On the next morning Miss Boncassen did not appear at breakfast. Word came that she had been so fatigued by the lawn-tennis as not to be able to leave her bed. ‘I have been to see her,’ said Mrs Montacute Jones, whispering to Lord Silverbridge, as though he were particularly interested. ‘There’s nothing really the matter. She will be down to lunch.’
‘I was afraid she might be ill,’ said Silverbridge, who was now hardly anxious to hide his admiration.
‘Oh, no; — nothing of that sort, but she will not be able to play again today. It was your fault. You should not have made her dance last night.’ After that Mrs Jones said a word about it all to Lady Mabel. ‘I hope the Duke will not be angry with me.’
‘Why should he be angry with you?’
‘I don’t suppose he will approve of it, and perhaps he’ll say I brought them together on purpose.’
Soon afterwards Mabel asked Silverbridge to walk with her to the waterfall. She had worked herself into such a state of mind that she hardly knew what to do, what to wish, or how to act. At one moment she would tell herself that it was better in every respect that she should cease to think of being the Duchess of Omnium. It was not fit that she should think of it. She herself cared but little for the young man, and he — she would now tell herself — now appeared to care as little for her. And yet to be Duchess of Omnium! But was it not clear that he was absolutely in love with this other girl? She had played her cards so badly that the game was now beyond her powers. Then other thoughts would come. Was it beyond her powers? Had he not told her in London that he loved her? Had he not given her the ring which she well knew he valued? Ah; — if she could but have been aware of all that had passed between Silverbridge and the Duke, how different would have been her feelings! And then would it be not so much better for him that he should marry her, one of his own class, than this American girl, of whom nobody knew anything? And then — to be the daughter of the Duke of Omnium, to be the future Duchess, to escape from all the cares which her father’s vices and follies had brought upon her, to have to come an end all of her troubles! Would it not be sweet?
She had made her mind up to nothing when she asked him to walk up to the waterfall. There was present to her only the glimmer of an idea that she ought to caution him not to play with the American girl’s feelings. She knew herself to be aware that when the time for her own action came her feminine feelings would get the better of her purpose. She could not craftily bring him to the necessity of bestowing himself upon her. Had that been within the compass of her powers, opportunities had not been lacking to her. On such occasions she had always ‘spared him’. And should the opportunity come again, again she would spare him. But she might perhaps do some good — not to herself, that was now out of the question — but to him by showing him how wrong he was in trifling with this girl’s feelings.
And so they started for their walk. He of course would have avoided it had it been possible. When men in such matters have two strings to their bow, much inconvenience is felt when the two become entangled. Silverbridge no doubt had come over to Killancodlem for the sake of making love to Mabel Grex, and instead of doing so, he had made love to Isabel Boncassen. And during the wakes of the night, and as he had dressed himself in the morning, and while Mrs Jones had been whispering to him her little bulletin as to the state of the young lady’s health, he had not repented himself of the change. Mabel had been, he thought, so little gracious to him that he would have given up that notion earlier, but for his indiscreet declaration to his father. On the other hand, making love to Isabel Boncassen seemed to him to possess some divine afflatus of joy which made it of all imaginable occupations the sweetest and most charming. She had admitted of no embrace. Indeed he had attempted none unless that touch of the hand might be so called, from which she had immediately withdrawn. Her conduct had been such that he had felt it to be incumbent on him, at the very moment, to justify the touch by a declaration of love. Then she had told him that she would not promise to love him in return. And yet it had been so sweet, so heavenly sweet!
During the morning he had almost forgotten Mabel. When Mrs Jones told him that Isabel would keep her room, he longed to ask for leave to go and make some inquiry at the door. She would not play lawn-tennis with him. Well; — he did not now care much for that. After what he had said to her she must at any rate give him some answer. She had been so gracious to him that his hopes ran very high. It never occurred to him to fancy that she might be gracious to him because he was heir to the Dukedom of Omnium. She herself was so infinitely superior to all wealth, to all rank, to all sublunary arrangements, conventions, and considerations, that there was no room for confidence of that nature. But he was confident because he smile had been sweet, her eyes bright — and because he was conscious, though unconsciously conscious of something of the sympathy of love.
But he had to go to the waterfall with Mabel. Lady Mabel was always dressed perfectly — having great gifts of her own in that direction. There was a freshness about her which made her morning costume more charming than that of evening, and never did she look so well as when arrayed for a walk. On this occasion she had certainly done her best. But he, poor blind idiot, saw nothing of this. The white gauzy fabric which had covered Isabel’s satin petticoat on the previous evening still filled his eyes. Those perfect boots, the little glimpses of party-coloured stockings above them, the looped-up skirt, the jacket fitting but never binding that lovely body and waist, the jaunty hat with its small fresh feathers, all were nothing to him. Nor was the bright honest face beneath the hat anything to him now; — for it was an honest face, though misfortunes which had come had somewhat marred the honesty of the heart.
