Silverbridge remained at Crummie-Toddie under the dominion of Reginald Dobbes till the second week of September. Popplecourt, Nidderdale and Gerald Palliser were there also, very obedient and upon the whole efficient. Tregear was intractable, occasional, and untrustworthy. He was the cause of much trouble to Mr Dobbes. He would entertain a most heterodox and injurious idea that he had come to Crummie-Toddie for amusement, and he was not bound to do anything that did not amuse him. He would not understand that in sport as in other matters there was an ambition, driving man on to excel always and be ahead of others. In spite of this Mr Dobbes had cause for much triumph. It was going to be the greatest thing ever done by six guns in Scotland. As for Gerald, whom he had regarded as a boy; and who had offended him by saying that Crummie-Toddie was ugly — he was ready to go round the world for him. He had indoctrinated Gerald with all his ideas of a sportsman — even to a contempt for champagne and a conviction that tobacco should be moderated. The three lords too had proved themselves efficient, and the thing was going to be a success. But just when a day was of vital importance, when it was essential that there should be a strong party for a drive, Silverbridge found it absolutely necessary that he should go over to Killancodlem.
‘She has gone,’ said Nidderdale.
‘Who the —— is she?’ asked Silverbridge almost angrily.
‘Everybody know who she is,’ said Popplecourt.
‘It will be a good thing when some she has got hold of you, my boy, so as to keep you in your proper place.’
‘If you cannot withstand that sort of attraction you ought not to go in for shooting at all,’ said Dobbes.
‘I shouldn’t wonder at his going,’ continued Nidderdale, ‘if we didn’t all know that the American is no longer there. She has gone to — Bath, I think they say.’
‘I suppose it Mrs Jones herself,’ said Popplecourt.
‘My dear boy,’ said Silverbridge, ‘you may be quite sure that when I say that I am going to Killancodlem I mean to go to Killancodlem, and that no chaff about young ladies — which I think very disgusting — will stop me. I shall be sorry if Dobbes’s roll of the killed should be lessened by a single hand; seeing that his ambition sets that way. Considering the amount of slaughter we have perpetrated, I really think that we need not be over anxious.’ After this nothing further was said. Tregear, who knew that Mabel Grex was still at Killancodlem, had not spoken.
In truth Mabel had sent for Lord Silverbridge, and this had been her letter.
‘MY DEAR LORD SILVERBRIDGE,
‘Mrs Montacute Jones is cut to the heart because you have not been over to see her again, and she says that it is lamentable to think that such a man as Reginald Dobbes should have so much power over you. ‘Only twelve miles,’ she says, ‘and he knows that we are here!’ I told that you knew Miss Boncassen was gone.
‘But though Miss Boncassen has left us we are a very pleasant party, and surely you must be tired of such a place as Crummie-Toddie. If only for the sake of getting a good dinner once in a way do come over again. I shall be here for ten days. As they will not let me go back to Grex I don’t know where I could be more happy. I have been asked to go to Custins, and suppose I shall turn up some time in the autumn.
‘And now shall I tell you what I expect? I do expect that you will come over to — see me. “I did see her the other day,” you will say, “and she did not make herself pleasant.” I know that. How was I to make myself pleasant when I found myself so completely snuffed out by your American beauty? Now she is away, and Richard will be himself. Do come, because in truth I want to see you.
‘Yours always sincerely.
On receiving this he at once made up his mind to go to Killancodlem, but he could not make up his mind why it was that she had asked him. He was sure of two things; sure in the first place that she had intended to let him know that she did not care about him; and then sure that she was aware of his intention in regard to Miss Boncassen. Everybody at Killancodlem had seen it — to his disgust; but still that it was so had been manifest. And he had consoled himself, feeling that it would matter nothing should he be accepted. She had made an attempt to talk him out of his purpose. Could it be that she thought it possible a second attempt might be successful? If so, she did not know him.
