It was known that whatever might be the details of Mr Mildmay’s bill, the ballot would not form a part of it; and as there was a strong party in the House of Commons, and a very numerous party out of it, who were desirous that voting by ballot should be made a part of the electoral law, it was decided that an independent motion should be brought on in anticipation of Mr Mildmay’s bill. The arrangement was probably one of Mr Mildmay’s own making; so that he might be hampered by no opposition on that subject by his own followers if — as he did not doubt — the motion should be lost. It was expected that the debate would not last over one night, and Phineas resolved that he would make his maiden speech on this occasion. He had very strong opinions as to the inefficacy of the ballot for any good purposes, and thought that he might be able to strike out from his convictions some sparks of that fire which used to be so plentiful with him at the old debating clubs. But even at breakfast that morning his heart began to beat quickly at the idea of having to stand on his legs before so critical an audience.
He knew that it would be well that he should if possible get the subject off his mind during the day, and therefore went out among the people who certainly would not talk to him about the ballot. He sat for nearly an hour in the morning with Mr Low, and did not even tell Mr Low that it was his intention to speak on that day. Then he made one or two other calls, and at about three went up to Portman Square to look for Lord Chiltern. It was now nearly the end of February, and Phineas had often seen Lady Laura. He had not seen her brother, but had learned from his sister that he had been driven up to London by the frost. He was told by the porter at Lord Brentford’s that Lord Chiltern was in the house, and as he was passing through the hall he met Lord Brentford himself. He was thus driven to speak, and felt himself called upon to explain why he was there. “I am come to see Lord Chiltern,” he said.
“Is Lord Chiltern in the house?” said the Earl, turning to the servant.
“Yes, my lord; his lordship arrived last night.”
“You will find him upstairs, I suppose,” said the Earl. “For myself I know nothing of him.” He spoke in an angry tone, as though he resented the fact that any one should come to his house to call upon his son; and turned his back quickly upon Phineas. But he thought better of it before he reached the front door, and turned again. “By the bye,” said he, what majority shall we have tonight, Finn?”
“Pretty nearly as many as you please to name, my lord,” said Phineas.
“Well — yes; I suppose we are tolerably safe. You ought to speak upon it.”
“Perhaps I may,” said Phineas, feeling that he blushed as he spoke.
“Do,” said the Earl. Do. If you see Lord Chiltern will you tell him from me that I should be glad to see him before he leaves London. I shall be at home till noon tomorrow.” Phineas, much astonished at the commission given to him, of course said that he would do as he was desired, and then passed on to Lord Chiltern’s apartments.
He found his friend standing in the middle of the room, without coat and waistcoat, with a pair of dumb-bells in his hands. “When there’s no hunting I’m driven to this kind of thing,” said Lord Chiltern.
“I suppose it’s good exercise,” said Phineas.
“And it gives me something to do. When I’m in London I feel like a gipsy in church, till the time comes for prowling out at night. I’ve no occupation for my days whatever, and no place to which I can take myself. I can’t stand in a club window as some men do, and I should disgrace any decent club if I did stand there. I belong to the Travellers, but I doubt whether the porter would let me go in.”
“I think you pique yourself on being more of an outer Bohemian than you are,” said Phineas.
“I pique myself on this, that whether Bohemian or not, I will go nowhere that I am not wanted. Though — for the matter of that, I suppose I’m not wanted here.” Then Phineas gave him the message from his father. “He wishes to see me tomorrow morning?” continued Lord Chiltern. “Let him send me word what it is he has to say to me. I do not choose to be insulted by him, though he is my father.”
“I would certainly go, if I were you.”
“I doubt it very much, if all the circumstances were the same. Let him tell me what he wants.”
“Of course I cannot ask him, Chiltern.”
“I know what he wants very well. Laura has been interfering and doing no good. You know Violet Effingham?”
“Yes; I know her,” said Phineas, much surprised.
“They want her to marry me.”
“And you do not wish to marry her?”
“I did not say that. But do you think that such a girl as Miss Effingham would marry such a man as I am? She would be much more likely to take you. By George, she would! Do you know that she has three thousand a year of her own?”
“I know that she has money.”
“That’s about the tune of it. I would take her without a shilling tomorrow, if she would have me — because I like her. She is the only girl I ever did like. But what is the use of my liking her? They have painted me so black among them, especially my father, that no decent girl would think of marrying me.”
“Your father can’t be angry with you if you do your best to comply with his wishes.”
