When Tregear first came to town with his arm in a sling, and bandages all round him — in order that he might be formally accepted by the Duke — he had himself taken to one other house besides the house in Carlton Terrace. He went to Belgrave Square, to announce his fate to Lady Mabel Grex; — but Lady Mabel Grex was not there. The Earl was ill at Brighton, and Lady Mabel had gone down to nurse him. The old woman who came to him in the hall told him that the Earl was very ill; — he had been attacked by the gout, but in spite of the gout, and in spite of the doctors, he had insisted on being taken to his club. Then he had been removed to Brighton, under the doctor’s advice, chiefly in order that he might be kept out of the way of temptation. Now he was supposed to be very ill indeed. ‘My Lord is so imprudent!’ said the old woman, shaking her old head in real unhappiness. For though the Earl had been a tyrant to everyone near him, yet when a poor woman becomes old it is something to have a tyrant to protect her. ‘My Lord!’ always had been imprudent. Tregear knew that it had been the theory of my Lord’s life that to eat and drink, and die was better than to abstain and live. Then Tregear wrote to his friend as follows:
‘MY DEAR MABEL,
‘I am up in town again as you will perceive, although I am still in a helpless condition and hardly able to write even this letter. I called today and was very sorry to hear so bad an account of your father. Had I been able to travel I should have come down to you. When I am able I will do so if you would wish to see me. In the meantime pray tell me how he is, and how you are.
‘My news is this. The Duke accepted me. It is great news to me, and I hope will be acceptable to you. I do believe that if a friend has been anxious for a friend’s welfare you have been anxious for mine — as I have been and ever shall be for yours.’
‘Of course this thing will be very much to me. I will not speak now of my love for the girl who is to become my wife. You might again call me Romeo. Nor do I like to say much of what may now be pecuniary prospects. I did not ask Mary to become my wife because I supposed she would be rich. But I could not have married her or anyone else who had not money. What are the Duke’s intentions I have not the slightest idea, nor shall I ask him. I am to go down to Matching at Easter, and shall endeavour to have some time fixed. I suppose the Duke will say something about money. If he does not, I shall not.
‘Pray write me at once, and tell me when I shall see you.
‘Your affectionate Cousin, ‘F. O. TREGEAR.’
In answer to this there came a note in a very few words. She congratulated him — not very warmly — but expressed a hope that she might see him soon. But she told him not to come to Brighton. The Earl was better but very cross, and she would be up in town before long.
Towards the end of the month it became suddenly known in London that Lord Grex had died at Brighton. There was a Garter to be given away, and everybody was filled with regret that such an ornament to the Peerage should have departed from them. The conservative papers remembered how excellent a politician he had been in his younger days, and the world was informed that the family of Grex of Grex was about the oldest in Great Britain of which authentic records were in existence. Then there came another note from Lady Mabel to Tregear.
‘I shall be in town on the thirty-first in the old house, with Miss Cassewary, and will see you if can come down on the first. Come early, at eleven, if you can.’
On the day named and at the hour fixed he was in Belgrave Square. He had known this house since he was a boy, and could well remember how, when he first entered it, he had thought with some awe of the grandeur of the Earl. The Earl had then not paid much attention to him, but he had become very much taken with the grace and good nature of the girl who had owned him as a cousin. ‘You are my cousin, Frank,’ she had said; ‘I am so glad to have a cousin.’ He could remember the words now as though they had been spoken only yesterday. Then there had quickly grown to be friendship between him and this, as he thought, sweetest of all girls. At that time he had just gone to Eton; but before he left Eton they had sworn to love each other. And so it had been and the thing had grown, till at last, just when he had taken his degree two matters had been settled between them; the first was that each loved the other irretrievably, irrevocably, passionately; the second, that it was altogether out of the question that they should ever marry each other.
