During the next day or two the shooting went on without much interruption from love-making. The love-making was not prosperous all round. Poor Lady Mary had nothing to comfort her. Could she have been allowed to see the letter which her lover had written to her father, the comfort would have been, if not ample, still very great. Mary told herself again and again that she was quite sure of Tregear; — but it was hard upon her that she could not be made certain that her certainty was well grounded. Had she known that Tregear had written, though she had not seen a word of the letter, it would have comforted her. But she heard nothing of the letter. In June last she had seen him, by chance, for a few minutes, in Lady Mabel’s drawing-room. Since that she had not heard from him or of him. That was now more than five months since. How could love serve her — how could her very life serve her, if things were to go on like that? How was she to bear it? Thinking of this she resolved, she almost resolved, that she would go boldly to her father and desire that she might be given up to her lover.
Her brother, although more triumphant — for how could he fail to triumph after such words as Isabel had spoken to him — still felt his difficulties very seriously. She had imbued him with a strong sense of her own firmness, and she had declared that she would go away and leave him altogether if the Duke should be unwilling to receive her. He knew that the Duke would be unwilling. The Duke, who certainly was not handy in those duties of match-making which seemed to have fallen upon him at the death of his wife, showed by a hundred little signs his anxiety that his son and heir should arrange his affairs with Lady Mabel. These signs were manifest to Mary — were disagreeably manifest to Silverbridge — and were unfortunately manifest to Lady Mabel herself. They were manifest to Mrs Finn, who was clever enough to perceive that the inclinations of the young heir were turned in another direction. And gradually they became manifest to Isabel Boncassen. The host himself, as host, was courteous to all his guests. They had been of his own selection, and he did his best to make himself pleasant to them all. But he selected two for his peculiar notice — and those two were Miss Boncassen and Lady Mabel. While he would himself walk, and talk, and argue after his own particular fashion with the American beauty — explaining to her matters political and social, till he persuaded her to promise to read his pamphlet upon decimal coinage — he was always making efforts to throw Silverbridge and Lady Mabel together. The two girls saw it and knew how the matter was — knew that they were rivals, and knew each the ground on which she herself and on which the other stood. But neither was satisfied with her advantage, or nearly satisfied. Isabel would not take the prize without the Duke’s consent; —-and Mabel could not have it without that other consent. ‘If you want to marry an English Duke,’ she once said to Isabel in that anger which she was unable to restrain, ‘there is the Duke himself. I never saw a man so absolutely in love.’ ‘But I do not want to marry an English Duke,’ said Isabel, ‘and I pity any girl who has any idea of marriage except that which comes from a wish to give back love for love.’
Through it all the father never suspected the real state of his son’s mind. He was too simple to think it possible that the purpose which Silverbridge had declared to him as they walked together from the Beargarden had already been thrown to the winds. He did not like to ask why the thing was not settled. Young men, he thought, were sometimes shy, and young ladies not always ready to give immediate encouragement. But when he saw them together he concluded that matters were going in the right direction. It was, however, an opinion which he had all to himself.
During the next three or four days which followed the scene in the billiard-room Isabel kept herself out of her lover’s way. She had explained to him that which she wished him to do, and she left him to do it. Day by day she watched the circumstances of the life around her, and knew that it had not been done. She was sure that it could not have been done while the Duke was explaining to her the beauty of quints, and expiating on the horrors of twelve pennies, and twelve inches, and twelve ounces — variegated in some matters by sixteen and fourteen! He could not know that she was ambitious of becoming his daughter-in-law, while he was opening out to her the mysteries of the House of Lords, and explaining how it came to pass that while he was a member of one House of Parliament, his son should be sitting as a member of another; — how it was that a nobleman could be a commoner, and how a peer of one part of the Empire could sit as the representative of a borough in another part. She was an apt scholar. Had there been a question of any other young man marrying her, he would probably have thought that no other young man could have done better.
Silverbridge was discontented with himself. The greater misfortune was that Lady Mabel should be there. While she was present to his father’s eyes he did not know how to declare his altered wishes. Every now and then she would say to him some little word indicating her feelings of the absurdity of his passion. ‘I declare I don’t know whether it is you or your father that Miss Boncassen most affects,’ she said. But to this and to other similar speeches he would make no answer. She had extracted his secret from him at Killancodlem, and might use it against him if she pleased. In his present frame of mind he was not disposed to joke with her on the subject.
On that second Sunday — the Boncassens were to return to London on the following Tuesday — he found himself alone with Isabel’s father. The American had been brought out at his own request to see the stables, and had been accompanied round the premises by Silverbridge, Mr Wharton, by Isabel, and by Lady Mary. As they got out into the park the party were divided, and Silverbridge found himself with Mr Boncassen. Then it occurred to him that the proper thing for a young man in love was to go, not to his own father, but to the lady’s father. Why should not he do as others always did? Isabel no doubt had suggested a different course. But that which Isobel suggested was at the present moment impossible to him. Now at this instant, without a moment’s forethought, he determined to tell his story to Isabel’s father — as any other young lover might tell it to any other father.
