The Duke before he left Custins had an interview with Lady Cantrip, at which that lady found herself called upon to speak her mind freely. ‘I don’t think she cares about Lord Popplecourt,’ Lady Cantrip said.
‘I am sure I don’t know why she should,’ said the Duke, who was often very aggravating even to his friend.
‘But as we had thought —’
‘She ought to do as she is told,’ said the Duke, remembering how obedient Glencora had been. ‘Has he spoken to her?’
‘I think not.’
‘Then how can we tell?’
‘I asked her to see him, but she expressed so much dislike that I could not press it. I am afraid, Duke, that you will find it difficult to deal with her.’
‘I have found it very difficult!’
‘As you have trusted me so much —’
‘Yes; — I have trusted you, and do trust you. I hope you understand that I appreciate your kindness.’
‘Perhaps then you will let me say what I think.’
‘Certainly, Lady Cantrip.’
‘Mary is a very peculiar girl — with great gifts — but —’
‘She is obstinate. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that she has great firmness of character. It is within your power to separate her from Mr Tregear. It would be foreign to her character to — to — leave you, except with your approbation.’
‘You mean, she will not run away.’
‘She will do nothing without your permission. But she will remain unmarried unless she be allowed to marry Mr Tregear.’
‘What do you advise then?’
‘That you should yield. As regards money, you could give them what they want. Let him go into public life. You could manage that for him.’
‘He is Conservative!’
‘What does that matter when the question is one of your daughter’s happiness? Everybody tells me that he is clever and well conducted.’
He betrayed nothing by his face as this was said to him. But as he got into the carriage he was a miserable man. It is very well to tell a man that he should yield, but there is nothing so wretched to a man as yielding. Young people and women have to yield — bur for such a man as this, to yield is in itself a misery. In this matter the Duke was quite certain of the propriety of his judgement. To yield would be not only to mortify himself; but to do wrong at the same time. He had convinced himself that the Popplecourt arrangement would come to nothing. Nor had he or Lady Cantrip combined been able to exercise over her the sort of power to which Lady Glencora had been subjected. If he had persevered — and he was still sure, almost sure, that he would persevere — his object must be achieved after a different fashion. There must be infinite suffering — suffering both to him and to her. Could she have been made to consent to marry someone else, terrible as the rupture might have been, she would have reconciled herself at last to her new life. So it had been with Glencora — after a time. Now the misery must go on from day to day beneath his eyes, with the knowledge on his part that he was crushing all the joy out of her young life, and the conviction on her part that she was being treated with continued cruelty by her father! It was a terrible prospect! But if it was manifestly his duty to act after this fashion, must he not do his duty?
If he were to find that by persevering in this course he would doom her to death, or perchance to madness — what then? If it were right, he must still do it. He must still do it, if the weakness incident to his human nature did not rob him of the necessary firmness. If every foolish girl were indulged, all restraint would be lost, and there would be an end to those rules as to birth and position by which he thought his world was kept straight. And then, mixed with all this, was his feeling of the young man’s arrogance in looking for such a match. Here was a man without a shilling, whose manifest duty was to go to work so that he might earn his bread, who instead of doing so, he hoped to raise himself to wealth and position by entrapping the heart of an unwary girl! There was something to the Duke’s thinking base in this, and much more base because the unwary girl was his own daughter. That such a man as Tregear should make an attack upon him and select his rank, his wealth, and his child as the stepping-stones by which he intended to rise! What could be so mean as that a man should seek to live by looking out for a wife with money? But what so impudent, so arrogant, so unblushingly disregardful of propriety, as that he should endeavour to select his victim from such a family as the Pallisers, and that he should lay his impious hand on the very daughter of the Duke of Omnium?