At first the conversation was about indifferent things — Killancodlem and Mrs Jones, Crummie-Toddie and Reginald Dobbs. They had gone along the high-road as far as the post-office, and had turned through the wood and reached a seat whence there was a beautiful view down upon the Archay before a word was said affecting either Miss Boncassen or the ring. ‘You got the ring safe,’ she said.
‘How could you be so foolish as to risk it?’
‘I did not regard it as mine. You had accepted it — I thought.’
‘But if I had, and then repented of my fault in doing so, should you not have been willing to help me in setting myself right with myself? Of course after what had passed, it was a trouble to me when it came. what was I to do? for a day or two I thought I would take it, not as liking to take it, but as getting rid of the trouble in that way. Then I remembered its value, its history, the fact that all who knew you would want to know what had become of it — and I felt that it should be given back. There is only one person to whom we must give it.’
‘Who is that?’ he said quickly.
‘Your wife; — or to her who is to become your wife. No other woman can be justified in accepting such a present.’
‘There has been a great deal more said about it than it’s worth,’ said he, not anxious at the present moment to discuss any matrimonial projects with her. ‘Shall we go to the Fall?’ Then she got up and led the way till they came to the little bridge from which they could see the Falls of the Codlem below them. ‘I call that very pretty,’ he said.
‘I thought you would like it.’
‘I never saw anything of that kind more jolly. Do you care for scenery, Mabel?’
‘Very much. I know no pleasure equal to it. You have never seen Grex?’
‘Is it like this?’
‘Not in the least. It is wilder than this, and there are not so many trees; but to my eye it is very beautiful. I wish you had seen it.’
‘Perhaps I may some day.’
‘That is not likely now,’ she said. ‘The house is in ruins. If I had just money enough to keep it for myself, I think I could live alone there and be happy.’
‘You; — alone. Of course you mean to marry?’
‘Mean to marry! Do persons marry because they mean it? With nineteen men out of twenty the idea of marrying them would convey the idea of hating them. No doubt you do mean it.’
‘I suppose I shall — some day. How very well the house looks from here.’ It was incumbent upon him at the present moment to turn the conversation.
But when she had a project in her head it was not easy to turn her away. ‘Yes indeed,’ she said, ‘very well. But as I was saying — you can mean to marry.’
‘Anybody can mean it.’
‘But you can carry out a purpose. What are you thinking of doing now?’
‘Upon my honour, Mabel, that is unfair.’ ‘Are we not friends?’
‘I think so.’
‘I hope so.’
‘Then may I not tell you what I think? If you do not mean to marry that American young lady you should not raise false hopes.’
‘False hopes!’ He had hopes, but he had never thought that Isabel could have any.
‘False hopes; — certainly. Do you not know that everyone was looking at you last night?’
‘And that old woman is going about talking of it as her doing, pretending to be afraid of your father, whereas nothing would please her better than to humble a family so high as yours.’
‘Humble!’ exclaimed Lord Silverbridge.
‘Do you think your father would like it? Would you think that another man would be doing well for himself by marrying Miss Boncassen?’
‘I do,’ said he energetically.
‘Then you must be very much in love with her.’
‘I say nothing about that.’
‘If you are so much in love with her that you mean to face the displeasure of your friends —’
‘I do not say what I mean. I could talk more freely to you than to anyone else, but I won’t talk about that even to you. As regards Miss Boncassen, I think that any man might marry her, without discredit. I won’t have it said that she can be inferior to me — or to anybody.’
There was a steady manliness in this which took Lady Mabel by surprise. She was convinced that he intended to offer his hand to the girl, and now was actuated chiefly by a feeling that his doing so would be an outrage to all English propriety. If a word might have an effect it would be her duty to speak the word. ‘I think you are wrong there, Lord Silverbridge.’
‘I am sure I am right.’
‘What have you yourself felt about your sister and Mr Tregear?’
‘It is altogether different; — altogether. Frank’s wife will be simply his wife. Mine, should I outlive my father, will be the Duchess of Omnium.’
‘But your father? I have heard you speak with bitter regret of this affair of Lady Mary’s because it vexes him. Would your marriage with an American lady vex him less?’
‘Why should it vex him at all? Is she vulgar, or ill to look at, or stupid?’
