The reader has been told that Lord Chiltern was a red man, and that peculiarity of his personal appearance was certainly the first to strike a stranger. It imparted a certain look of ferocity to him, which was apt to make men afraid of him at first sight. Women are not actuated in the same way, and are accustomed to look deeper into men at the first sight than other men will trouble themselves to do. His beard was red, and was clipped, so as to have none of the softness of waving hair. The hair on his head also was kept short, and was very red — and the colour of his face was red. Nevertheless he was a handsome man, with well-cut features, not tall, but very strongly built, and with a certain curl in the corner of his eyelids which gave to him a look of resolution — which perhaps he did not possess. He was known to be a clever man, and when very young had had the reputation of being a scholar. When he was three-and-twenty grey-haired votaries of the turf declared that he would make his fortune on the race-course — so clear-headed was he as to odds, so excellent a judge of a horse’s performances, and so gifted with a memory of events. When he was five-and-twenty he had lost every shilling of a fortune of his own, had squeezed from his father more than his father ever chose to name in speaking of his affairs to anyone, and was known to be in debt. But he had sacrificed himself on one or two memorable occasions in conformity with turf laws of honour, and men said of him, either that he was very honest or very chivalric — in accordance with the special views on the subject of the man who was speaking. It was reported now that he no longer owned horses on the turf — but this was doubted by some who could name the animals which they said that he owned, and which he ran in the name of Mr Macnab — said some; of Mr Pardoe — said others; of Mr Chickerwick — said a third set of informants. The fact was that Lord Chiltern at this moment had no interest of his own in any horse upon the turf.
But all the world knew that he drank. He had taken by the throat a proctor’s bull-dog when he had been drunk at Oxford, had nearly strangled the man, and had been expelled. He had fallen through his violence into some terrible misfortune at Paris, had been brought before a public judge, and his name and his infamy had been made notorious in every newspaper in the two capitals. After that he had fought a ruffian at Newmarket, and had really killed him with his fists. In reference to this latter affray it had been proved that the attack had been made on him, that he had not been to blame, and that he had not been drunk. After a prolonged investigation he had come forth from that affair without disgrace. He would have done so, at least, if he had not been heretofore disgraced. But we all know how the man well spoken of may steal a horse, while he who is of evil repute may not look over a hedge. It was asserted widely by many who were supposed to know all about everything that Lord Chiltern was in a fit of delirium tremens when he killed the ruffian at Newmarket. The worst of that latter affair was that it produced the total estrangement which now existed between Lord Brentford and his son, Lord Brentford would not believe that his son was in that matter more sinned against than sinning. “Such things do not happen to other men’s sons,” he said, when Lady Laura pleaded for her brother. Lady Laura could not induce her father to see his son, but so far prevailed that no sentence of banishment was pronounced against Lord Chiltern. There was nothing to prevent the son sitting at his father’s table if he so pleased. He never did so please — but nevertheless he continued to live in the house in Portman Square; and when he met the Earl, in the hall, perhaps, or on the staircase, would simply bow to him. Then the Earl would bow again, and shuffle on — and look very wretched, as no doubt he was. A grown-up son must be the greatest comfort a man can have — if he be his father’s best friend; but otherwise he can hardly be a comfort. As it was in this house, the son was a constant thorn in his father’s side.
“What does he do when we leave London?” Lord Brentford once said to his daughter.
“He stays here, papa.”
“But he hunts still?”
“Yes, he hunts — and he has a room somewhere at an inn — down in Northamptonshire. But he is mostly in London. They have trains on purpose.”
“What a life for my son!” said the Earl. What a life! Of course no decent person will let him into his house.” Lady Laura did not know what to say to this, for in truth Lord Chiltern was not fond of staying at the houses of persons whom the Earl would have called decent.
General Effingham, the father of Violet, and Lord Brentford had been the closest and dearest of friends. They had been young men in the same regiment, and through life each had confided in the other. When the General’s only son, then a youth of seventeen, was killed in one of our grand New Zealand wars, the bereaved father and the Earl had been together for a month in their sorrow. At that time Lord Chiltern’s career had still been open to hope — and the one man had contrasted his lot with the other. General Effingham lived long enough to hear the Earl declare that his lot was the happier of the two. Now the General was dead, and Violet, the daughter of a second wife, was all that was left of the Effinghams. This second wife had been a Miss Plummer, a lady from the city with much money, whose sister had married Lord Baldock. Violet in this way had fallen to the care of the Baldock people, and not into the hands of her father’s friends. But, as the reader will have surmised, she had ideas of her own of emancipating herself from Baldock thraldom.