She had in truth thought not only that this, but that something further than this might be possible. Of course the prize loomed larger before her eyes as the prospect of obtaining it became less. She could not doubt that he had intended to offer her his hand when he had spoken to her of his love in London. Then she had stopped him; — had ‘spared him’, as she had told her friend. Certainly she had then been swayed by some feeling that it would be ungenerous in her to seize greedily the first opportunity he had given her. But he had again made an effort. He surely would not have sent her the ring had he not intended her to regard him as her lover. When she received the ring her heart had beat very high. Then she had sent that little note, saying that she would keep it till she could give it to his wife. When she wrote that she had intended that the ring should be her own. And other things pressed upon her mind. Why had she been invited to Custins? Little hints had reached her of the Duke’s goodwill towards her. If on that side marriage were approved, why should she destroy her own hopes?
Then she had seen him with Miss Boncassen, and in her pique had forced the ring back upon him. During that long game on the lawn her feelings had been very bitter. Of course the girl was the lovelier of the two. All the world was raving of her beauty. And there was no doubt as to the charm of her wit and manner. And then she had no touch of that blase used-up way of life of which Lady Mabel was conscious herself. It was natural that it should be so. and was she, Mabel Grex, the girl to stand in his way, and to force herself upon him, if he loved another? Certainly not — though there might be a triple coronet to be had.
But were there not other considerations? Could it be well that the heir of the House of Omnium should marry an American girl, as to whose humble birth whispers were already afloat? As his friend, would it not be right that she should tell him what the world would say? as his friend, therefore, she had given him her counsel.
When he was gone the whole thing weighed heavily on her mind. Why should she lose the prize if it might still be her own? To be Duchess of Omnium! She had read of many of the other sex and of one or two of her own who by settled resolution had achieved greatness in opposition to all obstacles. Was this thing beyond her reach? To hunt him and catch him, and marry him to his own injury — that would be impossible to her. She was sure of herself there. But how infinitely better would this be for him! Would she not have all his family with her — and all the world of England? In how short a time would he not repent his marriage with Miss Boncassen? Whereas, were she his wife, she would stir herself for his joys, for his good, for his honour, that there should be no possibility of repentance. And he certainly had loved her. Why else had he followed her, and spoken such words to her? Of course he had loved her! But then there had come this blaze of beauty and had carried off — not his heart, but his imagination. Because he had yielded to such fascination, was she to desert him, and also to desert herself? From day to day she thought of it, and then she wrote that letter. She hardly knew what she would do, what she might say; but she would trust to the opportunity to do and say something.
‘If you have no room for me,’ he said to Mrs Jones, ‘you must scold Lady Mab. She has told me that you told her to invite me.’
‘Of course I did. Do you think I would not sleep in the stables, and give you up my own bed if there were no other? It is so good of you to come!’
‘So good of you, Mrs Jones, to ask me.’
‘So very kind to come when all the attraction has gone!’ Then he blushed and stammered, and was just able to say that his only object in life was to pour out his adoration at the feet of Mrs Montacute Jones herself.
There was a certain Lady Fawn — a pretty mincing married woman of about twenty-five, with a husband much older, who liked mild flirtations with mild young men. ‘I am afraid we’ve lost your great attraction,’ she whispered to him.
‘Certainly not as long as Lady Fawn is here,’ he said, seating himself close to her on a garden bench, and seizing suddenly hold of her hand. She gave a little scream and a jerk, and so relieved herself from him. ‘You see,’ said he, ‘people do make such mistakes about a man’s feelings.’
‘It’s quite true, but I’ll tell you about it another time,’ and so he left her. All these little troubles, his experience in the ‘House’, the necessity of snubbing Tifto, the choice of a wife, and his battle with Reginald Dobbes, were giving him by degrees age and flavour.
Lady Mabel had fluttered about him on his first coming, and had been very gracious, doing the part of an old friend. ‘There is to be a big shooting tomorrow,’ she said, in the presence of Mrs Jones.
‘If it is to come to that,’ he said, ‘I might as well go back to Dobbydom.’
‘You may shoot if you like,’ said Mabel.
‘I haven’t even brought a gun with me.’
‘Then we’ll have a walk — a whole lot of us,’ she said.
