“So, Miss, you’ve took him,” said the joint Abigail of the Carbuncle establishment that evening to the younger of her two mistresses. Mrs. Carbuncle had resolved that the thing should be quite public.
“Just remember this,” replied Lucinda, “I don’t want to have a word said to me on the subject.”
“Only just to wish you joy, miss.”
Lucinda turned round with a flash of anger at the girl. “I don’t want your wishing. That’ll do. I can manage by myself. I won’t have you come near me if you can’t hold your tongue when you’re told.”
“I can hold my tongue as well as anybody,” said the Abigail with a toss of her head.
This happened after the party had separated for the evening. At dinner Sir Griffin had, of course, given Lucinda his arm; but so he had always done since they had been at Portray. Lucinda hardly opened her mouth at table, and had retreated to bed with a headache when the men, who on that day lingered a few minutes after the ladies, went into the drawing-room. This Sir Griffin felt to be almost an affront, as there was a certain process of farewell for the night which he had anticipated. If she was going to treat him like that, he would cut up rough, and she should know it.
“Well, Griff, so it’s all settled,” said Lord George in the smoking-room. Frank Greystock was there, and Sir Griffin did not like it.
“What do you mean by settled? I don’t know that anything is settled.”
“I thought it was. Weren’t you told so?” And Lord George turned to Greystock.
“I thought I heard a hint,” said Frank.
“I’m —— if I ever knew such people in my life,” said Sir Griffin. “They don’t seem to have an idea that a man’s own affairs may be private.”
“Such an affair as that never is private,” said Lord George. “The women take care of that. You don’t suppose they’re going to run down their game, and let nobody know it.”
“If they take me for game —”
“Of course you’re game. Every man’s game. Only some men are such bad game that they ain’t worth following. Take it easy, Griff; you’re caught.”
“No, I ain’t.”
“And enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that she’s about the handsomest girl out. As for me, I’d sooner have the widow. I beg your pardon, Mr. Greystock.” Frank merely bowed. “Simply, I mean, because she rides about two stone lighter. It’ll cost you something to mount Lady Tewett.”
“I don’t mean that she shall hunt,” said Sir Griffin. It will be seen, therefore, that the baronet made no real attempt to deny his engagement.
On the following day, which was Sunday, Sir Griffin, having ascertained that Miss Roanoke did not intend to go to church, stayed at home also. Mr. Emilius had been engaged to preach at the nearest Episcopal place of worship, and the remainder of the party all went to hear him. Lizzie was very particular about her Bible and Prayer-book, and Miss Macnulty wore a brighter ribbon on her bonnet than she had ever been known to carry before. Lucinda, when she had heard of the arrangement, had protested to her aunt that she would not go down-stairs till they had all returned; but Mrs. Carbuncle, fearing the anger of Sir Griffin, doubting whether in his anger he might not escape them altogether, said a word or two which even Lucinda found to be rational. “As you have accepted him, you shouldn’t avoid him, my dear. That is only making things worse for the future. And then it’s cowardly, is it not?” No word that could have been spoken was more likely to be efficacious. At any rate, she would not be cowardly.
As soon then as the wheels of the carriage were no longer heard grating upon the road, Lucinda, who had been very careful in her dress, so careful as to avoid all appearance of care, with slow majestic step descended to a drawing-room which they were accustomed to use on mornings. It was probable that Sir Griffin was smoking somewhere about the grounds, but it could not be her duty to go after him out of doors. She would remain there, and, if he chose, he might come to her. There could be no ground of complaint on his side if she allowed herself to be found in one of the ordinary sitting-rooms of the house. In about half an hour he sauntered upon the terrace, and flattened his nose against the window. She bowed and smiled to him, hating herself for smiling. It was perhaps the first time that she had endeavoured to put on a pleasant face wherewithal to greet him. He said nothing then, but passed round the house, threw away the end of his cigar, and entered the room. Whatever happened, she would not be a coward. The thing had to be done. Seeing that she had accepted him on the previous day, had not run away in the night or taken poison, and had come down to undergo the interview, she would undergo it at least with courage. What did it matter, even though he should embrace her? It was her lot to undergo misery, and as she had not chosen to take poison, the misery must be endured. She rose as he entered and gave him her hand. She had thought what she would do, and was collected and dignified. He had not, and was very awkward.
“So you haven’t gone to church, Sir Griffin, as you ought,” she said, with another smile.
“Come, I’ve gone as much as you.”
“But I had a headache. You stayed away to smoke cigars.”
“I stayed to see you, my girl.” A lover may call his ladylove his girl, and do so very prettily. He may so use the word that she will like it, and be grateful in her heart for the sweetness of the sound. But Sir Griffin did not do it nicely. “I’ve got ever so much to say to you.”