“I don’t care a straw whether he be angry or not. He allows me eight hundred a year, and he knows that if he stopped it I should go to the Jews the next day. I could not help myself. He can’t leave an acre away from me, and yet he won’t join me in raising money for the sake of paying Laura her fortune.”
“Lady Laura can hardly want money now.”
“That detestable prig whom she has chosen to marry, and whom I hate with all my heart, is richer than ever Croesus was; but nevertheless Laura ought to have her own money. She shall have it some day.”
“I would see Lord Brentford, if I were you.”
“I will think about it. Now tell me about coming down to Willingford. Laura says you will come some day in March. I can mount you for a couple of days and should be delighted to have you. My horses all pull like the mischief, and rush like devils, and want a deal of riding; but an Irishman likes that.”
“I do not dislike it particularly.”
“I like it. I prefer to have something to do on horseback. When a man tells me that a horse is an armchair, I always tell him to put the brute into his bedroom. Mind you come. The house I stay at is called the Willingford Bull, and it’s just four miles from Peterborough.” Phineas swore that he would go down and ride the pulling horses, and then took his leave, earnestly advising Lord Chiltern, as he went, to keep the appointment proposed by his father.
When the morning came, at half past eleven, the son, who had been standing for half an hour with his back to the fire in the large gloomy dining-room, suddenly rang the bell. “Tell the Earl,” he said to the servant, “that I am here and will go to him if he wishes it.” The servant came back, and said that the Earl was waiting. Then Lord Chiltern strode after the man into his father’s room.
“Oswald,” said the father, I have sent for you because I think it may be as well to speak to you on some business. Will you sit down?” Lord Chiltern sat down, but did not answer a word. “I feel very unhappy about your sister’s fortune,” said the Earl.
“So do I— very unhappy. We can raise the money between us, and pay her tomorrow, if you please it.”
“It was in opposition to my advice that she paid your debts.”
“And in opposition to mine too.”
“I told her that I would not pay them, and were I to give her back tomorrow, as you say, the money that she has so used, I should be stultifying myself. But I will do so on one condition. I will join with you in raising the money for your sister, on one condition.”
“What is that?”
“Laura tells me — indeed she has told me often — that you are attached to Violet Effingham.”
“But Violet Effingham, my lord, is unhappily not attached to me.”
“I do not know how that may be. Of course I cannot say. I have never taken the liberty of interrogating her upon the subject.”
“Even you, my lord, could hardly have done that.”
“What do you mean by that? I say that I never have,” said the Earl, angrily.
“I simply mean that even you could hardly have asked Miss Effingham such a question. I have asked her, and she has refused me.”
“But girls often do that, and yet accept afterwards the men whom they have refused. Laura tells me that she believes that Violet would consent if you pressed your suit.”
“Laura knows nothing about it, my lord.”
“There you are probably wrong. Laura and Violet are very close friends, and have no doubt discussed this matter between them. At any rate, it may be as well that you should hear what I have to say. Of course I shall not interfere myself. There is no ground on which I can do so with propriety.”
“None whatever,” said Lord Chiltern.
The Earl became very angry, and nearly broke down in his anger. He paused for a moment, feeling disposed to tell his son to go and never to see him again. But he gulped down his wrath, and went on with his speech. “My meaning, sir, is this — that I have so great faith in Violet Effingham, that I would receive her acceptance of your hand as the only proof which would be convincing to me of amendment in your mode of life. If she were to do so, I would join with you in raising money to pay your sister, would make some further sacrifice with reference to an income for you and your wife, and — would make you both welcome to Saulsby — if you chose to come.” The Earl’s voice hesitated much and became almost tremulous as he made the last proposition. And his eyes had fallen away from his son’s gaze, and he had bent a little over the table, and was moved. But he recovered himself at once, and added, with all proper dignity, “If you have anything to say I shall be glad to hear it.”
“All your offers would be nothing, my lord, if I did not like the girl.”
“I should not ask you to marry a girl if you did not like her, as you call it.”
“But as to Miss Effingham, it happens that our wishes jump together. I have asked her, and she has refused me. I don’t even know where to find her to ask her again. If I went to Lady Baldock’s house the servants would not let me in.”
“And whose fault is that?”
“Yours partly, my lord. You have told everybody that I am the devil, and now all the old women believe it.”
“I never told anybody so.”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I will go down to Lady Baldock’s today. I suppose she is at Baddingham. And if I can get speech of Miss Effingham — ”
“Miss Effingham is not at Baddingham. Miss Effingham is staying with your sister in Grosvenor Place. I saw her yesterday.”
“She is in London?”
“I tell you that I saw her yesterday.”
“Very well, my lord. Then I will do the best I can. Laura will tell you of the result.”
