Then Lord Silverbridge necessarily went down to Matching, knowing that he must meet Mabel Grex. Why should she have prolonged her visit? No doubt it might have been very pleasant for her to be his father’s guest at Matching, but she had been there above a month! He could understand that his father should ask her to remain. His father was still brooding over that foolish communication which had been made to him on the night of the dinner at the Beargarden. His father was still intending to take Mabel to his arms as a daughter-in-law. But Lady Mabel herself knew that it could not be so! The whole truth had been told to her. Why should she remain at Matching for the sake of being mixed up in a scene the acting of which could not fail to be disagreeable to her?
He found the house very quiet and nearly empty. Mrs Finn was there with the two girls, and Mr Warburton had come back. Miss Cassewary had gone to a brother’s house. Other guests to make Christmas merry there were none. As he looked round at the large rooms he reflected that he himself was there only for a special purpose. It was his duty to break the news of his intended marriage to his father. As he stood before the fire, thinking how best he might do this, it occurred to him that a letter from a distance would have been the ready and simple way. But then it had occurred to him also, when at a distance, that a declaration of his purpose face to face was the simplest and readiest way. If you have to go headlong into the water you should take your plunge without hesitating. So he told himself, making up his mind that he would have it all out that evening.
At dinner Lady Mabel sat next to his father, and he could watch the special courtesy with which the Duke treated the girl who he was so desirous of introducing to his house. Silverbridge could not talk about the election of Polpenno because all conversation about Tregear was interdicted by the presence of his sister. He could say nothing as to the Runnymede hunt and the two thunderbolts which had fallen on him, as Major Tifto was not a subject on which he could expatiate in the presence of his father. He asked a few questions about the shooting, and referred with great regret to his absence from the Brake country.
‘I am sure Mr Cassewary could spare you for another fortnight,’ the Duke said to his neighbour, alluding to a visit which she now intended to make.
‘If so he would have to spare me altogether,’ said Mabel, ‘for I must meet my father in London in the middle of January.’
‘Could you not put it off for another year?’
‘You would think I had taken root and was growing at Matching.’
‘Of all our products you would be the most delightful, and the most charming — and we would hope the most permanent,’ said the courteous Duke.
‘After being here so long I need hardly say that I like Matching better than any place in the world. I suppose it is the contrast to Grex.’
‘Grex was a palace,’ said the Duke, ‘before a wall of this house had been built.’
‘Grex is very old and very wild — and very uncomfortable. But I love it dearly. Matching is the very reverse of Grex.’
‘Not I hope in your affections.’
‘I did not mean that. I think one likes a contrast. But I must go, say on the first of January, to pick up Miss Cassewary.’
It was certain, therefore, that she was going on the first of January. How would it be if he put off the telling of his story for yet another week, till she should be gone? Then he looked around and bethought himself that the time would hang very heavy with him. And his father would daily expect from him a declaration exactly opposed to that which he had to make. He had no horses to ride. As he went on listening he almost convinced himself that the proper thing to do would be to go back to London and thence write to his father. He made no confession to his father on that night.
On the next morning there was a heavy fall of snow, but nevertheless everybody managed to go to church. The Duke, as he looked at Lady Mabel tripping along the swept paths in her furs and short petticoats and well-made boots, thought that his son was a lucky fellow to have the chance of winning the love of such a girl. No remembrance of Miss Boncassen came across his mind as he saw them close together. It was so important that Silverbridge should marry and thus he kept from further follies! And it was so momentous to the fortunes of the Palliser family generally that he should marry well! In thinking so it did not occur to him that the granddaughter of an American labourer might be offered to him. A young lady fit to be the Duchess of Omnium was not to be found everywhere. But this girl, he thought as he saw her walking briskly and strongly through the snow, with every mark of health about her, with every sign of high breeding, very beautiful, exquisite in manner, gracious as a goddess, was fit to be a Duchess! Silverbridge at this moment was walking close to her side — in good looks, in gracious manner, in high breeding her equal — in worldly gifts infinitely her superior. Surely she would not despise him! Silverbridge at the moment was expressing a hope that the sermon would not be very long.
