Mr Dobbes was probably right in his opinion that hotels, tourists, and congregations of men are detrimental to shooting. Crummie-Toddie was in all respects suited for sport. Killancodlem, though it had the name of a shooting-place, certainly was not so. Men going there took their guns. Gamekeepers were provided with gillies — and, in a moderate quantity, game. On certain grand days a deer or two might be shot — and would be very much talked about afterwards. But a glance at the place would suffice to show that Killancodlem was not intended for sport. It was a fine castellated mansion, with beautiful though narrow grounds, standing in the valley of the Archay River, with a mountain behind and the river in front. Between the gates and the river there was a public road on which a stage-coach ran, with loud-blown horns and the noise of many tourists. A mile beyond the Castle was the famous Killancodlem hotel which made up a hundred and twenty beds, and at which half as many more guests would sleep on occasions under the tables. And there was the Killancodlem post-office halfway between the two. At Crummie-Toddie they had to send nine miles for their letters and newspapers. At Killancodlem there was lawn-tennis and a billiard-room and dancing every night. The costumes of the ladies were lovely, and those of the gentlemen, who were wonderful in knickerbockers, picturesque hats and variegated stockings, hardly less so. and then there were carriages and saddle-horses, and paths had been made hither and thither through the rocks and hills for the sake of the scenery. Scenery! To hear Mr Dobbes utter the single word was as good as a play. Was it for such cockney purposes as those that Scotland had been created, fit mother for grouse and deer?
Silverbridge arrived just before lunch, and was soon made to understand that it was impossible that he should go back that day. Mrs Jones was very great on that occasion. ‘You are afraid of Reginald Dobbes,’ she said severely.
‘I think I am rather.’
‘Of course you are. How came it to pass that you of all men should submit yourself to such a tyrant?’
‘Good shooting, you know,’ said Silverbridge.
‘But you dare not call an hour your own — or your soul. Mr Dobbes and I are sworn enemies. We both like Scotland, and unfortunately we have fallen into the same neighbourhood. He looks upon me as the genius of sloth. I regard him as the incarnation of tyranny. He once said there should be no women in Scotland — just an old one here and there, who would know how to cook grouse. I offered to go and cook his grouse!
‘Any friend of mine,’ continued Mrs Jones, ‘who comes down to Crummie-Toddie without staying a day or two with me — will never be my friend any more. I do not hesitate to tell you, Lord Silverbridge, that I call for your surrender, in order that I may show my power over Reginald Dobbes. Are you a Dobbite?’
‘Not thorough-going,’ said Silverbridge.
‘Then be a Montacute Jones-ite, or a Boncassen-ite, if, as possible, you prefer a young woman to an old one.’ At this moment Isabel Boncassen was standing close to them.
‘Killancodlem against Crummie-Toddie forever,’ said Miss barbarian, waving her handkerchief. As a matter of course a messenger was sent back to Crummie-Toddie for the young lord’s evening apparel.
The whole of that afternoon was spent playing lawn-tennis with Miss Boncassen. Lady Mabel was asked to join the party, but she refused, having promised to take a walk to a distant waterfall where the Codlem falls into the Archay. A gentleman in knickerbockers was to have gone with her, and two other young ladies, but when the time came she was weary, she said — and she sat almost the entire afternoon looking at the game from a distance. Silverbridge played well, but not so well as the pretty American. With them were joined two others, somewhat inferior, so that Silverbridge and Miss Boncassen were on different sides. They played game after game, and Miss Boncassen’s side always won.
Very little was said between Silverbridge and Miss Boncassen which did not refer to the game. But Lady Mabel, looking on, told herself that they were making love to each other before her eyes. And why shouldn’t they? She asked herself that question in perfect good faith. Why should they not be lovers? Was ever anything prettier than the girl in her country dress, active as a fawn and as graceful? Or could anything be more handsome, more attractive to a girl, more good-humoured, or better bred in his playful emulation than Silverbridge?
‘When youth and pleasure meet. To chase the glowing hours with flying feet!’ she said to herself over and over again.
But why had he sent her the ring? She would certainly give him back the ring and bid him bestow it at once upon Miss Boncassen. Inconstant boy! Then she would get up and wander away for a time and rebuke herself. What right had she even to think of inconstancy? Could she be so irrational, so unjust, as to be sick for his love, as to be angry with him because he seemed to prefer another? Was she not well aware that she herself did not love him — but that she did love another man? She had made up her mind to marry him in order that she might be a duchess, and because she would give herself to him without any of that horror which would be her fate in submitting to matrimony with one or another of the young men around her. There might be disappointment. If he escaped her there would be bitter disappointment. But seeing how it was, had she any further ground for hope? She certainly had no ground for anger!
