Lady Mary Palliser down at the Horns had as much liberty allowed to as is usually given to young ladies in these very free days. There was indeed no restriction placed upon her at all. Had Tregear gone down to Richmond and asked for the young lady, and had Lady Cantrip at the time been out and the young lady at home, it would have depended altogether upon the young lady whether she would have seen her lover or not. Nevertheless Lady Cantrip kept her eyes open, and when the letter came from Tregear she was aware that the letter had come. But the letter found its way into Lady Mary’s hands and was read in the seclusion of her own bedroom. ‘I wonder whether you would mind reading that,’ she said very shortly afterwards to Lady Cantrip. ‘What answer ought I to make?’
‘Do you think any answer ought to be made, my dear?’
‘Oh yes; I must answer him.’
‘Would your papa wish it?’
‘I told papa that I would not promise not to write to him. I think I told him that he should see any letters that there were. But if I show them to you, I suppose that will do as well.’
‘You had better keep your word to him absolutely.’
‘I am not afraid of doing so, if you mean that. I cannot bear to give him pain, but this is a matter in which I mean to have my own way.’
‘Mean to have your own way!’ said Lady Cantrip, much surprised by the determined tone of the young lady.
‘Certainly I do. I want you to understand so much! I suppose papa can keep us from marrying for ever and ever if he pleases, but he never will make me say that I will give up Mr Tregear. And if he does not yield I shall think him cruel. Why should he wish to make me unhappy all my life?’
‘He certainly does not wish that, my dear.’
‘But he will do it.’
‘I cannot go against your father, Mary.’
‘No, I suppose not. I shall write to Mr Tregear, and then I will show you what I have written. Papa shall see it too if he pleases. I will do nothing secret, but I will never give up Mr Tregear.’
Lord Cantrip came down to Richmond that evening, and his wife told him that in her opinion it would be best that the Duke should allow the young people to marry, and should give them money enough to live upon. ‘Is not that a strong order?’ asked the Earl. The Countess acknowledged that it was a ‘strong order’, but suggested that for the happiness of them all it might as well be done at first as last.
The next morning Lady Mary showed her a copy of the reply which she had already sent to her lover.
‘You may be quite sure that I shall never give you up. I will not write more at present because papa does not wish me to do so. I shall show papa your letter and my answer.
‘Your own most affectionate MARY.’
‘Has it gone?’ asked the Countess.
‘I put it myself into the pillar letter-box.’ Then Lady Cantrip felt that she had to deal with a very self-willed young lady indeed.
That afternoon Lady Cantrip asked Lady Mary whether she might be allowed to take the two letters up to town with the express purpose of showing them to the Duke. ‘Oh yes,’ said Mary. ‘I think it would be so much the best. Give papa my kindest love, and tell him from me that if he wants to make his poor little girl happy he will forgive her and be kind to her in all this.’ Then the Countess made some attempts to argue the matter. There were proprieties! High rank might be a blessing or might be the reverse — as people thought of it; — but all men acknowledged that much was due to it. ‘Noblesse oblige.’ It was often the case in life that women were called upon by circumstances to sacrifice their inclinations! What right had a gentleman to talk of marriage who had no means? These things she said and very many more, but it was to no purpose. The young lady asserted that as the gentleman was a gentleman there need be no question as to rank, and that in regard to money there need be no difficulty if one of them had sufficient. ‘But you have none but what your father gives you,’ said Lady Cantrip. ‘Papa can give it us without any trouble,’ said Lady Mary. This child had a clear idea of what she thought to be her own rights. Being the child of rich parents she had the right to money. Being a woman she had a right to a husband. Having been born free she had a right to choose one for herself. Having had a man’s love given to her she had a right to keep it. ‘One doesn’t know which she is most like, her father or her mother,’ Lady Cantrip said afterwards to her husband. ‘She has his cool determination, and her hot-headed obstinacy.’
She did show the letters to the Duke, and in answer to a word or two from him explained that she could not take upon herself to debar her guest from the use of the post. ‘But she will write nothing without letting you know it.’
‘She ought to write nothing at all.’
‘What she feels is much worse than what she writes.’
‘If there were no intercourse she would forget him.’
‘Ah; I don’t know,’ said the Countess sorrowfully, ‘I thought so once.’
‘All children are determined as long as they are allowed to have their own way.’
‘I mean to say that it is the nature of her character to be obstinate. Most girls are prone to yield. They have not character enough to stand against opposition. I am not speaking now only of affairs like this. It would be the same with her in any thing. Have you not always found it so?’
Then he had to acknowledge to himself that he had never found out anything in reference to his daughter’s character. She had been properly sweet, affectionate, always obedient to him; — the most charming plaything in the world on the few occasions in which he had allowed himself to play. But as to her actual disposition, he had never taken any trouble to inform himself. She had been left to her mother — as other girls are left. And his sons had been left to their tutors. And now he had no control over any of them. ‘She must be made to obey like others,’ he said at last, speaking through his teeth.
There was something in this which almost frightened Lady Cantrip. She could not bear to hear him say that the girl must be made to yield with that spirit of despotic power under which women were restrained in years now passed. If she could have spoken her own mind it would have been to this effect: ‘Let us do what we can to lead her away from this desire of hers; and in order that we may do so, let us tell her that her marriage with Mr Tregear is out of the question. But if we do not succeed — let us give way. Let us make it a matter of joy that the young man himself is so acceptable and well-behaved.’ That was her idea, and with that she would have indoctrinated the Duke had she been able. But his was different. ‘She must be made to obey,’ he said. And, as he said it, he seemed to be indifferent to the sorrow which such enforced obedience might bring upon his child. In answer to this she could only shake her head. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked. ‘Do you think we ought to yield?’