It is but fair to Tregear to say that this last decision originated with the lady. He had told her that he certainly would hold himself engaged to marry her at some future time; but she had thrown this aside at once. How was it possible, she said, that two such beings, brought up in luxury, and taught to enjoy all the good things of the world, should expect to live and be happy together without an income? He offered to go to the bar; — but she asked him whether he thought it well that such a one as she should wait say a dozen years for such a process. ‘When the time comes, I should be an old woman and you would be a wretched man.’ She released him — declared her own purpose of marrying well; and then, though there had been a moment in which her own assurance of her own love had been passionate enough, she went so far as to tell him that she was heartwhole. ‘We have been two foolish children but we cannot be children any longer,’ she said. ‘There must be an end of it.’
What had hitherto been the result of this the reader knows — and Tregear knew also. He had taken the privilege given to him, and had made so complete a use of it that he had in truth transferred his heart as well as his allegiance. Where is the young man who cannot do so; — how few are there who do not do so when their first passion has come on them at one-and-twenty? And he had thought that she would do the same. But gradually he found that she had not done so, did not do so, could not do so! When she first heard of Lady Mary she had not reprimanded him — but she could not keep herself from showing the bitterness of her disappointment. Though she would still boast of her own strength and of her own purpose, yet it was too clear to him that she was wounded and very sore. She would have liked him to remain single at any rate till she herself had married. But the permission had hardly been given before he availed himself of it. And then he talked to her not only of the brilliancy of his prospects — which she would have forgiven — but of his love — his love!
Then she had refused one offer after another, and he had known it all. There was nothing in which she was concerned that she did not tell him. Then young Silverbridge had come across her, and she had determined that he should be her husband. She had been nearly successful — so nearly that at moments she felt sure of success. But the prize had slipped from her through her own fault. She knew well enough that it was her own fault. When a girl submits to play such a game as that, she could not stand on too nice scruples. She had told herself this many a time since; — but the prize was gone.
All this Tregear knew, and knowing it almost dreaded the coming interview. He could not without actual cruelty have avoided her. Had he done so before he could not have continued to do so now, when she was left alone in the world. Her father had not been much to her, but still his presence had enabled her to put herself before the world as being somebody. Now she would be almost nobody. And she had lost her rich prize, while he — out of the same treasury as it were — had won his!
The door opened to him by the same old woman, and he was shown, at a funereal pace, up into the drawing-room which he had known so well. He was told that Lady Mabel would be down to him directly. As he looked about him he could see that already had been commenced that work of division of spoil which is sure to follow the death of most of us. Things were already gone which used to be familiar to his eyes, and the room, though not dismantled, had been deprived of many of its little prettiness and was ugly.
In about ten minutes she came down to him — with so soft a step that he would not have been aware of her entrance had he not seen her form in the mirror. Then, when he turned round to greet her, he was astonished by the blackness of her appearance. She looked as though she had become ten years older since he had last seen her. As she came up to him she was grave and almost solemn in her gait, but there was no sign of any tears. Why should there have been a tear? Women weep, and men too, not from grief, but from emotion. Indeed, grave and slow as she was her step, and serious, almost solemn, as was her gait, there was something of a smile on her mouth as she gave him her hand. And yet her face was very sad, declaring to him too plainly something of the hopelessness of her heart. ‘And so the Duke has consented,’ she said. He had told her that in his letter, but since that, her father had died, and she had been left, he did not as yet know how impoverished, but, he feared, with no pleasant worldly prospects before her.
‘Yes, Mabel; — that I suppose will be settled. I have been so shocked to hear all this.’
‘It has been very sad; — has it not? Sit down, Frank. You and I have a good deal to say to each other now that we have met. It was no good your going down to Brighton. He would not have seen you, and at last I never left him.’
‘Was Percival there?’ She only shook her head. ‘That was dreadful.’
‘It was not Percival’s fault. He would not see him; nor till the last hour or two would he believe in his own danger. Nor was he ever to frightened for a moment — not even then.’
‘Was he good to you?’
‘Good to me! Well; — he liked my being there. Poor papa! It had gone so far with him that he could not be good to any one. I think that he felt that it would be unmanly not to be the same till the end.’
‘He would not see Percival.’
‘When it was suggested he would only ask what good Percival could do him. I did send for him at last, in my terror, but he did not see his father alive. When he did come he only told me how badly his father had treated him! It was very dreadful!’
‘I did so feel for you.’
