Silverbridge had now a week on his hands which he felt he might devote to the lady of his love. It was a comfort to him that he need having nothing to do with the address. To have to go, day after day, to the Treasury in order that he might learn his lesson, would have been disagreeable to him. He did not quite know how the lesson would have been communicated, but fancied it would have come from ‘Old Roby’, whom he did not love much better than Sir Timothy. Then the speech must have been composed, and afterwards submitted to someone — probably to old Roby again, by whom no doubt it would be cut and slashed, and made quite a different speech than he had intended. If he had not praised Sir Timothy himself, Roby — or whatever other tutor might have been assigned to him — would have put the praise in. And then how many hours it would have taken to learn ‘the horrid thing’ by heart. He proudly felt that he had not been prompted by idleness to decline the task; but not the less was he glad to have shuffled the burden from off his shoulders.
Early the next morning he was in Brook Street, having sent a note to say he would call, and having named the hour. And yet when he knocked at the door, he was told with the utmost indifference by a London footman, that Miss Boncassen was not at home — also that Mrs Boncassen was not at home — also that Mr Boncassen was not at home. When he asked at what hour Miss Boncassen was expected home, the man answered him, just as though he had been anyone else, that he knew nothing about it. He turned away in disgust, and had himself driven to the Beargarden. In his misery he had recourse to game-pie and a pint of champagne for his lunch. ‘Halloa, old fellow, what is this I hear about you?’ said Nidderdale, coming in, and sitting opposite to him.
‘I don’t know what you have heard.’
‘You are going to second the address. What made them pick you out from the lot of us?’
‘It is just what I am not going to do.’
‘I saw it all in the papers.’
‘I daresay; — and yet it isn’t true. I shouldn’t wonder if they ask you.’
At this moment a waiter handed a large official letter to Lord Nidderdable, saying that the messenger who had brought it was waiting for an answer in the hall. The letter bore the important signature of T. Beeswax on the corner of the envelope, and so disturbed Lord Nidderdale that he called at once for a glass of soda-and-brandy. When opened it was found to be very nearly a counterpart of that which Silverbridge had received down in the country. There was, however, added a little prayer that Lord Nidderdale would at once come down to the Treasury Chambers.
‘They must be very hard up,’ said Lord Nidderdale. ‘But I shall do it. Cantrip is always at me to do something, and you see if I don’t butter them up properly.’ Then having fortified himself with game-pie and a glass of brown sherry he went away at once to the Treasury Chambers.
Silverbridge felt himself a little better after his lunch — better still when he had smoked a couple of cigarettes walking about the empty smoking-room. And as he walked he collected his thoughts. She could hardly have meant to slight him. No doubt her letter down to him at Harrington had been very cold. No doubt he had been ill-treated in being sent away so unceremoniously from the door. But yet she could hardly intend that everything between them should be over. Even an American girl could not be so unreasonable as that. He remembered the passionate way in which she had assured him of her love. All that could not have been forgotten! He had done nothing by which he could have forfeited her esteem. She had desired him to tell the whole affair to her father, and he had done so. Mr Boncassen might perhaps have objected. It might be that this American was so prejudiced against the English aristocrats as to desire no commerce with them. There were not many Englishmen who would not have welcomed him as a son-in-law, but Americans might be different. Still — still Isabel would hardly have shown her obedience to her father in this way. She was too independent to obey her father in a matter concerning her own heart. And if he had not been the possessor of her heart at that last interview, then she must have been false indeed! So he got once more into his hansom and had himself taken back to Brook Street.
Mrs Boncassen was in the drawing-room alone.
‘I am so sorry,’ said the lady, ‘but Mr Boncassen has, I think, just gone out.’
‘Indeed! and where is Isabel?’
‘Isabel is downstairs — that is if she hasn’t gone out too. She did talk of going with her father to the Museum. She is getting quite bookish. She has got a ticket, and goes there, and has all the things brought to her just like the other learned folk.’
‘I am anxious to see her, Mrs Boncassen.’
‘My! If she has gone out it will be a pity. She was only saying yesterday she wouldn’t wonder if you shouldn’t turn up.’
‘Of course I’ve turned up, Mrs Boncassen. I was here an hour ago.’
‘Was it you who called and asked all them questions? My! We couldn’t make out who it was. The man said it was a flurried young gentleman who wouldn’t leave a card — but who wanted to see Mr Boncassen most special.’
‘It was Isabel I wanted to see. Didn’t I leave a card? No; I don’t think I did. I felt so — almost at home, that I didn’t think of a card.’
‘That’s very kind of you, Lord Silverbridge.’
‘I hope you are going to be my friend, Mrs Boncassen.’