It was thus, within her own bosom, she put questions to herself. And yet all this before her was simply a game of play in which the girl and the young man were as eager for victory as though they were children. They were thinking neither of love nor love-making. That the girl should be so lovely was not doubt a pleasure to him; — and perhaps to her also that she should be joyous to look at and sweet of voice. But he, could he have been made to tell all the truth within him, would have still owned that it was his purpose to make Mabel his wife.
When the game was over and the propositions made for further matches and the like — Miss Boncassen said that she would betake herself to her own room. ‘I never worked so hard in my life before,’ she said. ‘And I feel like a navvie. I could drink beer out of a jug and eat bread and cheese. I won’t play with you any more, Lord Silverbridge, because I am beginning to think it is unladylike to exert myself.’
‘Are you not glad you came over?’ said Lady Mabel to him as he was going off the ground without seeing her.
‘Pretty well,’ he said.
‘Is it not better than stalking?’
‘Yes; — lawn-tennis — with Miss Boncassen.’
‘She plays uncommonly well.’
‘And so do you.’
‘Ah, she has such an eye for distances.’
‘And you — what have you an eye for? Will you answer me a question?’
‘Well — yes; I think so.’
‘Certainly; if I do answer it.’
‘Do you not think her the most beautiful creature you ever saw in your life?’ He pushed back his cap and looked at her without making any immediate answer. ‘I do. Now tell me what you think.’
‘I think that perhaps she is.’
‘I knew you would say so. You are so honest that you could not bring yourself to tell a fib — even to me about that. Come here and sit down for a moment.’ Of course he sat down by her. ‘You know that Frank came to see me at Grex?’
‘He never mentioned it.’
‘Dear me; — how odd!’
‘It was odd,’ said he in a voice which showed that he was angry. She could hardly explain it to herself why she told him at the present moment. It came partly from jealousy, as though she had said to herself, ‘Though he may neglect me, he shall know that there is someone else who does not;’— and partly from an eager half-angry feeling that she would have nothing concealed. There were moments with her in which she thought that she could arrange her future life in accordance with certain wise rules over which her heart should have no influence. There were others, many others, in which her feelings completely got the better of her. And now she told herself that she would be afraid of nothing. There should be no deceit, no lies!
‘He went to see you at Grex?’ said Silverbridge.
‘Why should he not have come to me at Grex?’
‘Only it is so odd that he did not mention it. It seems to me that he is always having secrets with you of some kind.’
‘Poor Frank! There is no one else who would come to see me at that tumble-down old place. But I have another thing to say to you. You have behaved badly to me.’
‘Yes, sir. After my folly about that ring you should have known better than to send it to me. You must take it back again.’
‘You shall do exactly what you said you would. You shall give it to me wife — when I have one.’
‘That did very well for me to say it in a note. I did not want to send my anger to you over a distance of two or three hundred miles by the postman. But now that we are together you must take it back.’
‘I will do no such thing,’ said he sturdily.
‘You speak as though this were a matter in which you can have your own way.’
‘I mean to have my own about that.’
‘Any lady then must be forced to take any present that a gentleman may send her! Allow me to assure you that the usages of society do not run in that direction. Here is the ring. I knew that you would come over to see — well, to see someone here, and I have kept it ready in my pocket.’
‘I came over to see you.’
‘Lord Silverbridge! But we know that in certain employments all things are fair.’ He looked at her not knowing what were the employments to which she alluded. ‘At any rate you will oblige me by — by — by not being troublesome, and putting this little trinket into your pocket.’
‘Never! Nothing on earth shall make me do it.’
At Killancodlem they did not dine till half-past eight. Twilight was now stealing on these two, who were still out in the garden, all the others having gone in to dress. She looked round to see that no other eyes were watching them as she still held the ring. ‘It is there,’ she said, putting it on the bench between them. Then she prepared to rise from the seat so that she might leave it with him.
But he was too quick for her, and was away at a distance before she had collected her dress. And from a distance he spoke again. ‘If you choose that it shall be lost, so be it.’
‘You had better take it,’ said she, following him slowly. But he would not turn back; — nor would she. They met again in the hall for a moment. ‘I should be sorry it should be lost,’ said he, ‘because it belonged to my great uncle. And I had hoped that I might live to see it very often.’
‘You can fetch it,’ she said, as she went to her room. He however would not fetch it. She had accepted it, and he would not take it back again, let the fate of the gem be what it might.
But to the feminine and more cautious mind the very value of the trinket made its position out there on the bench, within the grasp of any dishonest gardener, a burden to her. She could not reconcile it to her conscience that it should be so left. The diamond was a large one, and she had heard it spoken of as a stone of great value — so much so, that Silverbridge had been blamed for wearing it ordinarily. She had asked for it in a joke, regarding it as a thing which could not be given away. She could not go down herself and take it up again; but neither could she allow it to remain. As she went to her room she met Mrs Jones already coming from hers. ‘You will keep us waiting,’ said the hostess.