In the evening about an hour before dinner Silverbridge and Lady Mabel were seated together on the bank of a little stream which ran on the other side of the road, but on a spot not more than a furlong from the hall-door. She had brought him there, but she had done so without any definite scheme. She had made no plan of campaign for the evening, having felt relieved when she found herself able to postpone the project of her attack till the morrow. Of course there must be an attack, but how it should be made she had never the courage to tell herself. The great women of the world, the Semiramises, the Pocohontas, the Ida Pfeiffers, and the Charlotte Cordays, had never been wanting to themselves when the moment for action came. Now she was pleased to have this opportunity added to her; this pleasant minute in which some soft preparatory word might be spoken; but the great effort should be made on the morrow.
‘Is not this nicer than shooting with Mr Dobbes?’ she asked.
‘A great deal nicer. Of course I am bound to say so.’
‘But in truth, I want to find out what you really like. Men are so different. You need not pay me any compliment; you know that well enough.’
‘I like you better than Dobbes — if you mean that.’
‘Even so much is something.’
‘But I am fond of shooting.’
‘Only a man may have enough of it.’
‘Too much, if he is subject to Dobbes, as Dobbes likes them to be. Gerald likes it.’
‘Did you think it odd,’ she said after a pause, ‘that I should ask you to come over again?’
‘Was it odd?’ he replied.
‘That is as you may take it. There is certainly no other man in the world to whom I would have done it.’
‘Not to Tregear?’
‘Yes,’ she said; ‘yes — to Tregear, could I have been as sure of a welcome for him as I am for you. Frank is in all respects the same as a brother to me. That would not have seemed odd; — I mean to myself.’
‘And has this been — odd — to yourself?’
‘Yes. Not that anybody has felt it. Only I — and perhaps you. You felt it so?’
‘Not especially. I thought you were a good fellow. I have always thought that; — except when you made me take back the ring.’
‘Does that still fret you?’
‘No man likes to take back a thing. It makes him seem to have been awkward and stupid in giving it.’
‘It was the value —’
‘You should have left me to judge of that.’
‘If I have offended you I will beg your pardon. Give me anything but that, and I will take it.’
‘But why not that?’ said he.
‘Now that you have fitted it for a lady’s finger it should go to your wife. No one else should have it.’ Upon this he brought the ring once more out of his pocket and again offered it to her. ‘No; anything but that. That your wife must have.’ Then he put the ring back again. ‘It would have been nicer for you had Miss Boncassen been here.’ In saying this she followed no plan. It came rather from pique. It was almost as though she had asked him whether Miss Boncassen was to have the ring.
‘What makes you say that?’
‘But it would.’
‘Yes it would,’ he replied stoutly, turning round as he lay on the ground and facing her.
‘Has it come to that?’
‘Come to what? You ask me a question and I will answer it truly.’
‘You cannot be happy without her?’
‘I did not say so. You ask me whether I should like to have her here — and I say Yes. What would you think of me if I said No?’
‘My being here is not enough?’ This should not have been said, of course; but the little speech came from the exquisite pain of the moment. She had meant to have said hardly anything. She had intended to be happy with him, just touching lightly on things which might lead to that attack which must be made on the morrow. But words will often lead whither the speaker has not intended. So it was now, and in the soreness of her heart she spoke, ‘My being here is not enough?’
‘It would be enough,’ he said jumping to his feet, ‘if you would understand all and be kind to me.’
‘I will at any rate be kind to you,’ she replied, as she sat upon the bank looking at the running water.
‘I have asked Miss Boncassen to be my wife.’
‘And she has accepted?’
‘No; not as yet. She is to take three months to think of it. Of course I love her best of all. If you will sympathise with me in that, then I will be as happy with you as the day is long.’
‘No,’ said she, ‘I cannot. I will not.’
‘There should be no such marriage. If you have told me this in confidence —’
‘Of course I have told you in confidence.’
‘It will go no farther; but there can be no sympathy between us. It — it — it is not — is not —’ Then she burst into tears.
‘No, sir, no; no! What did you mean? But never mind. I have no question to ask, not a word to say. Why should I? Only this — that such a marriage will disgrace your family. To me it is no more than to anybody else. But it will disgrace your family.’
How she got back to the house she hardly knew; nor did he. That evening they did not again speak to each other, and on the following morning there was no walk to the mountains. Before dinner he drove himself back to Crummie-Toddie, and when he was taking his leave she shook hands with him with her usual pleasant smile.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55