‘I am sure you did, and will. After all, Frank, I think that the pious godly people have the best of it in this world. Let them be ever so covetous, ever so false, ever so hard-hearted, the mere fact that they must keep up appearances, makes them comfortable to those around them. Poor papa was not comfortable to me. A little hypocrisy, a little sacrifice to the feelings of the world, may be such a blessing.’
‘I am sorry that you should feel it so.’
‘Yes; it is sad. But you; — everything is smiling with you! Let us talk about your plans.’
‘Another time will do for that. I had come to hear about your own affairs.’
‘There they are,’ she said, pointing round the room. ‘I have no other affairs. You see that I am going from here.’
‘And where are you going?’ She shook her head. ‘With whom will you live?’
‘With Miss Cass — two old maids together. I know nothing further.’
‘But about money? That is if I am justified in asking.’
‘What would you not be justified in asking? Do you not know that I would tell you every secret of my own heart; — if my heart had a secret? It seems that I have given up what was to have been my fortune. There was a claim of twelve thousand pounds on Grex. But I have abandoned it.’
‘And there is nothing?’
‘There will be scrapings they tell me — unless Percival refuses to agree. This house is mortgaged, but not for its value. And there are some jewels. But all that is detestable — a mere grovelling among mean hundreds; whereas you — you will soar among —’
‘Oh Mabel! do not say hard things to me.’
‘No, indeed! why should I — I who have been preaching that comfortable doctrine of hypocrisy? I will say nothing hard. But I would sooner talk of your good things than my evil ones.’
‘I would not.’
‘Then you must talk about them for my sake. How was it that the Duke came round at last?’
‘I hardly know. She sent for me.’
‘A fine high-spirited girl. These Pallisers have more courage about them than one expects from their outward manner. Silverbridge has plenty of it.’
‘I remember telling you he could be obstinate.’
‘And I remember that I did not believe you. Now I know it. He has that sort of pluck which enables a man to break a girl’s heart — or to destroy a girl’s hopes — without wincing. He can tell a girl to her face that she can go to the — mischief for him. There are so many men who can’t do that, from cowardice, though their hearts be ever so well inclined. “I have changed my mind.” There is something great in the courage of a man who can say that to a woman in so many words. Most of them, when they escape by lies and subterfuges. Or they run away and won’t allow themselves to be heard of. They trust to a chapter of accidents, and leave things to arrange themselves. But when a man can look a girl in the face with those seemingly soft eyes, and say with that seemingly soft mouth — “I have changed my mind” — though she would look him dead in return, if she could, still she must admire him.’ ‘Are you speaking of Silverbridge now?’
‘Of course I am speaking of Silverbridge. I suppose I ought to hide it all and not tell you. But as you are the only person I do tell, you must put up with me. Yes; — when I taxed him with his falsehood — for he had been false — he answered me with those very words! “I have changed my mind.” He could not lie. To speak the truth was a necessity to him, even at the expense of his gallantry, almost of his humanity.’
‘Has he been false to you, Mabel?’
‘Of course he has. But there is nothing to quarrel about if you mean that. People do not quarrel now about such things. A girl has to fight her own battle with her own pluck and her own wits. As with these weapons she is generally stronger than her enemy, she succeeds sometimes although everything else is against her. I think I am courageous, but his courage beat mine. I craned at the first fence. When he was willing to swallow my bait, my hand was not firm enough to strike the hook in his jaws. Had I not quailed then I think I should have-“had him”.’
‘It is horrid to hear you talk like this.’ She was leaning over from her seat, looking black as she was, so much older than her wont, with something about her of the unworldly serious thoughtfulness which a mourning always gives. And yet her words were so worldly, so unfeminine!
‘I have got to tell the truth to somebody. It was so, just as I have said. Of course I did not love him. How could I love him after what has passed? But there need have been nothing much in that. I don’t suppose that Duke’s eldest sons often get married for love.’
‘Miss Boncassen loves him.’
‘I dare say the beggar’s daughter loved King Cophetua. When you come to distances such as that, there can be love. The very fact that a man should have descended so far in the quest of beauty — the flattery of it alone — will produce love. When the angels came after the daughters of men of course the daughters of men loved them. The distance between him and me is not great enough to have produced that sort of worship. There was no reason why Lady Mabel Grex should not be good enough wife for the son of the Duke of Omnium.’