The father would have given the son some advice as to the mode in which he should put forward his claim upon Violet’s hand, but the son would not wait to hear it. Choosing to presume that the conference was over, he went back to the room in which he had kept his dumb-bells; and for a minute or two went to work at his favourite exercise. But he soon put the dumb-bells down, and began to prepare himself for his work. If this thing was to be done, it might as well be done at once. He looked out of his window, and saw that the streets were in a mess of slush. White snow was becoming black mud, as it will do in London; and the violence of frost was giving way to the horrors of thaw. All would be soft and comparatively pleasant in Northamptonshire on the following morning, and if everything went right he would breakfast at the Willingford Bull. He would go down by the hunting train, and be at the inn by ten. The meet was only six miles distant, and all would be pleasant. He would do this whatever might be the result of his work today — but in the meantime he would go and do his work. He had a cab called, and within half an hour of the time at which he had left his father, he was at the door of his sister’s house in Grosvenor Place. The servants told him that the ladies were at lunch. “I can’t eat lunch,” he said. “Tell them that I am in the drawing-room.”
“He has come to see you,” said Lady Laura, as soon as the servant had left the room.
“I hope not,” said Violet.
“Do not say that.”
“But I do say it. I hope he has not come to see me — that is, not to see me specially. Of course I cannot pretend not to know what you mean.”
“He may think it civil to call if he has heard that you are in town,” said Lady Laura, after a pause.
“If it be only that, I will be civil in return — as sweet as May to him. If it be really only that, and if I were sure of it, I should be really glad to see him.” Then they finished their lunch, and Lady Laura got up and led the way to the drawing-room.
“I hope you remember,” said she, gravely, that you might be a saviour to him.”
“I do not believe in girls being saviours to men. It is the man who should be the saviour to the girl. If I marry at all, I have the right to expect that protection shall be given to me — not that I shall have to give it.”
“Violet, you are determined to misrepresent what I mean.”
Lord Chiltern was walking about the room, and did not sit down when they entered. The ordinary greetings took place, and Miss Effingham made some remark about the frost. “But it seems to be going,” she said, “and I suppose that you will soon be at work again?”
“Yes — I shall hunt tomorrow,” said Lord Chiltern.
“And the next day, and the next, and the next,” said Violet, “till about the middle of April — and then your period of misery will begin!”
“Exactly,” said Lord Chiltern. I have nothing but hunting that I can call an occupation.”
“Why don’t you make one?” said his sister.
“I mean to do so, if it be possible. Laura, would you mind leaving me and Miss Effingham alone for a few minutes?”
Lady Laura got up, and so also did Miss Effingham. “For what purpose?” said the latter. “It cannot be for any good purpose.”
“At any rate I wish it, and I will not harm you.” Lady Laura was now going, but paused before she reached the door. “Laura, will you do as I ask you?” said the brother. Then Lady Laura went.
“It was not that I feared you would harm me, Lord Chiltern,” said Violet.
“No — I know it was not. But what I say is always said awkwardly. An hour ago I did not know that you were in town, but when I was told the news I came at once. My father told me.”
“I am so glad that you see your father.”
“I have not spoken to him for months before, and probably may not speak to him for months again. But there is one point, Violet, on which he and I agree.”
“I hope there will soon be many.”
“It is possible — but I fear not probable. Look here, Violet,” — and he looked at her with all his eyes, till it seemed to her that he was all eyes, so great was the intensity of his gaze — “I should scorn myself were I to permit myself to come before you with a plea for your favour founded on my father’s whims. My father is unreasonable, and has been very unjust to me. He has ever believed evil of me, and has believed it often when all the world knew that he was wrong. I care little for being reconciled to a father who has been so cruel to me.”
“He loves me dearly, and is my friend. I would rather that you should not speak against him to me.”
“You will understand, at least, that I am asking nothing from you because he wishes it, Laura probably has told you that you may make things straight by becoming my wife.”
“She has — certainly, Lord Chiltern.”
“It is an argument that she should never have used. It is an argument to which you should not listen for a moment. Make things straight indeed! Who can tell? There would be very little made straight by such a marriage, if it were not that I loved you. Violet, that is my plea, and my only one. I love you so well that I do believe that if you took me I should return to the old ways, and become as other men are, and be in time as respectable, as stupid — and perhaps as ill-natured as old Lady Baldock herself.”
“My poor aunt!”
“You know she says worse things of me than that. Now, dearest, you have heard all that I have to say to you.” As he spoke he came close to her, and put out his hand — but she did not touch it. “I have no other argument to use — not a word more to say. As I came here in the cab I was turning it over in my mind that I might find what best I should say. But, after all, there is nothing more to be said than that.”