After lunch Mabel came suddenly behind the chair on which Silverbridge was sitting and asked him to take a walk with her. Was she not afraid of the snow? ‘Perhaps you are,’ she said laughing. ‘I do not mind it in the least.’ When they were but a few yards from the front door, she put her hand upon his arm, and spoke to him as though she had arranged the walk with reference to that special question. ‘And now tell me all about Frank.’
She had arranged everything. She had a plan before her now, and had determined in accordance with that plan she would say nothing to disturb him on this occasion. If she could succeed in bringing him into good humour with herself, that should be sufficient for today. ‘Now tell me everything about Frank.’
‘Frank is member of Parliament for Polpenno. That is all.’
‘That is so like a man, and so unlike a woman. What did he say? What did he do? How did he look? What did you say? What did you do? How did you look?’
‘We looked very miserable, when we got wet through, walking about all day in the rain.’
‘Was that necessary?’
‘Quite necessary. We looked so mean and draggled that nobody would have voted for us, only that poor Mr Carbottle looked meaner and more draggled.’
‘The Duke says you made every so many speeches.’
‘I should think I did. It is very easy to make speeches down at a place like that. Tregear spoke like a book.’
‘He spoke well?’
‘Awfully well. He told them that all the good things that had every been done in Parliament had been done by the Tories. He went back to Pitt’s time, and had it all at his fingers’ ends.’
‘And quite true.’
‘That’s just what it was not. It was all a crammer. But it did well.’
‘I am glad he is a member. Don’t you think the Duke will come around a little now?’
When Tregear and the election had been sufficiently discussed, they came by degrees to Major Tifto and the two thunderbolts. Silverbridge, when he perceived that nothing was to be said about Isabel Boncassen, or his own freedom in the matter of love-making, was not sorry to have a friend from whom he could find sympathy for himself in his own troubles. With some encouragement from Mabel the whole story was told. ‘Was it not a great impertinence?’ she asked.
‘It was an awful bore. What could I say? I was not going to pronounce judgement against the poor devil, I daresay he was good enough for Mr Jawstock.’
‘But I suppose he did cheat horribly.’
‘I daresay he did. A great many of them do cheat. But what of that? I was not bound to give him a character, bad or good.’
‘He had not been my servant. It was such a letter. I’ll show it to you when we get in!-asking whether Tifto was fit to be the depository of the intimacy of the Runnymeded hunt! And then Tif’s letter; — I almost wept over that.’
‘How could he have had the audacity to write at all?’
‘He said that “him and me had been a good deal together”. Unfortunately that was true. Even now I am not quite sure that he lamed the horse himself.’
‘Everybody thinks he did. Percival says there is no doubt about it.’
‘Percival knows nothing about it. Three of the gang ran away, and he stood his ground. That’s about all we do know.’
‘What did you say to him?’
‘I had to address him as Sir, and beg him not to write to me any more. Of course they mean to get rid of him, and I couldn’t do him any good. Poor Tifto! Upon the whole I think I hate Jawstock worse than Tifto.’
Lady Mabel was content with her afternoon’s work. When they had been at Matching before the Polpenno election, there had apparently been no friendship between them; — at any rate no confidential friendship. Miss Boncassen had been there, and he had neither ears nor eyes for anyone else. But now something like the feeling of old days had been restored. She had not done much towards her great object — but then she had known that nothing could be done till he should again be in good humour with her.
On the Sunday, the Monday, and the Tuesday they were again together. In some of these interviews Silverbridge described the Polpenno people, and told her how Miss Tregear had been reassured by his eloquence. He also read to her the Jawstock and Tifto correspondence, and was complimented by her as to his prudence and foresight. ‘To tell the truth I consulted Mr Lupton,’ he said, not liking to take credit for wisdom which had not been his own. Then they talked about Grex, and Killancodlem, about Gerald and the shooting, about Mary’s love for Tregear, and about the work for the coming session. On all these subjects they were comfortable and confidential — Miss Boncassen’s name never having been as yet so much as mentioned.