‘I am sure I don’t know, Lord Silverbridge. Isabel is most used to having her own way I guess. I think when hearts are joined almost nothing ought to stand between them. But Mr Boncassen does have doubts. He don’t wish Isabel should force herself anywhere. But here she is, and now she can speak for herself.’ Whereupon not only did Isabel enter the room, but at the same time Mrs Boncassen most discreetly left it. It must be confessed that American mothers are not afraid of their daughters.
Silverbridge, when the door was closed, stood looking at the girl for a moment and thought that she was more lovely than ever. She was dressed for walking. She still had on her fur jacket, but had taken off her hat. ‘I was in the parlour downstairs,’ she said, ‘when you came in, with papa; and we were going out together; but when I heard who was here, I made him go alone. Was I not good?’
He had not thought of a word to say, or a thing to do; — but he felt as he looked at her that the only thing in the world worth living for, was to have her for his own. For a moment he was half-abashed. Then in the next she was close in his arms with his lips pressed to hers. He had been so sudden that she had been unable, at any rate thought that she had been unable to repress him. ‘Lord Silverbridge,’ she said, ‘I told you I would not have it. You have offended me.’
‘Yes; Isabel! Isabel is offended with you. Why did you do it?’
Why did he do it? It seemed to him to be the most unnecessary question. ‘I want you to know how I love you.’
‘Will that tell me? That only tells me how little you think of me.’
‘Then it tells you a falsehood; — for I am thinking of you always. And I always think of you as being the best and dearest and sweetest thing in the world. And now I think you dearer and sweeter than ever.’ Upon this she tried to frown; but her frown at once broke out into a smile. ‘When I wrote to say that I was coming why did you not stay at home for me this morning?’
‘I got no letter, Lord Silverbridge.’
‘Why didn’t you get it?’
‘That I cannot say, Lord Silverbridge.’
‘Isabel, if you are so formal, you will kill me.’
‘Lord Silverbridge, if you are so forward, you will offend me.’ Then it turned out that no letter from him had reached the house; and as the letter had been addressed to Bruton Street instead of Brook Street, the failure on the part of the post-office was not surprising.
Whether or no she was offended or he killed remained with her the whole afternoon. ‘Of course I love you,’ she said. ‘Do you suppose I should be here with you if I did not, or that you could have remained in the house after what you did just now? I am not given to run into rhapsodies quite so much as you are — and being a woman perhaps it is as well that I don’t. But I think I can be quite as true to you as you are to me.’
‘I am so much obliged to you for that,’ he said, grasping at her hand.
‘But I am sure that rhapsodies won’t do any good. Now I’ll tell you my mind.’
‘You know mine,’ said Silverbridge.
‘I will take it for granted that I do. Your mind is to marry me will ye nil ye, as the people say.’ He answered this by merely nodding his head and getting a little nearer to her. ‘That is all very well in its way, and I am not going to say but what I am gratified.’ Then he did grasp her hand. ‘If it pleases you to hear me say so, Lord Silverbridge —’
‘Then I shall call you Plantagenet; — only it sounds so horribly historical. Why are you not Thomas or Abraham? But if it will please you to hear me say so, I am ready to acknowledge that nothing in all my life ever came near to the delight I have in your love.’ Hereupon he almost succeeded in getting his arm round her waist. But she was strong, and seized his hand and held it. ‘And I speak no rhapsodies. I tell you a truth which I want you to know and to keep to your heart — so that you may be always, always sure to.
‘I will never doubt it.’
‘But that marrying will ye nill ye, will not suit me. There is so much wanted for happiness in life.’
‘I will do all that I can.’
‘Yes. Even though it be hazardous, I am willing to trust you. If you were as other men are, if you could do as you please as lower men may do, I would leave father and mother and my own country — that I might be your wife. I would do that because I love you. But what will my life be here, if they who are your friends turn their backs upon me? What will your life be, if, through all that, you continued to love me?’
‘That will all come right.’
‘And what will your life be, or mine,’ she said, going on with her own thoughts without seeming to have heard his last words, ‘if in such a condition as that you did not continue to love me?’
‘I should always love you.’
‘It might be very hard:— and if once felt to be hard, then impossible. You have not looked at it as I have done. Why should you? Even with a wife that was a trouble to you —’
His arm was now round her waist, but she continued speaking as though she were not aware of the embrace. ‘Yes, a trouble! I shall not be always just what I am now. Now I can be bright and pretty and hold my own with others because I am so. But are you sure — I am not — that I am such stuff as an English lady should be made of? If in ten years’ time you found that others did not think so — that, worse again, you did not think so yourself, would you be true to me then?’
‘I will always be true to you.’
