘I have not written to him; but when he heard how ill poor mamma was, then he wrote to me — twice. You may see his letters. It is all about her. No one worshiped mamma as he did.’
Gradually the whole story was told. These two young persons considered themselves to be engaged, but had agreed that their engagement should not be made known to the Duke till something had occurred, or some time had arrived, as to which Mr Tregear was to be the judge. In Mrs Finn’s opinion nothing could be more unwise, and she made to induce the girl to confess everything to her father at once. But in all her arguments she was opposed by the girl’s reference to her mother. ‘Mamma knew it.’ And it did certainly seem to Mrs Finn as though the mother had assented to this imprudent concealment. When she endeavoured, in her own mind, to make excuse for her friend, she felt almost sure that the Duchess, with all her courage, had been afraid to propose to her husband that their daughter should marry a commoner without an income. But in thinking all that, there could be now nothing gained. What ought she to do — at once? The girl, in telling her, had exacted no promise of secrecy, nor would she have given any such promise; but yet she did not like the idea of telling the tale behind the girl’s back. It was evident that Lady Mary had considered herself to be safe in confiding her story to her mother’s old friend. Lady Mary no doubt had had her confidence with her mother — confidences from which it had been intended by both that the father should be excluded; and now she seemed naturally to expect that this new ally should look at this great question as her mother had looked at it. The father had been regarded as a great outside power, which could hardly be overcome, but which might be evaded, or made inoperative by stratagem. It was not that the daughter did not love him. She loved him and venerated him highly — the veneration perhaps being stronger than the love. The Duchess, too, had loved him dearly — more dearly in late years than in her early life. But her husband to her had always been an outside power which had in many cases to be evaded. Lady Mary, though she did not express all this, evidently thought that in this new friend she had found a woman whose wishes and aspirations for her would be those which her mother had entertained.
But Mrs Finn was much troubled in her mind, thinking that it was her duty to tell the story to the Duke. It was not only the daughter who had trusted her, but the father also; and the father’s confidence had been not only the first but by far the holier of the two. And the question was one so important to the girl’s future happiness! There could be no doubt that the peril of her present position was very great.
‘Mary,’ she said one morning, when the fortnight was nearly at an end, ‘your father ought to know all this. I should feel that I had betrayed him were I to go away leaving him in ignorance.’
‘You do not mean to say that you will tell?’ said the girl, horrified at the idea of such treachery.
‘I wish that I could induce you to do so. Every day that he is kept in the dark is an injury to you.’
‘I am doing nothing. What harm can come? It is not as though I was seeing him every day.’
‘This harm will come; your father of course will know that you became engaged to Mr Tregear in Italy, and that a fact so important to him has been kept back from him.’
‘If there is anything in that, the evil has been done already. Of course poor mamma did mean to tell him.’
‘She cannot tell him now, and therefore you ought to do what she would have done.’
‘I cannot break my promise to him.’ ‘Him’ always meant Mr Tregear. ‘I have told him that I would not do so till I had his consent, and I will not.’
This was very dreadful to Mrs Finn, and yet she was most unwilling to take upon herself the part of stern elder, and declare that under the circumstances she must tell the tale. The story had been told to her under the supposition that she was not a stern elder, that she was regarded as the special friend of the dear mother who was gone, that she might be trusted against the terrible weight of parental authority. She could not endure to be regarded at once a traitor by this young friend who had sweetly inherited the affection with which the Duchess had regarded her. And yet if she were to be silent now how could she forgive herself? ‘The Duke certainly ought to know at once,’ said she, repeating her words merely that she might gain some time for thinking, and pluck up courage to declare her purpose, should she resolve on betraying the secret.
‘If you tell him now, I will never forgive you,’ said Lady Mary.
‘I am bound in honour to see that your father knows a thing which is of such vital importance to him and to you. Having heard all this I have no right to keep it from him. If Mr Tregear really loves you’— Lady Mary smiled at the doubt implied by this suggestion —‘he ought to feel that for your sake there should be no secret from your father.’ Then she paused a moment to think. ‘Will you let me see Mr Tregear myself, and talk to him about it?’
To this Lady Mary at first demurred, but when she found that in no other way could she prevent Mrs Finn from going at once to the Duke and telling him everything, she consented. Under Mrs Finn’s directions she wrote a note to her lover, which Mrs Finn saw, and then undertook to send it, with a letter from herself, to Mr Tregear’s address in London. The note was very short, and was indeed dictated by the elder lady, with some dispute, however, as to certain terms, in which the younger lady had her way. It was as follows:
‘DEAREST FRANK, ‘I wish you to see Mrs Finn, who, as you know, was dear mamma’s most particular friend. Please go to her, as she will ask you to do so. When you hear what she says I think you ought to do what she advises. ‘Yours for ever and always, ‘M.P.’
This Mrs Finn sent enclosed in an envelope, with a few words from herself, asking the gentleman to call upon her in Park Lane, on a day and hour fixed.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01