When the Duke and his daughter reached Custins they found a large party assembled, and were somewhat surprised at the crowd. Lord and Lady Nidderdale were there, which might have been expected as they were part of the family. With Lord Popplecourt had come his recent friend Adolphus Longstaff. That too might have been natural. Mr and Miss Boncassen were there also, who at this moment were quite strangers to the Duke; and Mr Lupton. The Duke also found Lady Chiltern, whose father-in-law had more than once sat in the same Cabinet with himself, and Mr Monk, who was generally spoken of as the head of the coming Liberal Government, and the Ladies Adelaide and Flora FitzHoward, the still unmarried but not very juvenile daughters of the Duke of St Bungay. These with a few others made a large party, and rather confused the Duke, who had hardly reflected that discreet and profitable love-making was more likely to go on among numbers, than if the two young people were thrown together with no other companions.
Lord Popplecourt had been made to understand what was expected of him, and after some hesitation had submitted himself to the conspiracy. There would not be less at any rate than two hundred thousand pounds — and the connection would be made with one of the highest families in Great Britain. Though Lady Cantrip had said very few words, those words had been expressive; and the young bachelor peer had given in his adhesion. Some vague half-defined tale had been told him — not about Tregear, as Tregear’s name had not been mentioned — but respecting some dream of a young man who had flitted across the girl’s path during her mother’s lifetime. ‘All girls have such dreams,’ Lady Cantrip had suggested. Whereupon Lord Popplecourt said that he supposed it was so. ‘But a softer, purer, more unsullied flower never waited upon its stalk till the proper fingers should choose to come and pluck it,’ said Lady Cantrip, rising to unaccustomed poetry on behalf of her friend the Duke. Lord Popplecourt accepted the poetry and was ready to do his best to pluck the flower.
Soon after the Duke’s arrival Lord Popplecourt found himself in one of the drawing-rooms with Lady Cantrip and his propose father-in-law. A hint had been given him that he might as well be home early from shooting, so as to be in the way. As the hour in which he was to make himself specially agreeable, both to the father and to the daughter, had drawn nigh, he became somewhat nervous, and now, at this moment, was not altogether comfortable. Though he had been concerned in no such matter before, he had an idea that love was a soft kind of thing which ought to steal on one unawares and come and go without trouble. In his case it came upon him with a rough demand for immediate hard work. He had not previously thought that he was to be subjected to such labours, and at this moment almost resented the interference with his ease. He was already a little angry with Lady Cantrip, but at the same time felt himself to be so much in subjection to her that he could not rebel.
The Duke himself when he saw the young man was hardly more comfortable. He had brought his daughter to Custins, feeling that it was his duty to be with her; but he would have preferred to leave the whole operation to the care of Lady Cantrip. He hardly liked to look at the fish whom he wished to catch for his daughter. Whenever this aspect of affairs presented itself to him, he would endeavour to console himself by remembering the past success of a similar transaction. He thought of his own first interview with his wife. ‘You have heard,’ he said, ‘what our friends wish.’ She had pouted her lips, and when gently pressed had at last muttered, with her shoulder turned to him, that she supposed it was to be so. Very much more coercion had been used to her than either himself or Lady Cantrip had dared to apply to his daughter. He did not think that his girl in her present condition of mind would signify to Lord Popplecourt that she ‘supposed it was to be so’. Now that the time for the transaction was present he felt almost sure that it would never be transacted. But still he must go on with it. Were he now to abandon his scheme, would it not be tantamount to abandoning everything? So he wreathed his face in smiles — or made some attempt at it — as he greeted the young man.
‘I hope you and Lady Mary had a pleasant journey abroad,’ said Lord Popplecourt. Lord Popplecourt being aware that he had been chosen as a son-in-law felt himself called upon to be familiar as well as pleasant. ‘I often thought of you and Lady Mary, and wondered what you were about.’
‘We were visiting lakes and mountains, churches and picture galleries, cities, and salt mines,’ said the Duke.
‘Does Lady Mary like that sort of thing?’
‘I think she was pleased with what she saw.
‘She has been abroad a great deal before, I believe. It depends so much on whom you meet when abroad.’
This was unfortunate because it recalled Tregear to the Duke’s mind. ‘We saw very few people whom we knew,’ he said.
‘I’ve been shooting in Scotland with Silverbridge, and Gerald, and Reginald Dobbes, and Nidderdale — and that fellow Tregear, who is so thick with Silverbridge.’
‘I’m told that Lord Gerald is going to be the great shot of the day,’ said Lady Cantrip.
‘It is a distinction,’ said the Duke bitterly.
‘He did not beat me by so much,’ continued Popplecourt. ‘I think Tregear did the best with his rifle. One morning he potted three. Dobbes was disgusted. He hated Tregear.’