‘Oh, no; — nobody ever dressed so quickly. But, Mrs Jones, will you do me a favour?’
‘Any will you let me explain something?’
‘Anything you like; — from a hopeless engagement down to a broken garter.’
‘I am suffering neither from one or the other. But there is a most valuable ring lying out in the garden. Will you send for it?’ Then of course the story had to be told. ‘You will, I hope, understand how I came to ask for it foolishly. It was because it was the one thing which I was sure he would not give away.’
‘Why not take it?’
‘Can’t you understand? I wouldn’t for the world. But you will be good enough — won’t you, to see that there is nothing else in it?’
‘Nothing of love?’
‘Nothing in the least. He and I are excellent friends. We are cousins, and intimate, and all that. I thought I might have had my joke, and now I am punished for it. As for love, don’t you see that he is head and ears in love with Miss Boncassen?’
This was very imprudent on the part of Lady Mabel, who, had she been capable of clinging to her policy, would not now in a moment of strong feeling have done so much to raise obstacles in her own way. ‘But you will send for it, won’t you, and have it put on his dressing-table tonight?’ When he went to bed Lord Silverbridge found it on his table.
But before that time came he had twice danced with Miss Boncassen. Lady Mabel having refused to dance with him. ‘No;’ she said. ‘I am angry with you. You ought to have felt that it did not become you as gentleman to subject me to inconvenience by throwing upon me the charge of that diamond. You may be foolish enough to be indifferent about its value, but as you have mixed me up with it I cannot afford to have it lost.’
‘It is yours.’
‘No, sir; it is not mine, nor will it ever be mine. But I wish you to understand that you have offended me.’
This made him so unhappy for the time that he almost told the story to Miss Boncassen. ‘If I were to give you a ring,’ he said, ‘would not you accept it?’
‘What a question!’
‘What I mean is, don’t you think all those conventional rules about men and women are absurd?’
‘As a progressive American, of course I am bound to think all conventional rules are an abomination.’
‘If you had a brother and I gave him a stick he’d take it.’
‘Not across his back, I hope.’
‘Or if I gave your father a book?’
‘He’d take books to any extent, I should say.’
‘And why not you a ring?’
‘Who said I wouldn’t? But after all this you mustn’t try me.’
‘I was not thinking of it.’
‘I’m so glad of that! Well; — if you’ll promise me that you’ll never offer me one, I’ll promise that I’ll take it when it comes. But what does all this mean?’
‘It is not worth talking about.’
‘You have offered someone somebody a ring, and somebody hasn’t taken it. May I guess?’
‘I had rather you did not.’
‘I could, you know.’
‘Never mind about that. Now come and have a turn. I am bound not to give you a ring; but you are bound to accept anything else I may offer.’
‘No, Lord Silverbridge; — not at all. Nevertheless we’ll have a turn.’
That night before he went up to his room he had told Isabel Boncassen that he loved her. And when he spoke he was telling her the truth. It had seemed to him that Mabel had become hard to him, and had over and over again rejected the approaches to tenderness which he had attempted to make in his intercourse with her. Even though she were to accept him, what would that be worth to him if she did not love him? So many things had been added together! Why had Tregear gone to Grex, and having gone there why had he kept his journey a secret? Tregear he knew was engaged to his sister; — but for all that, there was a closer intimacy between Mabel and Tregear than between Mabel and himself. And surely she might have taken his ring!
And then Isabel Boncassen was so perfect! Since he had first met her he had heard her loveliness talked of on all sides. It seemed to be admitted that so beautiful a creature had never before been seen in London. There is even a certain dignity attached to that which is praised by all lips. Miss Boncassen as an American girl, had she been judged to be beautiful only by his own eyes — might perhaps have seemed to him to be beneath his serious notice. In such a case he might have felt himself unable to justify so extraordinary a choice. But there was an acclamation of assent as to this girl! Then came the dancing — the one dance after another; the pressure of the hand, the entreaty that she would not, just on this occasion, dance with any other man, the attendance on her when she took her glass of wine, the whispered encouragement of Mrs Montacute Jones, the half-resisting and yet half-yielding conduct of the girl. ‘I shall not dance at all again,’ she said when he asked to stand up for another. ‘Think of all the lawn-tennis this morning.’
‘But you will play tomorrow?’
‘I thought you were going.’
‘Of course I shall stay now,’ he said, and as he said it he put his hand on her hand, which was on his arm. She drew it away at once. ‘I love you so dearly,’ he whispered to her, ‘so dearly.’
‘I do. I do. Can you say that you will love me in return?’
‘I cannot,’ she said slowly. ‘I have never dreamed of such a thing. I hardly know now whether you are in earnest.’
‘Indeed, indeed I am.’
‘Then I will say good-night, and think about it. Everybody is going. We shall have our game tomorrow at any rate.’
When he went to his room he found the ring on his dressing-table.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14