‘I am very glad to find ourselves alone, Mr Boncassen,’ he said. Mr Boncassen bowed and showed himself prepared to listen. Though so many at Matching had seen the whole play, Mr Boncassen had seen nothing of it.
‘I don’t know whether you are aware of what I have got to say.’
‘I cannot quite say that I am, my lord. But whatever it is, I am sure I shall be delighted to hear it.’
‘I want to marry your daughter,’ said Silverbridge. Isabel had told him that he was downright, and in such a matter he had hardly as yet learned how to express himself with those paraphrases in which the world delights. Mr Boncassen stood stock still, and in the excitement of the moment pulled off his hat. ‘The proper thing is to ask your permission to go on with it.’
‘You want to marry my daughter!’
‘Yes. That is what I have got to say.’
‘Is she aware of your — intention?’
‘Quite aware. I believe I may say that if other things go straight, she will consent.’
‘And your father — the Duke?’
‘He knows nothing about it — as yet.’
‘Really this takes me by surprise. I am afraid you have not given enough thought to the matter.’
‘I have been thinking about it for the last three months,’ said Lord Silverbridge.
‘Marriage is a very serious thing.’
‘Of course it is.’
‘And men generally like to marry their equals.’
‘I don’t know about that. I don’t think that counts for much. People don’t always know who are their equals.’
‘That is quite true. If I were speaking to you or to your father theoretically I should perhaps be unwilling to admit superiority on your side because of your rank and wealth. I could make an argument in favour of any equality with the best Briton that ever lived — as would become a true-born Republican.’
‘That is just what I mean.’
‘But when the question becomes one of practising — a question for our lives, for our happiness, for our own conduct, then, knowing what must be the feelings of an aristocracy in such a country as this, I am prepared to admit that your father would be as well justified in objecting to a marriage between a child of his and a child of mine, as I should be in objecting to one between my child and the son of some mechanic in our native city.’
‘He wouldn’t be a gentleman,’ said Silverbridge.
‘That is a word of which I don’t quite know the meaning.’
‘I do,’ said Silverbridge confidently.
‘But you could not define it. If a man be well educated, and can keep a good house over his head, perhaps you may call him a gentleman. But there are many such with whom your father would not wish to be so closely connected to as you propose.’
‘But I may have your sanction?’ Mr Boncassen again took off his hat and walked along thoughtfully. ‘I hope you don’t object to me personally.’
‘My dear young lord, your father has gone out of his way to be civil to me. Am I to return his courtesy by bringing a great trouble upon him?’
‘He seems to be very fond of Miss Boncassen.’
‘Will he continue to be fond of her when he has heard this? What does Isabel say?’
‘She says the same as you, of course.’
‘Why of course; — except that it is evident to you as it is to me that she could not with propriety say anything else.’
‘I think she would — would like it, you know.’
‘She would like to be your wife!’
‘Well; — yes. If it were all serene, I think she would consent.’
‘I daresay she would consent — if it were all serene. Why should she not? do not try her too hard, Lord Silverbridge. You say you love her?’
‘I do indeed.’
‘Then think of the position in which you are placing her. You are struggling to win her heart.’ Silverbridge as he heard this assured himself that there was no need for any further struggling in that direction. ‘Perhaps you have won it. Yet she may feel that she cannot become your wife. She may well say to herself that this which is offered to her is so great, that she does not know how to refuse it; and may yet have to say, at the same time, that she cannot accept it without disgrace. You would not put one that you love into such a position?’
‘As for disgrace — that is nonsense. I beg your pardon, Mr Boncassen.’
‘Would it be no disgrace that she should be known here, in England, to be your wife, and that none of those of your rank — of what would then be her own rank — should welcome her into the new world?’
‘That would be out of the question.’
‘If your own father refused to welcome her, would not others follow suit?’
‘You don’t know my father.’
‘You seem to know him well enough to fear that he would object.’
‘Yes; — that is true.’
‘What more do I want to know?’
‘If she were once my wife he would not reject her. Of all human beings he is in truth the kindest and most affectionate.’
‘And therefore you would try him after this fashion? No, my lord, I cannot see my way through these difficulties. You can say what you please to him as to your own wishes. But you must not tell him that you have any sanction from me.’
That evening the story was told to Mrs Boncassen, and the matter was discussed among the family. Isabel in talking to them made no scruple of declaring her own feelings; and though in speaking to Lord Silverbridge she had spoken very much as her father had done afterwards, yet in this family conclave she took her lover’s part. ‘That is all very well, father,’ she said, ‘I told him the same thing myself. But if he is man enough to be firm I shall not throw him over — not for all the dukes in Europe. I shall not stay here to be pointed at. I will go back home. If he follows me to show that he is in earnest, I shall not disappoint him for the sake of pleasing his father.’ To this neither Mr nor Mrs Boncassen were able to make any efficient answer. Mrs Boncassen, dear good woman, could see no reason why two young people who loved each other should not be married at once. Dukes and duchesses were nothing to her. If they couldn’t be happy in England then let them come and live in New York. She didn’t understand that anybody could be too good for her daughter. Was there not an idea that Mr Boncassen would be the next President? And was not the President of the United States as good as the Queen of England?