But together with all this came upon him his moments of ineffable tenderness. He felt as though he longed to take her in his arms and tell her, that if she were unhappy, so would he be unhappy too — to make her understand that a hard necessity had made his sorrow common to them both. He thought that, if she would only allow it, he could speak of her love as a calamity which had befallen them, as from the hand of fate, and not as a fault. If he could make a partnership in misery with her, so that each might believe that each was acting for the best, then he could endure all that might come. But, as he was well aware, she regarded him as being simply cruel to her. She did not understand that he was performing an imperative duty. She had set her heart upon a certain object, and having taught herself that in that way happiness might be reached, had no conception that there should be something in the world, some idea of personal dignity, more valuable to her than the fruition of her own desires! And yet every word he spoke to her was affectionate. He knew that she was bruised, and if it might be possible he would pour oil into her wounds — even though she would not recognise the hand which relieved her.
They slept one night in town — where they encountered Silverbridge soon after his retreat from the Beargarden. ‘I cannot quite make up my mind, sir, about that fellow Tifto,’ he said to his father.
‘I hope you have made up your mind that he is not fit companion for yourself.’
‘That’s over. Everybody understands that, sir.’
‘Is anything more necessary?’
‘I don’t like feeling that he has been ill-used. They have made him resign the club, and I fancy they won’t have him at the hunt.’
‘He has lost no money by you!’
‘Then I think you may be indifferent. From all that I hear I think he must have won money — which will probably be a consolation to him.’
‘I think they have been hard upon him,’ continued Silverbridge. ‘Of course he is not a good man, nor a gentleman, nor possessed of very high feelings. But a man is not to be sacrificed altogether for that. There are so many men who are not gentlemen, and so many gentlemen who are bad fellows.’
‘I have no doubt Mr Lupton knew what he was about,’ replied the Duke.
On the next morning the Duke and Lady Mary went down to Matching, and as they sat together in the carriage after leaving the railway the father endeavoured to make himself pleasant to his daughter. ‘I suppose we shall stay at Matching till Christmas,’ he said.
‘I hope so.’
‘Whom would you like to have here?’
‘I don’t want anyone, papa.’
‘You will be very sad without somebody. Would you like the Finns?’
‘If you please, papa. I like her. He never talks anything but politics.’
‘He is none the worse for that, Mary. I wonder whether Lady Mabel Grex would come.’
‘Lady Mabel Grex!’
‘Do you not like her?’
‘Oh yes; — but what made you think of her, papa?’
‘Perhaps Silverbridge would come to us then.’
Lady Mary thought that she knew a great deal more about that than her father did. ‘Is he fond of Lady Mabel, papa?’
‘Well — I don’t know. There are secrets which should not be told. I think they are very good friends. I would not have her asked unless it would please you.’
‘I like her very much, papa.’
‘And perhaps we might get the Boncassens to come to us. I did say a word to him about it.’ Now, as Mary felt, difficulty was heaping itself upon difficulty. ‘I have seldom met a man in whose company I could take more pleasure than in that Mr Boncassen; and the young lady seems to be worthy of her father.’ Mary was silent, feeling the complication of the difficulties. ‘Do you not like her?’ asked the Duke.
‘Very much indeed,’ said Mary.
‘Then let us fix a day and ask them. If you will come to me after dinner with an almanac we will arrange it. Of course you will invite Miss Cassewary too?’
The complication seemed to be very bad indeed. In the first place was it not clear that she, Lady Mary, ought not to be a party to asking Miss Boncassen to meet her brother at Matching? Would it not be imperative on her part to tell her father the whole story? And yet how could she do that? It had been told to her in confidence, and she remembered what her own feelings had been when Mrs Finn had suggested the propriety of telling the story which had been told to her! And how would it be possible to ask Lady Mabel to come to Matching to meet Miss Boncassen in the presence of Silverbridge! If the party could be made up without Silverbridge things might run smoothly.
As she was thinking of this in her own room, thinking also how happy she could be if one other name could be added to the list of guests, the Duke had gone alone into his library. There a pile of letters reached him, among which he found one marked ‘Private’, and addressed in a hand which he did not recognise. This he opened suddenly — with a conviction that it would contain a thorn — and, turning over the page found the signature to be ‘Francis Tregear’. The man’s name was wormwood to him. He at once felt that he would wish to have his dinner, his fragment brought to him in that solitary room, and that he might remain secluded for the rest of the evening. But still he must read the letter — and he read it.