‘And therefore I was not struck, as by the shining of la light from heaven. I cannot say that I loved him, Frank — I am beyond worshipping even an angel from heaven.’
‘Then I do not know that you can blame him,’ he said very seriously.
‘Just so; — and as I have chosen to be honest I have told him everything. But I had my revenge first.’
‘I would have said nothing.’
‘You would have recommended — delicacy! No doubt you think that women should be delicate let them suffer what they may. A woman should not let it be known that she has any human nature in her. I had him on the hip, and for a moment I used my power. He had certainly done me a wrong. He had asked for my love — and with the delicacy which you commend, I had not at once grasped at all that such a request conveyed. Then, as he told me so frankly, he “changed his mind”! Did he not wrong me?’
‘He should not have raised false hopes.’
‘He told me that — he had changed his mind. I think I loved him then as nearly as I ever did — because he looked me full in the face. Then — I told him that I had never cared for him, and that he need have nothing on his conscience. But I doubt whether he was glad to hear it. Men are so vain! I have talked too much about myself. And so you are to be the Duke’s son-in-law. And she will have hundreds of thousands.’
‘Thousands perhaps, but I do not think very much about it. I feel that he will provide for her.’
‘And that you, having secured her, can creep under his wing like an additional ducal chick. It is very comfortable. The Duke will be quite a Providence to you. I wonder that all young gentlemen do not marry heiresses; — it is so easy. And you have got your seat in Parliament too! Oh, your luck! When I look back upon it all it seems so hard to me! It was for you; — for you that I used to be anxious. Now it is I who have not an inch of ground to stand upon.’ Then he approached her and put out his hand to her. ‘No,’ she said, putting both her hands behind her back, ‘for God’s sake let there be no tenderness. But is it not cruel? Think of my advantages at that moment when you and I agreed that our paths should be separate. My fortune then had not been made quite shipwreck by my father and brother. I had before me all that society could offer. I was called handsome and clever. Where was there a girl more likely to make her way to the top?’
‘You may do still.’
‘No; — no; — I cannot. And you at least should not tell me so. I did not know then the virulence of the malady which had fallen on me. I did not know that, because of you, other men would have been abhorrent to me. I thought that I was as easy-hearted as you have proved yourself.’
‘How cruel you can be.’
‘Have I done anything to interfere with you? Have I said a word even to that young lad when I might have said a word? Yes; to him I did say something; but I waited, and would not say it, while a word could hurt you. Shall I tell you what I told him? Just everything that has ever happened between you and me.’
‘Yes; — because I saw that I could trust him. I told him because I wanted him to be quite sure that I had never loved him. But, Frank, I have put no spoke in your wheel. There has not been a moment since you told me of your love for this rich young lady in which I would not have helped you had help been in my power. Whomever I may have harmed, I have never harmed you.’
‘Am I not as clear from blame towards you?’
‘No, Frank. You have done me the terrible evil of ceasing to love me.’
‘It was at your own bidding.’
‘Certainly! But if I were to bid you to cut your throat, would you do it?’
‘Was it not you who decided that we could not wait for each other?’
‘And should it not have been for you to decide that you would wait?’
‘You also would have married.’
‘It almost angers me that you should not see the difference. A girl unless she marries becomes nothing, as I have become nothing now. A man does not want a pillar on which to lean. A man, when he has done as you have done with me, and made a girl’s heart all his own, even though his own heart had been flexible and plastic as yours is, should have been true to her, at least for a while. Did it never occur to you that you owed something to me?’
‘I have always owed you very much.’
‘There should have been some touch of chivalry if not of love to make you feel that a second passion should have been postponed for a year or two. You could wait without growing old. You might have allowed yourself a little space to dwell — I was going to say on the sweetness of your memories. But they were not sweet, Frank, they were not sweet to you.’
‘These rebukes, Mabel, will rob them of their sweetness — for a time.’