“The words make no difference,” she replied.
“Not unless they be so uttered as to force a belief. I do love you. I know no other reason but that why you should be my wife. I have no other excuse to offer for coming to you again. You are the one thing in the world that to me has any charm. Can you be surprised that I should be persistent in asking for it?” He was looking at her still with the same gaze, and there seemed to be a power in his eye from which she could not escape. He was still standing with his right hand out, as though expecting, or at least hoping, that her hand might be put into his.
“How am I to answer you?” she said.
“With your love, if you can give it to me. Do you remember how you swore once that you would love me for ever and always?”
“You should not remind me of that. I was a child then — a naughty child,” she added, smiling; “and was put to bed for what I did on that day.”
“Be a child still.”
“Ah, if we but could!”
“And have you no other answer to make me?”
“Of course I must answer you. You are entitled to an answer. Lord Chiltern, I am sorry that I cannot give you the love for which you ask.”
“Is it myself personally, or what you have heard of me, that is so hateful to you?”
“Nothing is hateful to me. I have never spoken of hate. I shall always feel the strongest regard for my old friend and playfellow. But there are many things which a woman is bound to consider before she allows herself so to love a man that she can consent to become his wife.”
“Allow herself! Then it is a matter entirely of calculation.”
“I suppose there should be some thought in it, Lord Chiltern.”
There was now a pause, and the man’s hand was at last allowed to drop, as there came no response to the proffered grasp. He walked once or twice across the room before he spoke again, and then he stopped himself closely opposite to her.
“I shall never try again,” he said.
“It will be better so,” she replied.
“There is something to me unmanly in a man’s persecuting a girl. Just tell Laura, will you, that it is all over; and she may as well tell my father. Goodbye.”
She then tendered her hand to him, but he did not take it — probably did not see it, and at once left the room and the house.
“And yet I believe you love him,” Lady Laura said to her friend in her anger, when they discussed the matter immediately on Lord Chiltern’s departure.
“You have no right to say that, Laura.”
“I have a right to my belief, and I do believe it. I think you love him, and that you lack the courage to risk yourself in trying to save him.”
“Is a woman bound to marry a man if she love him?”
“Yes, she is,” replied Lady Laura impetuously, without thinking of what she was saying; “that is, if she be convinced that she also is loved.”
“Whatever be the man’s character — whatever be the circumstances? Must she do so, whatever friends may say to the contrary? Is there to be no prudence in marriage?”
“There may be a great deal too much prudence,” said Lady Laura.
“That is true. There is certainly too much prudence if a woman marries prudently, but without love.” Violet intended by this no attack upon her friend — had not had present in her mind at the moment any idea of Lady Laura’s special prudence in marrying Mr Kennedy; but Lady Laura felt it keenly, and knew at once that an arrow had been shot which had wounded her.
“We shall get nothing,” she said, by descending to personalities with each other.”
“I meant none, Laura.”
“I suppose it is always hard,” said Lady Laura, for any one person to judge altogether of the mind of another. If I have said anything severe of your refusal of my brother, I retract it. I only wish that it could have been otherwise.”
Lord Chiltern, when he left his sister’s house, walked through the slush and dirt to a haunt of his in the neighbourhood of Covent Garden, and there he remained through the whole afternoon and evening. A certain Captain Clutterbuck joined him, and dined with him. He told nothing to Captain Clutterbuck of his sorrow, but Captain Clutterbuck could see that he was unhappy.
“Let’s have another bottle of “cham,”” said Captain Clutterbuck, when their dinner was nearly over. ““Cham” is the only thing to screw one up when one is down a peg.”
“You can have what you like,” said Lord Chiltern; but I shall have some brandy and water.”
“The worst of brandy and water is, that one gets tired of it before the night is over,” said Captain Clutterbuck.
Nevertheless, Lord Chiltern did go down to Peterborough the next day by the hunting train, and rode his horse Bonebreaker so well in that famous run from Sutton springs to Gidding that after the run young Piles — of the house of Piles, Sarsnet, and Gingham — offered him three hundred pounds for the animal.
“He isn’t worth above fifty,” said Lord Chiltern.
“But I’ll give you the three hundred,” said Piles.
“You couldn’t ride him if you’d got him,” said Lord Chiltern.
“Oh, couldn’t I!” said Piles. But Mr Piles did not continue the conversation, contenting himself with telling his friend Grogram that that red devil Chiltern was as drunk as a lord.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14