Lady Mabel, when her young lover left her, was for a time freed from the necessity of thinking about him by her father. He had returned from the Oaks in a very bad humour. Lord Grex had been very badly treated by his son, whom he hated worse than any one else in the world. On the Derby-day he had won a large sum of money, which had been to him at the time a matter of intense delight — for he was in great want of money. But on this day he had discovered that his son and heir had lost more than he had won, and an arrangement had been suggested to him that his winnings should go to pay Percival’s losings. This was a mode of settling affairs to which the Earl would not listen for a moment, had he possessed the power of putting a veto upon it. But there had been a transaction lately between him and his son with reference to the cutting off a certain entail under which money was to be paid to Lord Percival. This money had not yet been forthcoming, and therefore the Earl was constrained to assent. This was very distasteful to the Earl, and he came home therefore in a bad humour, and said a great many disagreeable things to his daughter. ‘You know, papa, if I could do anything I would.’ This she said in answer to a threat, which he had made often before and now repeated, of getting rid altogether of the house in Belgrave Square. Whenever he made this threat he did not scruple to tell her that the house had to be kept up solely for her welfare. ‘I don’t see why the deuce you don’t get married. You’ll have to sooner or later.’ That was not a pleasant speech for a daughter to hear from her father. ‘As to that,’ she said, ‘it must come or not as chance will have it. If you want me to sign anything I will sign it;’— for she had been asked to sign papers, or in other words to surrender rights; —‘but for that other matter it must be left to myself.’ Then he had been very disagreeable indeed.
They dined together — of course with all the luxury that wealth can give. There was a well-appointed carriage to take them backwards and forwards to the next square, such as an Earl should have. She was splendidly dressed, as became an Earl’s daughter, and he was brilliant with some star which had been accorded to him by his sovereign’s grateful minister in return for staunch parliamentary support. No one looking at them could have imagined that such a father could have told such a daughter that she must marry herself out of the way, because as an unmarried girl she was a burden.
During the dinner she was very gay. To be gay was a habit — we may almost say the work — of her life. It so chanced that she sat between Sir Timothy Beeswax, who in these days was a very great man indeed, and that very Dolly Longstaff, whom Silverbridge in his irony had proposed to her as a fitting suitor for her hand.
‘Isn’t Lord Silverbridge a cousin of yours?’ asked Sir Timothy.
‘A very distant one.’
‘He has come over to us, you know. It is such a triumph.’
‘I was so sorry to hear it.’ This, however, as the reader knows, was a fib.
‘Sorry!’ said Sir Timothy. ‘Surely Lord Grex’s daughter must be a Conservative.’
‘Oh yes; — I am a Conservative because I was born one. I think that people in politics should remain as they are born — unless they are very wise indeed. When men come to be statesmen, and all that kind of thing, of course they can change backwards and forwards.’
‘I hope that is not intended for me, Lady Mabel.’
‘Certainly not. I don’t knew enough about it to be personal.’ That, however, was again not quite true. ‘But I have the greatest possible respect for the Duke, and I think it a pity that he should be made unhappy by his son. Don’t you like the Duke?’
‘Well; — yes; — yes in a way. He is a most respectable man; and has been a good public servant.’
‘All our lot are ruined, you know,’ said Dolly, talking of the races.
‘Who are your lot, Mr Longstaff?’
‘I’m one myself.’
‘I suppose so.’
‘I’m utterly smashed. Then there’s Percival.’
‘I hope he has not lost much. Of course you know he is my brother.’
‘Oh laws; — so he is. I always put my foot in it. Well; — he has lost a lot. And so have Silverbridge and Tifto. Perhaps you don’t know Tifto.’
‘I have not the pleasure of knowing Mr Tifto.’
‘He is a major. I think you’d like Major Tifto. He’s a sort of racing coach to Silverbridge. You ought to know Tifto. And Tregear is pretty nearly cleared out.’
‘Mr Tregear! Mr Frank Tregear!’
‘I’m told he has been hit very heavy. I hope he’s not a friend of yours, Lady Mabel.’
‘Indeed he is; — a very dear friend and cousin.’
‘That’s what I hear. He’s very much with Silverbridge you know.’