‘It is gone; all gone,’ she said, shaking her head — ‘gone from me because I have been so easily deserted; gone from you because the change has been so easy to you. How long was it, Frank, after you had left me before you were basking happily in the smiles of Lady Mary Palliser?’
‘It was not very long, as months go.’
‘Say days, Frank.’
‘I have to defend myself, and I will do so with truth. It was not very long — as months go; but why should it have been less long, whether for months or days? I had to cure myself of a wound.’
‘To put plaster on a scratch, Frank.’
‘And the sooner a man can do that the more manly he is. Is it a sign of strength to wail under a sorrow that cannot be cured — or of truth to perpetuate the appearance of a woe?’
‘Has it been an appearance with me?’
‘I am speaking of myself now. I am driven to speak of myself by the bitterness of your words. It was you who decided.’
‘You accepted my decision easily.’
‘Because it was based not only on my unfitness for such a marriage, but on yours. When I saw that there would be perhaps some years of misery for you, of course I accepted your decision. The sweetness had been very sweet to me.’
‘Oh Frank, was it ever sweet to you?’
‘And the triumph of it had been very great. I had been assured of the love of her who among all the high ones of the world seemed to me to be the highest. Then came your decision. Do you really believe that I could abandon the sweetness, that I could be robbed of my triumph, that I could think I could never again be allowed to put my arm round your waist, never again feel your cheek close to mine, that I should lose all that had seemed left to me among the gods, without feeling it?’
‘Frank, Frank!’ she said, rising to her feet, and stretching out her hands as though she were going to give him back all these joys.
‘Of course I felt it. I did not then know what was before me.’ When he said this she sank immediately back upon her seat. ‘I was wretched enough. I had lost a limb and could not walk; my eyes, and must always hereafter be blind; my fitness to be among men, and must always hereafter be secluded. It is so that a man is stricken down when some terrible trouble comes upon him. But it is given to him to retrick his beams.’
‘You have retricked yours.’
‘Yes; — and the strong man will show his strength by doing it quickly. Mabel, I sorrowed for myself greatly when that word was spoken, partly because I thought that your love could be so easily taken from me. And, since I have found that it has not been so, I have sorrowed for you also. But I do not blame myself, and I will not submit to have blame even from you.’ She stared at him in the face as he said this. ‘A man should never submit to blame.’
‘But if he has deserved it?’
‘Who is to be the judge? But why should we contest this? You do not really wish to trample on me!’
‘No; — not that.’
‘Nor to disgrace me; nor to make me feel myself disgraced in my own judgement?’ Then there was a pause for some moments as though he had left her without another word to say. ‘Shall I go now?’ he asked.
‘I fear that my presence only makes you unhappy.’
‘Then what will your absence do? When shall I see you again? But, no; I will not see you again. Not for many days — not for years. Why should I? Frank, is it wicked that I should love you?’ He could only shake his head in answer to this. ‘If it be so wicked that I must be punished for it eternally, still I love you. I can never, never, never love another. You cannot understand it. Oh God — that I had never understood it myself! I think, I think, that I would go with you now anywhere, facing all misery, all judgements, all disgrace. You know, do you not, that if it were possible, I should not say so. But as I know that you would not stir a step with me, I do say so.’
‘I know that it is not meant.’
‘It is meant, though it could not be done. Frank, I must not see her, not for awhile; not for years. I do not wish to hate her, but how can I help it? Do you remember when she flew into your arms in this room?’
‘I remember it.’
‘Of course you do. It is your great joy now to remember that, and such like. She must be very good! Though I hate her!’
‘Do not say that you hate her, Mabel.’
‘Though I hate her she must be good. It was a fine and brave thing to do. I have done it; but never before the world like that; have I, Frank? Oh, Frank, I shall never do it again. Go now, and do not touch me. Let us both pray that in ten years we may meet as passionate friends.’ He came to her hardly knowing what he meant, but purposing, as though by instinct, to take her hand as he parted from her. But she, putting both her hands before her face, and throwing herself on to the sofa, buried her head among the cushions.
‘Is there not to be another word?’ he said. Lying as she did, she still was able to make a movement of dissent and he left her, muttering just one word between his teeth, ‘Mabel, good-bye.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01