But still the real work was before her. She had not hoped to bring him round to kneel once more at her feet by such gentle measures as these. She had not dared to dream that he could in this way be taught to forget the past autumn and all its charms. She knew well that there was something very difficult before her. But, if that difficult thing might be done at all, these were the preparations which must be made for the doing of it.
It was arranged that she should leave Matching on Saturday, the first day of the new year. Things had gone on in the manner described till the Thursday had come. The Duke had been impatient but had restrained himself. He had seen that they were much together and that they were apparently friends. He had told himself that there were two more days, and that before the end of those days everything might be pleasantly settled!
It had become a matter of course that Silverbridge and Mabel should walk together in the afternoon. He himself had felt that there was danger in this — not danger that he should be untrue to Isabel, but that he should make others think that he was true to Mabel. But he excused himself on the plea that he and Mabel had been intimate friends — were still intimate friends, and that she was going away in a day or two. Mary, who watched it all, was sure that misery was being prepared for someone. She was aware that by this time her father was anxious to welcome Mabel as his daughter-in-law. She strongly suspected that something had been said between her father and her brother on the subject. But then she had Isabel Boncassen’s direct assurance that Silverbridge was engaged to her! Now when Isabel’s back was turned, Silverbridge and Mabel were always together.
On the Thursday after lunch they were again together. It had become so much a habit that the walk repeated itself without an effort. It had been part of Mabel’s scheme that it should be so. During all this morning she had been thinking of her scheme. It was all hopeless. So much she had declared to herself. But forlorn hopes do sometimes end in splendid triumphs. That which she might gain was so much! And what could she lose? The sweet bloom of her maiden shame? That, she told herself, with bitterest inward tears, was already gone from her. Frank Tregear at any rate knew where her heart had been given. Frank Tregear knew that having lost her heart to one man she was anxious to marry another. He knew that she was willing to accept the coronet of a duchess as her consolation. That bloom of her maiden shame, of which she quite understood the sweetness of the charm, the value — was gone when she had brought herself to such a state that any human being should know that, loving one man, she should be willing to marry another. The sweet treasure was gone from her. Its aroma was fled. It behoved her now to be ambitious, cautious — and if possible successful.
When first she had so resolved, success seemed to be easily within her reach. Of all the golden youths that crossed her path no one was so pleasant to her eye, to her ear, to her feelings generally as this Duke’s young heir. There was a coming manliness about him which she liked — -and she liked even the slight want of present manliness. Putting aside Frank Tregear she could go nearer to loving him than any other man she had ever seen. With him she would not be turned from her duties by disgust, by dislike, or dismay. She could even think that the time would come when she might really love him. Then she had all but succeeded, and she might have succeeded altogether had she been a little more prudent. But she had allowed her great prize to escape from her fingers.
But the prize was not yet utterly beyond her grasp. To recover it — to recover even the smallest chance of recovering it, there would be need of great exertion. She must be bold, sudden, unwomanlike — and yet with such display of woman’s charms that he at least should discover no want. She must be false, but false with such perfect deceit, that he must regard her as a pearl of truth. If anything could lure him back it must be his conviction of her passionate love. And she must be strong; — so strong as to overcome not only his weakness, but all that was strong in him. She knew that he did love that other girl — and she must overcome even that. And to do this she must prostrate herself at his feet — as, since the world began, it has been the man’s province to prostrate himself at the feet of the woman he loves.
To do this she must indeed bid adieu to the sweet bloom of her maiden shame! But had she not done so already when, by the side of the brook at Killancodlem, she had declared to him plainly enough her despair at hearing that he loved that other girl? Though she were to grovel at his feet she could not speak more plainly than she had done then; but — though the chances were small — perchance she might tell it more effectually.
‘Perhaps this will be our last walk,’ she said. ‘Come down to the seat over the river.’
‘Why should it be the last? You’ll be here tomorrow.’
‘There are so many slips in such things,’ she said laughing. ‘You may get a letter from your constituents that will want all day to answer. Or your father may have a political communication to make to me. But at any rate come.’ So they went to the seat.