‘I cannot think that Mr Tregear has lost money.’
‘I hope he hasn’t. I know I have. I wish someone would stick up for me and say it was impossible.’
‘But that is not Mr Tregear’s way of living. I can understand that Lord Silverbridge or Percival should lose money.’
‘Or you, if you like to say so.’
‘I don’t know anything about Mr Tifto.’
‘Or Major Tifto; — what does it signify?’
‘No; — of course. We inferior people may lose our money just as we please. But a man who can look clever as Mr Tregear ought to win always.’
‘I told you just know that he was a friend of mine.’
‘But don’t you think that he does look clever?’ There could be no question but that Tregear, when he disliked his company, could show his dislike by his countenance; and it was not improbable that he had done so in the presence of Mr Adolphus Longstaff. ‘Now tell the truth, Lady Mabel; does he not look conceited sometimes?’
‘He generally looks as if he knew what he was talking about, which is more than some other people do.’
‘Of course he is a great deal more clever than I am. I know that. But I don’t think even he can be so clever as he looks, “Or you so stupid”, that’s what you ought to say now.’
‘Sometimes, Mr Longstaff, I deny myself the pleasure of saying what I think.’
When all this was over she was very angry with herself for the anxiety she had expressed about Tregear. This Mr Longstaff was, she thought, exactly the man to report all she had said in the public-room at the club. But she had been annoyed by what she had heard as to her friend. She knew that he of all men should keep himself free from such follies. Those others had, as it were, a right to make fools of themselves. It had seemed so natural that the young men of her own class should dissipate their fortunes and their reputations by every kind of extravagance! Her father had done so, and she had never even ventured to hope that her brother would not follow her father’s example. But Tregear, if he gave way to such follies as these, would soon fall headlong into a pit from which there would be no escape. And if he did fall, she knew herself well enough to be aware that she could not stifle, nor even conceal the misery which this would occasion her. As long as he stood well before the world she would be well able to assume indifference. But were he to be precipitated into some bottomless misfortunes then she could only throw herself after him. She could see him marry, and smile — and perhaps even like his wife. And while he was doing so, she could also marry, and resolve that the husband whom she took should be made to think he had a loving wife. But were Frank to die — then must she fall upon his body as though he had been known by all the world to be her lover. Something of this feeling came upon her now, when she heard that he had been betting and had been unfortunate. She had been unable so to subdue herself as to seem to be perfectly careless about it. She had begun by saying that she had not believed it; — but she had believed it. It was so natural that Tregear should have done as the others did with whom he lived! But then the misfortune would be to him so terrible — so irremediable! The reader, however, may as well know at once there was a not a word of truth in the assertion.
After dinner she went home alone. There were other festivities to be attended, had she pleased to attend them; and poor Miss Cassewary was dressed ready to go with her as chaperone; — but Miss Cassewary was quite satisfied to be allowed to go to bed in lieu of Mrs Montacute Jones’s great ball. And she had gone to her bedroom when Lady Mabel went to her. ‘I am glad you are alone,’ she said, ‘because I want to speak to you.’
‘Is anything wrong?’
‘Everything is wrong. Papa says he must give up this house.’
‘He says that almost always when he comes back from the races, and very often when he comes back from the club.’
‘Percival has lost ever so much.’
‘I don’t think my Lord will hamper himself for your brother.’
‘I can’t explain it, but there is some horrible money complication. It is hard upon you and me.’
‘Who am I?’ said Miss Cassewary.
‘About the dearest friend that ever a poor girl had. It is hard upon you — and upon me. I have given up everything — and what good have I done?’
‘It is hard, my dear.’
‘But after all I do not care much for all that. The thing has been going on for so long that one is used to it.’
‘What is it then?’
‘Ah; — yes; — what is it? How am I to tell you?’
‘Surely you can tell me,’ said the old woman, putting out her hand so as to caress the arm of the younger one.
‘I could tell no one else; I am sure of that. Frank Tregear has taken to gambling — like the rest of them.’
‘Who says so?’
‘He has lost a lot of money at these races. A man who sat next to me at dinner — one of those stupid do-nothing fools that one meets everywhere — told me so. He is one of the Beargarden set, and of course he knows all about it.’