‘Isn’t it stupid — half-a-dozen men getting together in that way?’ asked Lady Cantrip.
‘Nidderdale is always jolly.’
‘I am glad to hear that,’ said the mother-in-law.
‘And Gerald is a regular brick.’ the Duke bowed. ‘Silverbridge used always to be going off to Killancodlem, where there were a lot of ladies. He is very sweet, you know, on this American girl whom you have here.’ Again the Duke winced. ‘Dobbes is awfully good as to making out the shooting, but then he his a tyrant. Nevertheless I agree with him, if you mean to do a thing you should do it.’
‘Certainly,’ said the Duke. ‘But you should make up your mind first whether the thing is worth doing.’
‘Just so,’ said Popplecourt. ‘And as grouse and deer together are about the best things out, most of us made up our minds that it was worth doing. But that fellow Tregear would argue it out. He said a gentleman oughtn’t to play billiards as well as a marker.’
‘I think he was right,’ said the Duke.
‘Do you know Mr Tregear, Duke?’
‘I have met him — with my son.’
‘Do you like him?’
‘I have seen very little of him.’
‘I cannot say I do. He thinks so much of himself. Of course he is very intimate with Silverbridge, and that is all that anyone knows of him.’ The Duke bowed almost haughtily, though why he bowed he could hardly have explained to himself. Lady Cantrip bit her lips in disgust. ‘He’s just the fellow,’ continued Popplecourt, ‘to think that some princess has fallen in love with him.’ Then the Duke left the room.
‘You had better not talk to him about Mr Tregear,’ said Lady Cantrip.
‘I don’t know whether he approves of the intimacy between him and Lord Silverbridge.’
‘I should think not; — a man without any position or a shilling in the world.’
‘The Duke is peculiar. If a subject is distasteful to him he does not like it to be mentioned. You had better not mention Mr Tregear,’ Lady Cantrip as she said this blushed inwardly at her own hypocrisy.
It was of course contrived at dinner that Lord Popplecourt should take out Lady Mary. It is impossible to discover how such things get wind, but there was already an idea prevalent at Custins that Lord Popplecourt had matrimonial views, and that these views were looked upon favourably. ‘You may be quite sure of it, Mr Lupton,’ Lady Adelaide FitzHoward had said. ‘I’ll make a bet they’re married before this time next year.’
‘It will be a terrible case of Beauty and the Beast,’ said Lupton.
Lady Chiltern had whispered a suspicion of the same kind, and had expressed a hope that the lover would be worthy of the girl. And Dolly Longstaff had chaffed his friend Popplecourt on the subject, Popplecourt having laid himself open by indiscreet allusions to Dolly’s love for Miss Boncassen. ‘Everybody can’t have it as easily arranged for him as you — a Duke’s daughter and a pot of money without so much as the trouble of asking for it!’
‘What do you know about the Duke’s children?’
‘That’s what it is to be a lord and not to have a father.’ Popplecourt tried to show that he was disgusted; but he felt himself all the more strongly bound to go on with the project.
It was therefore a matter of course that these should-be lovers would be sent out of the room together. ‘You’ll give your arm to Mary,’ Lady Cantrip said, dropping the ceremonial prefix. Lady Mary of course went out as she was bidden. Though everybody else knew it, no idea of what was intended had yet come across her mind.
The should-be lover immediately reverted to the Austrian tour, expressing a hope that his neighbour enjoyed herself. ‘There’s nothing I like so much myself,’ said he, remembering some of the Duke’s words, ‘as mountains, cities, salt mines, and all that kind of thing. There’s such a lot of interest about it.’
‘Did you ever see a salt mine?’
‘Well; — not exactly a salt mine; but I have coal mines on my property in Staffordshire. I’m very fond of coal. I hope you like coal.’
‘I like salt a great deal better — to look at.’
‘But which do you think pays best? I don’t mind telling you — though it’s a kind of thing I never talk about to strangers — the royalties from the Blogownie and Toodlem mines go up regularly two thousand pounds every year.’
‘I thought we were talking about what was pretty to look at.’
‘So we were. I’m as fond of pretty things as anybody. Do you know Reginald Dobbes?’
‘No, I don’t. Is he pretty?’
‘He used to be so angry with Silverbridge, because Silverbridge would say Crummie-Toddie was ugly.’
‘Was Crummie-Toddie ugly?’
‘Just a plain house on a moor.’
‘That sound ugly.’
‘I suppose your family likes pretty things.’
‘I hope so.’