“I won’t flatter you by saying that I stayed to hear it.”
“But you did; didn’t you now?” She shook her head; but there was something almost of playfulness in her manner of doing it. “Ah, but I know you did. And why shouldn’t you speak out, now that we are to be man and wife? I like a girl to speak out. I suppose if I want to be with you, you want as much to be with me; eh?”
“I don’t see that that follows.”
“By — — if it doesn’t I’ll be off.”
“You must please yourself about that, Sir Griffin.”
“Come; do you love me? You have never said you loved me.” Luckily perhaps for her, he thought that the best assurance of love was a kiss. She did not revolt, or attempt to struggle with him; but the hot blood flew over her entire face, and her lips were very cold to his, and she almost trembled in his grasp. Sir Griffin was not a man who could ever have been the adored of many women, but the instincts of his kind were strong enough within him to make him feel that she did not return his embrace with passion. He had found her to be very beautiful; but it seemed to him that she had never been so little beautiful as when thus pressed close to his bosom. “Come,” he said, still holding her, “you’ll give me a kiss?”
“I did do it,” she said.
“No; nothing like it. Oh, if you won’t, you know ——.”
On a sudden she made up her mind, and absolutely did kiss him. She would sooner have leaped at the blackest, darkest, dirtiest river in the county. “There,” she said, “that will do,” gently extricating herself from his arms. “Some girls are different, I know; but you must take me as I am, Sir Griffin; that is, if you do take me.”
“Why can’t you drop the Sir?”
“Oh yes; I can do that.”
“And you do love me?” There was a pause, while she tried to swallow the lie. “Come; I’m not going to marry any girl who is ashamed to say that she loves me. I like a little flesh and blood. You do love me?”
“Yes,” she said. The lie was told; and for the moment he had to be satisfied. But in his heart he didn’t believe her. It was all very well for her to say that she wasn’t like other girls. Why shouldn’t she be like other girls? It might, no doubt, suit her to be made Lady Tewett; but he wouldn’t make her Lady Tewett if she gave herself airs with him. She should lie on his breast and swear that she loved him beyond all the world, or else she should never be Lady Tewett. Different from other girls indeed! She should know that he was different from other men. Then he asked her to come and take a walk about the grounds. To that she made no objection. She would get her hat and be with him in a minute.
But she was absent more than ten minutes. When she was alone she stood before her glass looking at herself, and then she burst into tears. Never before had she been thus polluted. The embrace had disgusted her. It made her odious to herself. And if this, the beginning of it, was so bad, how was she to drink the cup to the bitter dregs? Other girls, she knew, were fond of their lovers — some so fond of them that all moments of absence were moments, if not of pain, at any rate of regret. To her, as she stood there ready to tear herself because of the vileness of her own condition, it now seemed as though no such love as that were possible to her. For the sake of this man who was to be her husband, she hated all men. Was not everything around her base, and mean, and sordid? She had understood thoroughly the quick divulgings of Mrs. Carbuncle’s tidings, the working of her aunt’s anxious mind. The man, now that he had been caught, was not to be allowed to escape. But how great would be the boon if he would escape. How should she escape? And yet she knew that she meant to go on and bear it all. Perhaps by study and due practice she might become — as were some others — a beast of prey and nothing more. The feeling that had made these few minutes so inexpressibly loathsome to her might, perhaps, be driven from her heart. She washed the tears from her eyes with savage energy, and descended to her lover with a veil fastened closely under her hat. “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting,” she said.
“Women always do,” he replied laughing. “It gives them importance.”
“It is not so with me, I can assure you. I will tell you the truth. I was agitated, and I cried.”
“Oh, ay; I dare say.” He rather liked the idea of having reduced the haughty Lucinda to tears. “But you needn’t have been ashamed of my seeing it. As it is, I can see nothing. You must take that off presently.”
“Not now, Griffin.” Oh, what a name it was! It seemed to blister her tongue as she used it without the usual prefix.
“I never saw you tied up in that way before. You don’t do it out hunting. I’ve seen you when the snow has been driving in your face, and you didn’t mind it — not so much as I did.”
“You can’t be surprised that I should be agitated now.”
“But you’re happy, ain’t you?”
“Yes,” she said. The lie once told must of course be continued.
“Upon my word, I don’t quite understand you,” said Sir Griffin. “Look here, Lucinda; if you want to back out of it you can, you know.”
“If you ask me again, I will.” This was said with the old savage voice, and it at once reduced Sir Griffin to thraldom. To be rejected now would be the death of him. And should there come a quarrel, he was sure that it would seem to be that he had been rejected.
“I suppose it’s all right,” he said; “only when a man is only thinking how he can make you happy, he doesn’t like to find nothing but crying.” After this there was but little more said between them before they returned to the castle.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01