Twice before that last terrible affair at Newmarket, before the quarrel between the father and the son had been complete, Lord Brentford had said a word to his daughter — merely a word — of his son in connection with Miss Effingham.
“If he thinks of it I shall be glad to see him on the subject. You may tell him so.” That had been the first word. He had just then resolved that the affair in Paris should be regarded as condoned — as among the things to be forgotten. “She is too good for him; but if he asks her let him tell her everything.” That had been the second word, and had been spoken immediately subsequent to a payment of twelve thousand pounds made by the Earl towards the settlement of certain Doncaster accounts. Lady Laura in negotiating for the money had been very eloquent in describing some honest — or shall we say chivalric — sacrifice which had brought her brother into this special difficulty. Since that the Earl had declined to interest himself in his son’s matrimonial affairs; and when Lady Laura had once again mentioned the matter, declaring her belief that it would be the means of saving her brother Oswald, the Earl had desired her to be silent. “Would you wish to destroy the poor child?” he had said. Nevertheless Lady Laura felt sure that if she were to go to her father with a positive statement that Oswald and Violet were engaged, he would relent and would accept Violet as his daughter. As for the payment of Lord Chiltern’s present debts — she had a little scheme of her own about that.
Miss Effingham, who had been already two days in Portman Square, had not as yet seen Lord Chiltern. She knew that he lived in the house, that is, that he slept there, and probably ate his breakfast in some apartment of his own; but she knew also that the habits of the house would not by any means make it necessary that they should meet. Laura and her brother probably saw each other daily — but they never went into society together, and did not know the same sets of people. When she had announced to Lady Baldock her intention of spending the first fortnight of her London season with her friend Lady Laura, Lady Baldock had as a matter of course — “jumped upon her,” as Miss Effingham would herself call it.
“You are going to the house of the worst reprobate in all England,” said Lady Baldock.
“What — dear old Lord Brentford, whom papa loved so well!”
“I mean Lord Chiltern, who, only last year — murdered a man!”
“That is not true, aunt.”
“There is worse than that — much worse. He is always — tipsy, and always gambling, and always — But it is quite unfit that I should speak a word more to you about such a man as Lord Chiltern. His name ought never to be mentioned.”
“Then why did you mention it, aunt?”
Lady Baldock’s process of jumping upon her niece — in which I think the aunt had generally the worst of the exercise — went on for some time, but Violet of course carried her point.
“If she marries him there will be an end of everything,” said Lady Baldock to her daughter Augusta.
“She has more sense than that, mamma,” said Augusta.
“I don’t think she has any sense at all,” said Lady Baldock — “not in the least. I do wish my poor sister had lived — I do indeed.”
Lord Chiltern was now in the room with Violet — immediately upon that conversation between Violet and his sister as to the expediency of Violet becoming his wife. Indeed his entrance had interrupted the conversation before it was over. “I am so glad to see you, Miss Effingham,” he said. “I came in thinking that I might find you.”
“Here I am, as large as life,” she said, getting up from her corner on the sofa and giving him her hand. “Laura and I have been discussing the affairs of the nation for the last two days, and have nearly brought our discussion to an end.” She could not help looking, first at his eye and then at his hand, not as wanting evidence to the truth of the statement which his sister had made, but because the idea of a drunkard’s eye and a drunkard’s hand had been brought before her mind. Lord Chiltern’s hand was like the hand of any other man, but there was something in his eye that almost frightened her. It looked as though he would not hesitate to wring his wife’s neck round, if ever he should be brought to threaten to do so. And then his eye, like the rest of him, was red. No — she did not think that she could ever bring herself to marry him. Why take a venture that was double-dangerous, when there were so many ventures open to her, apparently with very little of danger attached to them? “If it should ever be said that I loved him, I would do it all the same,” she said to herself.
“If I did not come and see you here, I suppose that I should never see you,” said he, seating himself. “I do not often go to parties, and when I do you are not likely to be there.”
“We might make our little arrangements for meeting,” said she, laughing, “My aunt, Lady Baldock, is going to have an evening next week.”
“The servants would be ordered to put me out of the house.”
“Oh no. You can tell her that I invited you.”