‘Not at once, certainly.’
‘But at last?’
‘What can you do, Duke? If she be as firm as you, can you bear to see her pine away in misery?’
‘Girls do not do like that,’ he said.
‘Girls and men are very different. They gradually will yield to external influences. English girls, though they become the most loving wives in the world, do not generally become so riven by an attachment as to become deep sufferers when it is disallowed. But here, I fear, we have to deal with one who will suffer after this fashion.’
‘Why should she not be like others?’
‘It may be so. We will try. But you see what she says in her letter to him. She writes as though your authority were to be nothing in that matter of giving up. In all that she says to me there is the same spirit. If she is firm, Duke, you must yield.’
‘Never! She shall never marry him with my sanction.’
There was nothing more to be said, and Lady Cantrip went her way. But the Duke, though he could say nothing more, continued to think of it hour after hour. He went down to the House of Lords to listen to a debate in which it was intended to cover the ministers with heavy disgrace. But the Duke could not listen even to his own friends. He could listen to nothing as he thought of the condition of his children.
He had been asked whether he could bear to see his girl suffer, as though he were indifferent to the sufferings of his child. Did he not know of himself that there was no father who would do more for the welfare of his daughter? Was he not sure of the tenderness of his own heart? In all that he was doing was he governed by anything but a sense of duty? Was it personal pride or love of personal aggrandisement? He thought that he could assure himself that he was open to no such charge. Would he not die for her — or for them — if he could so serve them? Surely this woman had accused him most wrongfully when she had intimated that he could see his girl suffer without caring for it. In his indignation he determined — for a while — that he would remove her from the custody of Lady Cantrip. But then, where should he place her? He was aware that his own house would be like a grave to a girl just fit to come into this world. In this coming autumn she must go somewhere — with some one. He himself, in his present state of mind, would be but a sorry travelling companion.
Lady Cantrip had said that the best hope of escape would lie in the prospect of another lover. The prescription was disagreeable, but it had availed in the case of his own wife. Before he had ever seen her as Lady Glencora McCloskie she had been desirous of giving herself and all her wealth to one Burgo Fitzgerald, who had been altogether unworthy. The Duke could remember well how a certain old Lady Midlothian had first told him that Lady Glencora’s property was very large, and had then added that the young lady herself was very beautiful. And he could remember how his uncle, the last duke, who had seldom taken much trouble in merely human affairs, had said a word or two —‘I have heard a whisper about you and Lady Glencora McCloskie, nothing could be better.’ The result had been undoubtedly good. His Cora and all her money had been saved from a worthless spendthrift. He had found a wife who he now thought had made him happy. And she had found at any rate a respectable husband. The idea when picked to pieces is not a nice idea. ‘Let us look out for a husband for this girl, so that we may get her married — out of the way of her lover.’ It is not nice. But it had succeeded in one case, and why should it not succeed in another?
But how was it to be done? Who should do it? Whom should he select to play the part which he had undertaken in that other arrangement? No worse person could be found then himself in managing such an affair. When the idea had at first been raised he had thought that Lady Cantrip would do it all; but now he was angry with Lady Cantrip.
How was it to be done? How should it be commenced? How had it been commenced in his own case? He did not in the least know how he had been chosen. Was it possible that his uncle, who was the proudest man in England, should have condescended to make a bargain with an old dowager whom everybody had despised? And in what way had he been selected? No doubt he had been known to be the heir-apparent to a dukedom and ducal reverence. In his case old Lady Midlothian had begun the matter with him. It occurred to him that in royal marriages such beginnings are quite common.
But who should be the happy man? Then he began to count up the requisite attributes. He must be of high rank, and an eldest son, and the possessor of, or the heir to a good estate. He did despise himself when he found that he put these things first — as a matter of course. Nevertheless he did put them first. He was ejecting this other man because he possessed none of these attributes. He hurried himself on to add that the man must be of good character, and such as a young girl might learn to love. But yet he was aware that he added these things for his conscience’s sake. Tregear’s character was good, and certainly the girl loved him. But was it not clear to all who knew anything of such matters that Mr Francis Tregear should not have dared even to think of marrying the daughter of the Duke of Omnium?
Who should be the happy man? There were so many who evidently were unfit. Young Lord Percival was heir to a ruined estate and beggared peerage. Lord Glasslough was odious to all men. There were three or four others of whom he thought that he knew some fatal objection. But when he remembered Lord Popplecourt there seemed to be no objection which need be fatal.
Lord Popplecourt was a young peer whose father had died two years since and whose estates were large and unembarrassed. The late lord, who had been a Whig of the old fashion, had been the Duke’s friend. They had been at Oxford and in the House of Commons together, and Lord Popplecourt had always been true to his party. As to the son, the Duke remembered to have heard lately that he was not given to waste his money. He drove about London a good deal, but had as yet not done anything very foolish. He had taken his degree at Oxford, taken his seat in the House of Lords and had once opened his mouth. He had not indeed appeared often again; but at Lord Popplecourt’s age much legislation is not to be expected from a young peer. Then he thought of the man’s appearance. Popplecourt was not specially attractive, whereas Tregear was a very handsome man. But so also had been Burgo Fitzgerald — almost abnormally beautiful, while he, Plantagenet Palliser, as he was then, had been quite insignificant in appearance as Lord Popplecourt.
Lord Popplecourt might possibly do. But then how should the matter be spoken of to the young man? After all, would it not be best that he should trust Lady Cantrip?
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01