Silverbridge pondered it all much as he went home. What a terrible story was that he had heard! The horror to him was chiefly in this — that she should yet be driven to marry some man without even fancying that she could love him! And his was Lady Mabel Grex, who, on his own first entrance into London life, now not much more than twelve months ago, had seemed to him to stand above all other girls in beauty, charm, and popularity!
As he opened the door of his house with his latch-key, who should be coming out but Frank Tregear — Frank Tregear with his arm in a sling, but still with an unmistakable look of general satisfaction. ‘When on earth did you come up?’ asked Silverbridge. Tregear told him that he had arrived on the previous evening from Harrington. ‘And why? The doctor would not have let you come if he could have helped it.’
‘When he found he could not help it, he did let me come. I am nearly all right. If I had been nearly all wrong I should have had to come.’
‘And what are you doing here?’
‘Well; if you’ll allow me I’ll go back with you for a moment. What do you think I have been doing?’
‘Have you seen my sister?’
‘Yes, I have seen your sister. And I have done better than that. I have seen your father. Lord Silverbridge — behold your brother-in-law.’
‘You don’t mean to say that it is arranged?’
‘What did he say?’
‘He made me understand by most unanswerable arguments, that I had no business to think of such a thing. I did not fight the point with him — but simply stood there, as conclusive evidence of my business. He told me that we should have nothing to live on unless he gave us an income. I assured him that I would never ask him for a shilling. “But I cannot allow her to marry a man without an income,” he said.’
‘I know his way so well.’
‘I have just two facts to go upon — that I would not give her up, and that she would not give me up. When I pointed that out he tore up his hair — in a mild way, and said that he did not understand that kind of thing at all.’
‘And yet he gave way.’
‘Of course he did. They say that when a king of old would consent to see a petitioner for his life, he was bound by his royalty to mercy. So it was with the Duke. Then, very early in the argument, he forgot himself, and called her — Mary. I knew that he had thrown up the sponge then.’
‘How did he give way at last?’
‘He asked me what were my ideas about life in general. I said that I thought Parliament was a good sort of thing, that I was lucky enough to have a seat, and that I should take lodgings somewhere near Westminster till-“Till what?” he asked. Till something is settled I replied. Then he turned away from me and remained silent. May I see Lady Mary? I asked. “Yes; you may see her,” he replied, as he rang the bell. Then when the servant was gone he stopped me. “I love her too dearly to see her grieve,” he said. “I hope you will show that you can be worthy of her.” Then I made some sort of protestation and went upstairs. While I was with Mary there came a message to me, telling me to come to dinner.’
‘The Boncassens are all dining there.’
‘Then we shall be a family party. So far I suppose I may say it is settled. When he will let us marry heaven only knows. Mary declares that she will not press him. I certainly cannot do so. It is all a matter of money.’
‘He won’t care about that.’
‘But he may perhaps think that a little patience will do us good. You will have to soften him.’ Then Silverbridge told all he knew about himself. He was to be married in May; was to go to Matching for a week or two after his wedding, was then to see the Session to an end, and after that to travel with his wife to the United States. ‘I don’t suppose we shall be allowed to run about the world together so soon as that,’ said Tregear, ‘but I am too well satisfied with my day’s work to complain.’
‘Did he say what he meant to give her?’
‘Oh dear no; — nor even that he meant to give her anything. I should not dream of asking a question about it. Nor when he makes any proposition shall I think of having any opinion of my own.’
‘He’ll make it all right; — for her sake you know.’
‘My chief object as regards him, is that he should not think I have been looking for her money. Well; good-bye. I suppose we shall all meet at dinner?’
When Tregear left him Silverbridge went to his father’s room. He was anxious that they should understand each other as to Mary’s engagement. ‘I thought you were at the House,’ said the Duke.
‘I was going there, but I met Tregear at the door. He tells me you have accepted him for Mary.’
‘I wish that he had never seen her. Do you think that a man can be thwarted in everything and not feel it?’
‘I thought — you had reconciled yourself — to Isabel.’
‘If it were that alone I could do so the more easily, because personally she wins upon me. And this man too; — it is not that I find fault with himself.’
‘He is in all respects a high-minded gentleman.’
‘I hope so. But yet, had he a right to set his heart there, where he could make his fortune — having none of his own?’
‘He did not think of it.’
‘A gentleman should do more than not think of it. He should think that it shall not be so. a man should own his means or should earn them.’
‘How many, sir, do neither?’
‘Yes, I know,’ said the Duke. ‘Such a doctrine nowadays is caviare to the general. One must live as others live around one, I suppose. I could not see her suffer. It was too much for me. When I became convinced that this was no temporary passion, no romantic love which time might banish, that she was of such a temperament that she could not change — that I had to give way. Gerald I suppose will bring me some kitchen-maid for his wife.’