‘I do, I know.’ Lord Popplecourt endeavoured to look as though he intended to understand that she was the pretty thing which he most particularly liked. She partly conceived his meaning, and was disgusted accordingly. On the other side of her sat Mr Boncassen, to whom she had been introduced in the drawing-room — and who had said a few words to her about some Norwegian poet. She turned round to him, and asked him some questions about Skald, and so, getting into conversation with him, managed to turn her shoulder to her suitor. On the other side of him sat Lady Rosina De Courcy, to whom, as being an old woman and an old maid, he felt very little inclined to be courteous. She said a word, asking him whether he did not think the weather was treacherous. He answered her very curtly, and sat bolt upright, looking forward on the table, and taking his dinner as it came to him. He had been put there in order that Lady Mary Palliser might talk to him, and he regarded interference on the part of that old American as being ungentlemanlike. But the old American disregarded him, and went on with his quotations from the Scandinavian bard. But Mr Boncassen sat next to Lady Cantrip, and when at last he was called upon to give his ear to the countess, Lady Mary was again vacant for Popplecourt’s attentions. ‘Are you very fond of poetry?’ he asked.
‘So am I. Which do you like best, Tennyson or Shakespeare?’
‘They are very unlike.’
‘Yes; — they are unlike. Or Moore’s Melodies. I am very fond of “When in death I shall calm recline”. I think this equal to anything. I think Reginald Dobbes would have it as all bosh.’
‘Then I think that Mr Reginald Dobbes must be all bosh himself.’
‘There was a man there named Tregear who had brought some books.’ Then there was a pause. Lady Mary had not a word to say. ‘Dobbes used to declare that he was always pretending to read poetry.’
‘Mr Tregear never pretends anything.’
‘Do you know him?’ asked the rival.
‘He’s my brother’s most particular friend.’
‘Ah! yes. I dare say Silverbridge has talked to you about him. I think he’s a stuck-up sort of fellow.’ To this there was not a word of reply. ‘Where did your brother pick him up?’
‘They were at Oxford together.’
‘I must say I think he gives himself airs; — because, you know, he’s nobody.’
‘I don’t know anything of the kind,’ said Lady Mary, becoming very red. ‘And as he is my brother’s most particular friend — his very friend of friends — I think you had better not abuse him to me.’
‘I don’t think the Duke is very fond of him.’
‘I don’t care who is fond of him. I am very fond of Silverbridge, and I won’t hear his friend ill spoken of. I dare say he had some books with him. He is not at all the sort of man to go to a place and satisfy himself with doing nothing but killing animals.’
‘Do you know him, Lady Mary?’
‘I have seen him, and of course I have heard a great deal of him from Silverbridge. I would rather not talk any more about him.’
‘You seem to be very fond of Mr Tregear,’ he said angrily.
‘It is no business of yours, Lord Popplecourt, whether I am fond of anybody or not. I have told you that Mr Tregear is my brother’s friend, and that ought to be enough.’
Lord Popplecourt was a young man possessed of a certain amount of ingenuity. It was said of him that he knew on which side his bread was buttered, and that if you wished to take him in you must get up early. After dinner, and during the night he pondered a good deal on what he had heard. Lady Cantrip had told him there had been a — dream. What was he to believe about that dream? Had he not better avoid the error of putting too fine a point upon it, and tell himself at once that a dream in this instance meant a — lover! Lady Mary had already been troubled by a lover! He was disposed to believe that young ladies often do have objectionable lovers, and that things get themselves right afterwards. Young ladies can be made to understand the beauty of coal mines almost as readily as young gentlemen. There would be the two hundred thousand pounds; and there was the girl, beautiful and well-born, and thoroughly well-mannered. But what if this Tregear and the dream were one and the same? If so, had he not received plenty of evidence that the dream had not yet passed away? A remnant of affection for the dream would not have been a fatal barrier, had not the girl been so fierce with him in her defence of her dream. He remembered too, what the Duke had said about Tregear, and Lady Cantrip’s advice to him to be silent in respect to this man. And then do girls generally defend their brother’s friends as she had defended Tregear? He thought not. Putting all these things together on the following morning he came to an uncomfortable belief that Tregear was the dream.
Soon after that he found himself near to Dolly Longstaff as they were shooting. ‘You know that fellow Tregear, don’t you?’
‘Oh Lord yes. He is Silverbridge’s pal.’
‘Did you ever hear anything about him?’
‘What sort of thing?’
‘Was he ever — in love with anyone?’
‘I fancy he used to be awfully spooney on Mab Grex. I remember hearing that they were to have been married, only that neither of them had sixpence.’
‘Oh — Lady Mabel Grex! That’s a horse of another colour.’
‘And which is the horse of your colour?’
‘I haven’t got a horse,’ said Popplecourt, going away to his own corner.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01