Lord Silverbridge when he left Mr Boncassen wandered about the park by himself. King Cophetua married the beggar’s daughter. He was sure of that. King Cophetua probably had not a father, and the beggar, probably, was not high-minded. But the discrepancy in that case was much greater. He intended to persevere, trusting much to a belief that when once he was married his father would ‘come round’. His father always did come round. But the more he thought of it, the more impossible it seemed to him that he should ask his father’s consent at the present moment. Lady Mabel’s presence in the house was an insuperable obstacle. He thought that he could do it if he and his father were alone together, or comparatively alone. He must be prepared for an opposition, at any rate of some days, which opposition would make his father quite unable to entertain his guests while it lasted.
But as he could not declare his wishes to his father, and was thus disobeying Isabel’s behests, he must explain the difficulty to her. He felt already that she would despise him for his cowardice — that she would not perceive the difficulties in his way, or understand that he might injure his cause by precipitation. Then he considered whether he might not possibly make some bargain with his father. How would it be if he should consent to go back to the Liberal party on being allowed to marry the girl he loved? As far as his political feelings were concerned he did not think that he would much object to make the change. There was only one thing certain — that he must explain his condition to Miss Boncassen before she went.
He found no difficulty now in getting the opportunity. She was equally anxious, and as well disposed to acknowledge her anxiety. After what had passed between them she was not desirous of pretending that the matter was of small moment to herself. She had told him that it was all the world to her, and had begged him to let her know her fate as quickly as possible. On that last Monday morning they were in the grounds together, and Lady Mabel, who was walking with Mrs Finn, saw them pass through a little gate which led from the gardens into the Priory ruins. ‘It all means nothing,’ Mabel said with a little laugh to her companion.
‘If so, I am sorry for the young lady,’ said Mrs Finn.
‘Don’t you think that one always has to be sorry for the young ladies? Young ladies generally have a bad time of it. Did you ever hear of a gentleman who always had to roll a stone to the top of a hill, but it would always come back on him?’
‘That gentleman I believe never succeeded,’ said Mrs Finn. ‘The young ladies sometimes do, I suppose.’
In the meantime Isabel and Silverbridge were among the ruins together. ‘This is where the old Pallisers used to be buried,’ he said.
‘Oh, indeed. And married, I suppose.’
‘I daresay. They had a priest of their own, no doubt, which must have been convenient. This block of a fellow without any legs is supposed to represent Sir Guy. He ran away with half-a-dozen heiresses, they say. I wish things were as easily done now.’
‘Nobody should have to run away with me. I have no idea of going on such a journey except on terms of equality — just step and step alike.’ Then she took hold of his arm and put out one foot. ‘Are you ready?’
‘I am very willing.’
‘But are you ready — for a straightforward walk off to the church before all the world? None of your private chaplains, such as Sir Guy had at his command. Just the registrar, if there is nothing better — so that it be public before all the world.’
‘I wish we could start this instant.’
‘But we can’t — can we?’
‘No, dear. So many things have to be settled.’
‘And what have you settled on since you last spoke to me?’
‘I have told your father everything.’
‘Yes; — I know that. What good does that do? Father is not a Duke of Omnium. No one supposed that he would object.’
‘But he did,’ said Silverbridge.
‘Yes; — as I do — for the same reason; because he would not have his daughter creep in at a hole. But to your own father you have not ventured to speak.’ Then he told his story, as best he knew how. It was not that he feared his father, but that he felt that the present moment was not fit. ‘He wishes you to marry that Lady Mabel Grex,’ she said. He nodded his head. ‘And you will marry her?’
‘Never! I might have done so, had I not seen you. I should have done so, if she had been willing. But now I never can — never, never.’ Her hand had dropped from his arm, but now she put it up again for a moment, so that he might feel the pressure of her fingers. ‘Say that you believe me.’
‘I think I do.’
‘You know I love you.’
‘I think you do. I am sure I hope you do. If you don’t, then I am — a miserable wretch.’
‘With all my heart I do.’
‘Then I am as proud as a queen. You will tell him soon.’
‘As soon as you are gone. As soon as we are alone together. I will; — and then I will follow you to London. Now shall we not say, Good-bye?’
‘Good-bye, my own,’ she whispered.
‘You will let me have one kiss.’
Her hand was in his, and she looked as though to see that no eyes were watching them. But then, as thoughts came rushing to her mind, she changed her purpose. ‘No,’ she said. ‘What is it but a trifle! It is nothing in itself. But I have bound myself to myself by certain promises, and you must not ask me to break them. You are as sweet to me as I can be to you, but there shall be no kissing till I know that I shall be your wife. Now take me back.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14