‘Oh sir, you should not say that to me.’
‘No; — I should not have said it to you. I beg your pardon, Silverbridge.’ Then he paused a moment, turning over certain thoughts within his own bosom. ‘Perhaps after all it is well that a pride of which I am conscious should be rebuked. And it may be that the rebuke has come in such a form that I should be thankful. I know that I can love Isabel.’
‘That to me will be everything.’
‘And this young man has nothing that should revolt me. I think he has been wrong. But now that I have said it I will let all that pass from me. He will dine with us today.’
Silverbridge then went to see his sister. ‘So you have settled your little business, Mary.’
‘Oh Silverbridge, you will wish me joy?’
‘Certainly. Why not?’
‘Papa is so stern with me. Of course he has given way, and of course I am grateful. But he looks at me as though I had done something to be forgiven.’
‘Take the good the gods provide you, Mary. That will all come right.’
‘But I have not done anything wrong, have I?’
‘That is a matter of opinion. How can I answer you when I don’t quite know whether I have done anything wrong or not myself. I am going to marry the girl that I have chosen. That’s enough for me.’
‘But you did change.’
‘We need not say anything about that.’
‘But I have never changed. Papa just told me that he would consent, and that I might write to him. So I did write, and he came. But papa looks at me as though I had broken his heart.’
‘I tell you what it is, Mary. You expect too much from him. He has not had his own way with either of us, and of course he feels it.’
As Tregear had said there was quite a family party in Carlton Terrace, though as yet the family was not bound together by family ties. All the Boncassens were there, the father, the mother, and the promised bride. Mr Boncassen bore himself with more ease than anyone in the company, having at his command a gift of manliness which enabled him to regard this marriage exactly as he would have done any other. America was not so far distant but what he would be able to see his girl occasionally. He liked the young man and he believed in the comfort of wealth. Therefore he was satisfied. But when the marriage was spoken of, or written of, as an ‘alliance’, then he would say a hard word or two about dukes and lords in general. On such an occasion as this he was happy and at his ease.
So much could not be said for his wife, with whom the Duke attempted to place himself on terms of family equality. But in doing this he failed to hide the attempt even from her, and she broke down under it. Had he simply walked into the room with her as he would have done on any other occasion, and then remarked that the frost was keen or the thaw disagreeable, it would have been better for her. But when he told her that he hoped that she would often make herself at home in that house, and looked, as he said it, as though he were asking her to take a place among the goddesses of Olympus, she was troubled as to her answer. ‘Oh, my Lord Duke,’ she said, ‘when I think of Isabel living here and being called by such a name, it almost upsets me.’
Isabel had all her father’s courage, but she was more sensitive; and though she would have borne her honours well, was oppressed by the feeling that the weight was too much for her mother. She could not keep her ear from listening to her mother’s words, or her eye from watching her mother’s motions. She was prepared to carry her mother everywhere. ‘As other girls have to be taken with their belongings, so must I, if I be taken at all.’ This she had said plainly enough. There should be no division between her and her mother. But still knowing that her mother was not quite at ease, she was hardly at ease herself.
Silverbridge came in at the last moment, and of course occupied a chair next to Isabel. As the House was sitting, it was natural that he should come in a flurry. ‘I left Phineas,’ he said, ‘pounding away in his old style at Sir Timothy. By-the-bye, Isabel, you must come down some day and hear Sir Timothy badgered. I must be back again about ten. Well, Gerald, how are they all at Lazarus?’ He made an effort to be free and easy, but even he soon found that it was an effort.
Gerald had come up from Oxford for the occasion that he might make acquaintance with the Boncassens. He had taken Isabel in to dinner, but had been turned out of his place when his brother came in. He had been a little confused by the first impression made upon him by Mrs Boncassen, and had involuntarily watched his father. ‘Silver is going to have an odd sort of mother-in-law,’ he said afterwards to Mary, who remarked in reply that this would not signify, as the mother-in-law would be in New York.
Tregear’s part was very difficult to play. He could not but feel that though he had succeeded, still he was looked upon askance. Silverbridge had told him that by degrees the Duke would be won round, but that it was not to be expected that he should swallow at once all his regrets. The truth of this could not but be accepted. The immediate inconvenience, however, was not the less felt. Each and everyone there knew the position of each and everyone; — but Tregear felt it difficult to act up to his. He could not play the well-pleased lover openly, as did Silverbridge. Mary herself was disposed to be very silent. The heart-breaking tedium of her dull life had been removed. Her determination had been rewarded. All that she had wanted had been granted to her, and she was happy. But she was not prepared to show off her happiness before others. And she was aware that she was thought to have done evil by introducing her lover into her august family.