‘Did he say how much?’
‘How is he to pay anything? Of all things men do this is the worst. A man who would think himself disgraced for ever if he accepted a present of money will not scruple to use all his wits to rob his friend of everything that he has by studying the run of the cards or by watching the paces of some brutes of horses! And they consider themselves to be fine gentlemen! A real gentleman should never want the money out of another man’s pocket; — should never think of money at all.’
‘I don’t know how that is to be helped, my dear. You have got to think of money.’
‘Yes; I have to think of it, and do think of it, and because I do so I am not what I call a gentleman.’
‘No; — my dear, you’re a lady.’
‘Psha! you know what I mean. I might have had the feelings of a gentleman as well as the best man that was ever born. I haven’t; but I have never done anything so mean as gambling. Now I have got something else to tell you.’
‘What is it? You do frighten me so when you look like that.’
‘You may well be frightened — for if this all comes round I shall very soon be able to dispense with you altogether. His Royal Highness Lord Silverbridge —’
‘What do you mean, Mabel?’
‘He’s next door to a Royal Highness at any rate, and a much more topping man than most of them. Well then; — His Serene Highness the heir of the Duke of Omnium has done me the inexpressible honour of asking me — to marry him.’
‘You may well say No. and to tell the exact truth, he didn’t.’
‘Then why do you say he did?’
‘I don’t think he did quite ask me, but he gave me to understand that he would do so if I gave him any encouragement.’
‘Did he mean it?’
‘Yes; — poor boy! He meant it. With a word; — with a look, he would have been down there kneeling. He asked me whether I liked him well enough. What do you think I did?’
‘What did you do?’
‘I spared him; — out of sheer downright Christian charity! I said to myself, “Love your neighbours.” “Don’t be selfish.” “Do unto him as you would he should do unto you,”-that is, I think of his welfare. Though I had him in my net, I let him go. Shall I go to heaven for doing that?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Miss Cassewarey, who was much perturbed by the news she had just heard as to be unable to come to any opinion on the point just raised.
‘Or mayn’t I rather go to the other place? From how much embarrassment should I have relieved my father! What a friend I should have made for Percival! How much I might have been able to do for Frank! And then what a wife I should have made him!’
‘I think you would.’
‘He’ll never get another half so good; and he’ll be sure to get one before long. It is a sort of tenderness that is quite inefficacious. He will become a prey, as I should have made him a prey. But where is there another who will treat him so well?’
‘I cannot bear to hear you speak of yourself in that way.’
‘But it is true. I know the sort of girl he should marry. In the first place she should be two years younger, and four years fresher. She should be able not only to like him and love him, but to worship him. How well I can see her! She should have fair hair, and bright green-grey eyes, with the sweetest complexion, and the prettiest little dimples; — two inches shorter than me, and the delight of her life should be to hang with two hands on his arm. She should have a feeling that her Silverbridge is an Apollo upon earth. To me he is a rather foolish, but very, very sweet-tempered young man; — anything rather than a god. If I thought that he would get the fresh young girl with the dimples then I ought to abstain.’
‘If he was in earnest,’ said Miss Cassewary, throwing aside all this badinage and thinking of the main point, ‘if he was in earnest he will come again.’
‘He was quite in earnest.’
‘Then he will come again.’
‘I don’t think he will,’ said Lady Mabel. ‘I told him that I was too old for him, and I tried to laugh him out of it. He does not like being laughed at. He was been saved, and he will know it.’
‘But if he should come again?’
‘I shall not spare him again. No; — not twice. I felt it to be hard to do so once, because I so nearly love him! There are so many of them who are odious to me, as to whom the idea of marrying them seems to be mixed somehow with an idea of suicide.’
‘But he is as sweet as a rose. If I were his sister, or his servant, or his dog, I could be devoted to him. I can fancy that his comfort and his success and his name should be everything to me.’
‘That is what a wife ought to feel.’
‘But I could never feel him to be my superior. That is what a wife ought to feel. Think of those two young men and the difference between them! Well; — don’t look like that at me. I don’t often give way, and I dare say after all I shall live to be the Duchess of Omnium.’ Then she kissed her friend and went away to her own room.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01