She gently extricated herself, as though she had done so that she might better turn round and look into his face. ‘Oh, my own one, who can say of himself that it would be so? How could it be so, when you would have all the world against you? You would be still what you are — with a clog round your leg while at home. In Parliament, among your friends, at your clubs, you would be just what you are. You would be that Lord Silverbridge who had all the good things at his disposal — except that he had been unfortunate in his marriage! But what should I be?’ Though she paused he could not answer her — not yet. There was a solemnity in her speech which made it necessary that he should hear her to the end. ‘I, too, have my friends in my own country. It is not disgrace to me there that my grandfather worked on the quays. No one holds her head higher than I do, or is more sure of being able to hold it. I have there that assurance of esteem and honour which you have here. I would lose it all to do you a good. But I will not lose it all to do you an injury.’
‘I don’t know about injuries,’ he said, getting up and walking about the room. ‘But I am sure of this. You will have to be my wife.’
‘If your father will take me by the hand and say that I shall be his daughter, I will risk the rest. Even then it might not be wise; but we love each other too well not run some peril. Do you think I want anything better than to preside in your home, to soften you cares, to welcome your joys, to be mother perhaps of your children, and to know that you are proud that I should be so? No, my darling. I can see a Paradise; — only, only, I may not be fit to enter it. I must use some judgement better that my own, sounder, dear, than yours. Tell the Duke what I say; — tell him that with what language a son may use to his father. And remember that all you ask for yourself you will ask doubly for me.’
‘I will ask him so that he cannot refuse me.’
‘If you do I shall be contented. And now go. I have said ever so much, and I am tired.’
‘Isabel! Oh, my love.’
‘Yes; Isabel; — your love! I am that at any rate for the present — and proud to be so as a queen. Well, if it must be, this once — as I have been so hard to you.’ Then she gave him her cheek to kiss, but of course he took much more than she gave.
When he got into the street it was dark, and there was sill standing the faithful cab. But he felt that at the present moment it would be impossible to sit still, and he dismissed the equipage. He walked rapidly along Brook Street into Park Lane, and from thence to the park, hardly knowing whither he went in the enthusiasm of the moment. He walked back to the Marble Arch, and thence round by the drive to the Guard House and the bridge over the Serpentine, by the Knightsbridge Barracks to Hyde Park Corner. Though he should give up everything and go and live in her own country with her, he would marry her. His politics, his hunting, this address to the Queen, his horses, his guns, his father’s wealth, and his own rank — what were they all to Isabel Boncassen? In meeting her he had net the one human being in all the world who could really be anything to him either in friendship or in love. When she had told him what she would do for him to make his home happy, it had seemed to him that all other delights must fade away from him for ever. How odious were Tifto and his racehorses, how unmeaning the noise of his club, how terrible the tedium of those parliamentary benches! He could not tell his love as she had told hers! He acknowledged to himself that his words could not be as her words — nor his intellect as hers. But his heart could be as true. She had spoken to him of his name, his rank, and all his outside world around him. He would make her understand at last that there were nothing to him in comparison with her. When he had got round to Hyde Park Corner, he felt that he was almost compelled to go back again to Brook Street. In no other place could there be anything to interest him; — nowhere else could there be light, or warmth, or joy! But what would she think of him? To go back hot, and soiled with mud, in order that he might say one more adieu — that possibly he might ravish one more kiss — would hardly be manly. He must postpone all that for the morrow. On the morrow of course he would be there.
But his word was before him! That prayer had to be made to his father, or rather some wonderful effort of eloquence must be made by which his father might be convinced that this girl was so infinitely superior to anything of feminine creation that had ever hitherto been seen or heard of, that all ideas as to birth, country, rank, or name ought in this instance to count for nothing. He did believe himself that he had found such a pearl, that no question of seeing need be taken into consideration. If the Duke would not see it the fault would be in the Duke’s eyes, or perhaps in his own words — but certainly not in the pearl.
Then he compared her to poor Lady Mabel, and in doing so did arrive at something near the truth in his inward delineation of the two characters. Lady Mabel with all her grace, with all her beauty, with all her talent, was a creature of efforts, or, as it might be called, a manufactured article. She strove to be graceful, to be lovely, to be agreeable and clever. Isabel was all this and infinitely more without any struggle. When he was most fond of Mabel, most anxious to make her his wife, there had always been present to him a feeling that she was old. Though he knew her age to a day — and knew her to be younger than himself, yet she was old. Something had gone of her native bloom, something had been scratched and chipped from the first fair surface, and this had been repaired by varnish and veneering. Though he had loved her he had never been altogether satisfied with her. But Isabel was as young as Hebe. He knew nothing of her actual years, but he did know that to have seemed younger, or to have seemed older — to have seemed in any way different from what she was — would have been to be less perfect.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01