“I don’t think that Oswald and Lady Baldock are great friends,” said Lady Laura.
“Or he might come and take you and me to the Zoo on Sunday. That’s the proper sort of thing for a brother and a friend to do.”
“I hate that place in the Regent’s Park,” said Lord Chiltern.
“When were you there last?” demanded Miss Effingham.
“When I came home once from Eton. But I won’t go again till I can come home from Eton again.” Then he altered his tone as he continued to speak. “People would look at me as if I were the wildest beast in the whole collection.”
“Then,” said Violet, if you won’t go to Lady Baldock’s or to the Zoo, we must confine ourselves to Laura’s drawing-room — unless, indeed, you like to take me to the top of the Monument.”
“I’ll take you to the top of the Monument with pleasure.”
“What do you say, Laura?”
“I say that you are a foolish girl,” said Lady Laura, “and that I will have nothing to do with such a scheme.”
“Then there is nothing for it but that you should come here; and as you live in the house, and as I am sure to be here every morning, and as you have no possible occupation for your time, and as we have nothing particular to do with ours — I daresay I shan’t see you again before I go to my aunt’s in Berkeley Square.”
“Very likely not,” he said.
“And why not, Oswald?” asked his sister.
He passed his hand over his face before he answered her. “Because she and I run in different grooves now, and are not such meet playfellows as we used to be once. Do you remember my taking you away right through Saulsby Wood once on the old pony, and not bringing you back till tea-time, and Miss Blink going and telling my father?”
“Do I remember it? I think it was the happiest day in my life. His pockets were crammed full of gingerbread and Everton toffee, and we had three bottles of lemonade slung on to the pony’s saddlebows. I thought it was a pity that we should ever come back.”
“It was a pity,” said Lord Chiltern.
“But, nevertheless, substantially necessary,” said Lady Laura.
“Failing our power of reproducing the toffee, I suppose it was,” said Violet.
“You were not Miss Effingham then,” said Lord Chiltern.
“No — not as yet. These disagreeable realities of life grow upon one; do they not? You took off my shoes and dried them for me at a woodman’s cottage. I am obliged to put up with my maid’s doing those things now. And Miss Blink the mild is changed for Lady Baldock the martinet. And if I rode about with you in a wood all day I should be sent to Coventry instead of to bed. And so you see everything is changed as well as my name.”
“Everything is not changed,” said Lord Chiltern, getting up from his seat. “I am not changed — at least not in this, that as I loved you better than any being in the world — better even than Laura there — so do I love you now infinitely the best of all. Do not look so surprised at me. You knew it before as well as you do now — and Laura knows it. There is no secret to be kept in the matter among us three.”
“But, Lord Chiltern — “ said Miss Effingham, rising also to her feet, and then pausing, not knowing how to answer him. There had been a suddenness in his mode of addressing her which had, so to say, almost taken away her breath; and then to be told by a man of his love before his sister was in itself, to her, a matter so surprising, that none of those words came at her command which will come, as though by instinct, to young ladies on such occasions.
“You have known it always,” said he, as though he were angry with her.
“Lord Chiltern,” she replied, you must excuse me if I say that you are, at the least, very abrupt. I did not think when I was going back so joyfully to our childish days that you would turn the tables on me in this way.”
“He has said nothing that ought to make you angry,” said Lady Laura.
“Only because he has driven me to say that which will make me appear to be uncivil to himself. Lord Chiltern, I do not love you with that love of which you are speaking now. As an old friend I have always regarded you, and I hope that I may always do so.” Then she got up and left the room.
“Why were you so sudden with her — so abrupt — so loud?” said his sister, coming up to him and taking him by the arm almost in anger.
“It would make no difference,” said he. She does not care for me.”
“It makes all the difference in the world,” said Lady Laura, “Such a woman as Violet cannot be had after that fashion. You must begin again.”
“I have begun and ended,” he said.
“That is nonsense. Of course you will persist. It was madness to speak in that way today. You may be sure of this, however, that there is no one she likes better than you. You must remember that you have done much to make any girl afraid of you.”
“I do remember it.”
“Do something now to make her fear you no longer. Speak to her softly. Tell her of the sort of life which you would live with her. Tell her that all is changed. As she comes to love you, she will believe you when she would believe no one else on that matter.”
“Am I to tell her a lie?” said Lord Chiltern, looking his sister full in the face. Then he turned upon his heel and left her.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14