‘Think of her mother.’
‘I am not going to marry her mother. Or for that matter am I going to marry her. You are taking all that for granted in most unfair way.’
‘How can I help it after what I saw yesterday?’
‘I will not talk any more about it. We had better go down or we shall get no lunch.’ Lady Mabel, as she followed him, tried to make herself believe that all her sorrow came from regret that so fine a scion of the British nobility should throw himself away upon an American adventuress.
The guests were still at lunch when they entered the dining-room, and Isabel was seated close to Mrs Jones. Silverbridge at once went up to her — and place was made for him as though he had almost a right to be next to her. Miss Boncassen herself bore the honours well, seeming to regard the little change at table as though it was of no moment. ‘I became so eager about that game,’ she said, ‘that I went on too long.’
‘I hope you are now none the worse.’
‘At six o’clock this morning I thought I should never use my legs again.’
‘Were you awake at six?’ said Silverbridge, with pitying voice.
‘That was it. I could not sleep. Now I begin to hope that sooner or later I shall unstiffen.’
During every moment, at every word that he uttered, he was thinking of the declaration of love which he had made to her. But it seemed to him as though the matter had not dwelt on her mind. When they drew their chairs away from the table he thought that not a moment was to be lost before some further explanation of their feelings for each other should be made. Was not the matter which had been so far discussed of vital importance for both of them? And, glorious as she was above all other women, the offer which he had made must have some weight with her. He did not think that he proposed to give more than she deserved, but still that which he was so willing to give was not a little. Or was it possible that she had not understood his meaning? If so, he would not willingly lose a moment before he made it plain to her. But she seemed content to hang about with the other women, and when she sauntered about the grounds seated herself on a garden-chair with Lady Mabel, and discussed with great eloquence the general beauty of Scottish scenery. An hour went on in this way. Could it be that she knew that he had offered to make her his wife? During this time he went and returned more than once, but still she was there, on the same garden-seat, talking to those who came in her way.
Then on a sudden she got up and put her hand on his arm. ‘Come and take a turn with me,’ she said. ‘Lord Silverbridge, do you remember anything of last night?’
‘I thought for a while this morning that I would let it all pass as though it had been a mere trifling!’
‘It would have wanted two to let it pass in that way,’ he said, almost indignantly.
On hearing this she looked up at him, and there came over her face that brilliant smile, which to him was perhaps the most potent of her spells. ‘What do you mean by wanting two?’
‘I must have voice in it as well as you.’
‘And what is your voice?’
‘My voice is this. I told you last night that I loved you. This morning I ask you to be my wife.’
‘It is a very clear voice,’ she said — almost in a whisper; but in a tone so serious that it startled him.
‘It ought to be clear,’ he said doggedly.
‘Do you think I don’t know that? Do you think that if I liked you well last night I don’t like you better now?’
‘But do you like me?’
‘That is just the thing I am going to say nothing about.’
‘Just the one thing I will not allude to. Now you must listen to me.’
‘I know a great deal about you. We Americans are an inquiring people, and I have found out pretty much everything.’ His mind misgave him as he felt she had ascertained his former purpose respecting Mabel. ‘You,’ she said, ‘among young men in England are about the foremost, and therefore — as I think — about the foremost in the world. And you have all personal gifts; — youth and spirits — Well, I will not go on and name the others. You are, no doubt, supposed to be entitled to the best and sweetest of God’s feminine creatures.’
‘You are she.’
‘Whether you be entitled to me or not I cannot yet say. Now I will tell you something of myself. My father’s father came to New York as a labourer from Holland, and worked upon the quays in that city. Then he built houses, and became rich, and was almost a miser; — with the good sense, however, to educate his only son. What my father is you see. To me he is sterling gold, but he is not like your people. My dear mother is not at all like your ladies. She is not a lady in your sense — though with her unselfish devotion to others she is something infinitely better. For myself I am — well, meaning to speak honestly, I will call myself pretty and smart. I think I know how to be true.’
‘I am sure you do.’
‘But what right have you to suppose I shall know how to be a Duchess?’
‘I am sure you will.’
‘Now listen to me. Go to your friends and ask them. Ask that Lady Mabel; — ask your father — ask that Lady Cantrip. And above all, ask yourself. And allow me to require you to take three months to do this. Do not come to see me for three months.’
‘What may happen then I cannot tell, for I want three months also to think of it myself. Till then, good-bye.’ She gave him her hand and left it in his for a few seconds. He tried to draw her to him, but she resisted him, still smiling. Then she left him.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55