But it was the Duke who made the greatest efforts, and with the least success. He had told himself again and again that he was bound be every sense of duty to swallow all regrets. He had taken himself to task on this matter. He had done so even out loud to his son. He had declared that he would ‘let it all pass from’ him. But who does not know how hard it is for a man in such matters to keep his word to himself? Who has not said to himself at the very moment of his own delinquency, ‘Now — it is now — at this very instant of time, that I should abate my greed, or smother my ill-humour, or abandon my hatred. It is now, and here, that I should drive out the fiend, as I have sworn to myself that I would do.’— and yet has failed?
That it would be done, would be done at last, by this man was very certain. When Silverbridge assured his sister that ‘it would all come right very soon,’ he had understood his father’s character. But it could not be completed quite at once. Had he been required to take Isabel only to his heart, it would have been comparatively easy. There are men, who do not seem at first sight very susceptible to feminine attractions, who nevertheless are dominated by the grace of flounces, who succumb to petticoats unconsciously, and who are half in love with every woman merely for her womanhood. So it was with the Duke. He had given way in regard to Isabel with less than half the effort that Frank Tregear was likely to cost him.
‘You were not at the House, sir,’ said Silverbridge when he felt that there was a pause.
‘No, not today.’ Then there was a pause again.
‘I think that we shall beat Cambridge this year to a moral,’ said Gerald, who was sitting at the round table opposite to his father. Mr Boncassen, who was next him, asked, in irony probably rather than in ignorance, whether the victory was to be achieved by mathematical or classical proficiency. Gerald turned and looked at him. ‘Do you mean to say that you have never heard of the University boat-races?’
‘Papa, you have disgraced yourself for ever,’ said Isabel.
‘Have I, my dear? Yes, I have heard of them. But I thought Lord Gerald’s protestation was too great for a mere aquatic triumph.’
‘Now you are poking your fun at me,’ said Gerald.
‘Well he may,’ said the Duke sententiously. ‘We have laid ourselves very open to having fun poked at us in this matter.’
‘I think,’ said Tregear, ‘that they are learning to do the same sort of thing in American Universities.’
‘Oh, indeed,’ said the Duke in a solemn, dry, funereal tone. And then all the little life which Gerald’s remark about the boat-race had produced, was quenched at once. The Duke was not angry with Tregear for his little word of defence — but he was not able to bring himself into harmony with this one guest, and was almost savage to him without meaning it. He was continually asking himself why Destiny had been so hard upon him as to force him to receive there at his table as his son-in-law a man who was distasteful to him. And he was endeavouring to answer the question, taking himself to task and telling himself that his destiny had done him no injury, and that the pride which had been wounded was a false pride. He was making a brave fight; but during the fight he was hardly fit to be the genial father and father-in-law of young people who were going to be married to one another. But before the dinner was over he made a great effort. ‘Tregear,’ he said — and even that was an effort, for he had never hitherto mentioned the man’s name without the formal Mister, ‘Tregear, as this is the first time you have sat at my table, let me be old-fashioned, and ask you to drink a glass of wine with me.’
The glass of wine was drunk and the ceremony afforded infinite satisfaction to one person there. Mary could not keep herself from some expression of joy by pressing her finger for a moment against her lover’s arm. He, though not usually given to such manifestations, blushed up to his eyes. But the feeling produced on the company was solemn rather than jovial. Everyone there understood it all. Mr Boncassen could read the Duke’s mind down to the last line. Even Mrs Boncassen was aware that an act of reconciliation had been intended. ‘When the governor drank that glass of wine it seemed as though half the marriage ceremony had been performed,’ Gerald said to his brother that evening. When the Duke’s glass was replaced on the table, he himself was conscious of the solemnity of what he had done, and was half ashamed of it.
When the ladies had gone upstairs the conversation became political and lively. The Duke could talk freely about the state of things to Mr Boncassen, and was able gradually to include Tregear in the badinage with which he attacked the conservatism of his son. And so the half hour passed well. Upstairs the two girls immediately came together, leaving Mrs Boncassen to chew the cud of the grandeur around her in the sleepy comfort of an arm-chair. ‘And so everything is settled for both of us,’ said Isabel.
‘Of course I knew it was to be settled for you. You told me so at Custins.’
‘I did not know it then. I only told you that he had asked me. And you hardly believed me.’
‘I certainly believed you.’
‘But you knew about — Lady Mabel Grex.’
‘I only suspected something, and now I know it was a mistake. It has never been more than a suspicion.’
‘And why, when we were at Custins, did you not tell me about yourself?’
‘I had nothing to tell.’
‘I can understand that. But is it not joyful that it should all be settled? Only poor Lady Mabel! You have got no Lady Mabel to trouble your conscience.’ From which it was evident that Silverbridge had not told all.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01