‘MY DEAR LORD DUKE,
‘If my mode of addressing your Grace be too familiar I hope you will excuse it. It seems to me that if I were to use one more distant, I should myself be detracting something from my right to make the claim which I intend to put forward. You know what my feelings are in reference to your daughter. I do not pretend to suppose that they should have the least weight with you. But you know also what her feelings are for me. A man seems to be vain when he expresses his conviction of a woman’s love for himself. But this matter is so important to her as well as to me that I am compelled to lay aside all pretence. If she do not love me as I love her, then the whole thing drops to the ground. Then it will be for me to take myself off from out of your notice — and from hers, and to keep to myself whatever heart-breaking I may have to undergo. But if she be as steadfast in this matter as I am — if her happiness be fixed on marrying me as mine to marrying her — then, I think, I am entitled to ask you whether you are justified in keeping us apart.
‘I know well what are the discrepancies. Speaking from my own feeling I regard very little those of rank. I believe myself to be as good a gentleman as though my father’s forefathers had sat for centuries past in the House of Lords. I believe that you would have thought so also had you and I been brought in contact on any other subject. The discrepancy with regard to money is, I own, a great trouble to me. Having no wealth of my own I wish that your daughter were so circumstanced that I could go out into the world and earn bread for her. I know myself so well that I dare say positively that her money — if it be that she will have money — had no attractions for me when I first became acquainted with her and adds nothing now to the persistency with which I claim her hand.
‘But I venture to ask whether you can dare to keep us apart if her happiness depends on her lover for me? It is now more than six months since I called upon you in London and explained my wishes. You will understand me when I say that I cannot be contented to sit idle, trusting simply to the assurance I have of her affection. Did I doubt it, my way would be more clear. I should feel in that case that she would yield to your wishes, and I should then, as I have said before, just take myself out of the way. But if it be not so, then I am bound to do something — on her behalf as well as my own. What am I to do? Any endeavours to meet her clandestinely is against my instincts, and would certainly be rejected by her. A secret correspondence would be equally distasteful to both of us. Whatever I do in this matter, I wish you to know that I do it.
‘Yours always, ‘Most faithfully, and with the deepest respect,’ ‘FRANCIS TREGEAR.’
He read the letter very carefully, and was at first simply astonished by what he considered to be the unparalleled arrogance of the young man. In regard to rank this young gentleman thought himself to be as good as anybody else! In regard to money he did acknowledge some inferiority. But that was a misfortune, and could not be helped! Not only was the letter arrogant — but the fact that he should dare to write any letter on such a subject was proof of most unpardonable arrogance. The Duke walked about the room thinking of it till he was almost in a passion. Then he read the letter again and was gradually pervaded by a feeling of manliness. Its arrogance remained, but with its arrogance there was a certain boldness which induced respect. Whether I am such a son-in-law as you would like or not, it is your duty to accept me, if by refusing to do so you will render your daughter miserable. That was Mr Tregear’s argument. He himself might be prepared to argue in answer that it was his duty to reject such a son-in-law, even though by rejecting him he might make his daughter miserable. He was not shaken; but with his condemnation of the young man there was mingled something of respect.
He continued to digest the letter before the hour of dinner, and when the almanac was brought to him he fixed on certain days. The Boncassens he knew would be free from engagements in ten days’ time. As to Lady Mabel, he seemed to think it almost certain that she would come. ‘I believe she is always going about from one house to another at this time of the year,’ said Mary.
‘I think she will come to us if it be possible,’ said the Duke. ‘And you must write to Silverbridge.’
‘And what about Mr and Mrs Finn?’
‘She promised she would come again, you know. They are at their own place in Surrey. They will come unless they have friends with them. They have no shooting, and nothing brings people together now except shooting. I suppose there are better things here to be shot. And be sure you write to Silverbridge.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14