It was a spot in the park from whence there was a distant view over many lands, and low beneath the bench, which stood at the edge of a steep bank, ran a stream which made a sweeping bend in this place, so that a reach of the little river might be seen both to the right and to the left. Though the sun was shining, the snow under their feet was hard with frost. It was an air such as one sometimes finds in England, and often in America. Though the cold was very perceptible, though water in the shade was freezing at this moment, there was no feeling of damp, no sense of bitter wind. It was a sweet and jocund air, such as would make young people prone to run and skip. ‘You are not going to sit down with all the snow on the bench,’ said Silverbridge.
On their way thither she had not said a word that would disturb him. She had spoken to him of the coming session, and had managed to display to him the interest which she took in his parliamentary career. In doing this she had flattered him to the top of his bent. If he would return to his father’s politics, then would she too become a renegade. Would he speak in the next session? She hoped he would speak. And if he did, might she be there to hear him? She was cautious not to say a word of Frank Tregear, understanding something of that strange jealousy which could exist even when he who was jealous did not love the woman who caused it.
‘No,’ she said, ‘I do not think we can sit. But still I like to be here with you. All that some day will be your own.’ Then she stretched her hands out to the far view.
‘Some of it, I suppose. I don’t think it is all ours. As for that, if we cared for extent of acres, one ought to go to Barsetshire.’
‘Is that larger?’
‘Twice as large, I believe, and yet none of the family like being there. The rental is very well.’
‘And the borough,’ she said, leaning on his arm and looking up into his face. ‘What a happy fellow you ought to be.’
‘Bar Tifto — and Mr Jawstock.’
‘You have got rid of Tifto and all those troubles very easily.’
‘Thanks to the governor.’
‘Yes, indeed. I do love your father so dearly.’
‘So do I— rather.’
‘May I tell you something about him?’ As she asked the question she was standing very close to him, leaning upon his arm, with her left hand crossed upon her right. Had others been there, of course she would not have stood in such a guise. She knew that — and he knew it too. Of course there was something in it of declared affection — of that kind of love which most of us have been happy enough to give and receive, without intending to show more than true friendship will allow at special moments.
‘Don’t tell me anything about him I shan’t like to hear.’
‘Ah; — that is so hard to know. I wish you would like to hear it.’
‘What can it be?’
‘I cannot tell you now.’
‘Why not? And why did you offer?’
‘Because — Oh, Silverbridge.’
He certainly as yet did not understand it. It had never occurred to him that she would know what were his father’s wishes. Perhaps he was slow of comprehension as he urged her to tell him what this was about his father. ‘What can you tell me about him, that I should not like to hear?’
‘You do not know? Oh, Silverbridge, I think you know.’ Then there came upon him a glimmering of the truth. ‘You do know.’ And she stood apart looking him full in the face.
‘I do not know what you can have to tell me.’
‘No; — no. It is not that I should tell you. But yet it is so, Silverbridge, what did you say to me that morning when you came to me that morning in the Square?’
‘What did I say?’
‘Was I not entitled to think that you — loved me?’ To this he had nothing to reply, but stood before her silent and frowning. ‘Think of it, Silverbridge. Was it not so? And because I did not at once tell you all the truth, because I did not there say that my heart was all yours, were you right to leave?’
‘You only laughed at me.’
‘No; — no; no; I never laughed at you. How could I laugh when you were all the world to me? Ask Frank; he knew. Ask Miss Cass; — she knew. And can you say that you did not know; you, you, yourself? Can any girl suppose that such words as these are to mean nothing when they have been spoken? You knew I loved you.’
‘No; — no.’
‘You must have known it. I will never believe but that you knew it. Why should your father be so sure of it?’
‘He never was sure of it.’
‘Yes, Silverbridge, yes. There is not one in the house who does not see that he treats me as though he expected me to be his son’s wife. Do you not know that he wishes it?’ He fain would not have answered this; but she paused for his answer and then repeated her question. ‘Do you not know that he wishes it?’
‘I think he does,’ said Silverbridge; ‘but it can never be so.’
‘Oh, Silverbridge; — oh my loved one. Do not say that to me! Do not kill me at once!’ Now she placed her hands one on each arm as she stood opposite to him and looked up into his face. ‘You said that you loved me once. Why do you desert me now? Have you a right to treat me like that; — when I tell you that you have all my heart?’ The tears were now streaming down her face, and they were not counterfeit tears.
‘You know,’ he said, submitting to her hands, but not lifting his arm to embrace her.
‘What do I know?’
‘That I have given all I have to another.’ As he said this he looked away sternly, over her shoulder, to the distance.
‘That American girl!’ she exclaimed starting back, with some show of sternness on her brow.
‘Yes; — that American girl’ said Silverbridge.
Then she recovered herself immediately. Indignation natural indignation, would not serve her turn in the present emergency. ‘You know that cannot be. You ought to know it. What will your father say? You have not dared to tell him. That is so natural,’ she added, trying to appease his frown. ‘How possibly can it be told to him? I will not say a word against her.’
‘No; do not do that.’
‘But there are fitnesses of things which such a one as you cannot disregard without preparing yourself for a whole life of repentance.’
‘Look here, Mabel.’
‘I will tell you the truth.’
‘I would sooner lose all; — the rank I have, the rank that I am to have, all these lands that you have been looking on; my father’s wealth, would give them all up, sooner than lose her.’ Now at any rate he was a man. She was sure of that now. This was more, very much more, not only than she had expected from him, but more than she had thought it possible that his character should have produced.
His strength reduced her to weakness. ‘And I am nothing,’ she said.
‘Yes, indeed; you are Lady Grex — whom all women envy, and whom all men honour.’
‘The poorest wretch this day under the sun.’
‘Do not say that. You should take shame to say that.’
‘I do take shame; — and I do say it. Sir, do you feel what you owe me? Do you not know that you have made me the wretch I am? How did you dare to talk to me as you did talk when you were in London? You tell me that I am Lady Mabel Grex; — and yet you come to me with a lie on your lips; — with such a lie as that! You must have taken me for some nursemaid on whom you had condescended to cast your eye! It cannot be that even you should have dared to treat Lady Mabel Grex after such a fashion as that! And now you have cast your eye at this other girl. You can never marry her!’
‘I shall endeavour to do so.’
‘You can never marry her,’ she said, stamping her foot. She had now lost all the caution which she had taught herself for the prosecution of her scheme — all the care with which she had burdened herself. Now she was natural enough. ‘No — you can never marry her. You could not show yourself after it in your clubs, or in Parliament, or in the world. Come home, do you say? No, I will not go to your home. It is not my home. Cold; — of course I am cold; — cold through to the heart.’
‘I cannot leave you alone here,’ he said, for she had now turned from him, and was walking with hurried steps and short turns on the edge of the bank, which at this place was almost a precipice.
‘You have left me — utterly to the cold — more desolate than I am here even though I should spend the night among the trees. But I will go back, and will tell your father everything. If my father were other than he is — if my brother were better to me, you would not have done this.’
‘If you had a legion of brothers it would have been the same,’ he said, turning sharp upon her.
They walked on together, but without a word till the house was in sight. Then she looked round on him, and stopped him on the path as she caught his eye.’ Silverbridge!’ she said.
‘Call me Mabel. At any rate call me Mabel. If I have said anything to offend you — I beg your pardon.’
‘I am not offended — but unhappy.’
‘If you are unhappy, what must I be? What have I to look forward to? Give me your hand, and say that we are friends.’
‘Certainly we are friends,’ he said, and gave her his hand.
‘Who can tell what may come to pass?’ To this he would make no answer, as it seemed to imply that some division between himself and Isabel Boncassen might possibly come to pass. ‘You will not tell anyone that I love you.’
‘I tell such a thing as that!’
‘But never forget it yourself. No one can tell what may come to pass.’
Lady Mabel at once went up to her room. She had played her scene, but was well aware that she had played it altogether unsuccessfully.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55