One morning early in June Lady Laura called at Lady Baldock’s house and asked for Miss Effingham. The servant was showing her into the large drawing-room, when she again asked specially for Miss Effingham. “I think Miss Effingham is there,” said the man, opening the door. Miss Effingham was not there. Lady Baldock was sitting all alone, and Lady Laura perceived that she had been caught in the net which she specially wished to avoid. Now Lady Baldock had not actually or openly quarrelled with Lady Laura Kennedy or with Lord Brentford, but she had conceived a strong idea that her niece Violet was countenanced in all improprieties by the Standish family generally, and that therefore the Standish family was to be regarded as a family of enemies. There was doubtless in her mind considerable confusion on the subject, for she did not know whether Lord Chiltern or Mr Finn was the suitor whom she most feared — and she was aware, after a sort of muddled fashion, that the claims of these two wicked young men were antagonistic to each other. But they were both regarded by her as emanations from the same source of iniquity, and, therefore, without going deeply into the machinations of Lady Laura — without resolving whether Lady Laura was injuring her by pressing her brother as a suitor upon Miss Effingham, or by pressing a rival of her brother — still she became aware that it was her duty to turn a cold shoulder on those two houses in Portman Square and Grosvenor Place. But her difficulties in doing this were very great, and it may be said that Lady Baldock was placed in an unjust and cruel position. Before the end of May she had proposed to leave London, and to take her daughter and Violet down to Baddingham — or to Brighton, if they preferred it, or to Switzerland. “Brighton in June!” Violet had exclaimed. “Would not a month among the glaciers be delightful!” Miss Boreham had said. “Don’t let me keep you in town, aunt,” Violet replied; “but I do not think I shall go till other people go. I can have a room at Laura Kennedy’s house.” Then Lady Baldock, whose position was hard and cruel, resolved that she would stay in town. Here she had in her hands a ward over whom she had no positive power, and yet in respect to whom her duty was imperative! Her duty was imperative, and Lady Baldock was not the woman to neglect her duty — and yet she knew that the doing of her duty would all be in vain. Violet would marry a shoeblack out of the streets if she were so minded. It was of no use that the poor lady had provided herself with two strings, two most excellent strings, to her bow — two strings either one of which should have contented Miss Effingham. There was Lord Fawn, a young peer, not very rich indeed — but still with means sufficient for a wife, a rising man, and in every way respectable, although a Whig. And there was Mr Appledom, one of the richest commoners in England, a fine Conservative too, with a seat in the House, and everything appropriate. He was fifty, but looked hardly more than thirty-five, and was — so at least Lady Baldock frequently asserted — violently in love with Violet Effingham. Why had not the law, or the executors, or the Lord Chancellor, or some power levied for the protection of the proprieties, made Violet absolutely subject to her guardian till she should be made subject to a husband?
“Yes, I think she is at home,” said Lady Baldock, in answer to Lady Laura’s inquiry for Violet. “At least, I hardly know. She seldom tells me what she means to do — and sometimes she will walk out quite alone!” A most imprudent old woman was Lady Baldock, always opening her hand to her adversaries, unable to control herself in the scolding of people, either before their faces or behind their backs, even at moments in which such scolding was most injurious to her own cause. “However, we will see,” she continued. Then the bell was rung, and in a few minutes Violet was in the room. In a few minutes more they were upstairs together in Violet’s own room, in spite of the openly-displayed wrath of Lady Baldock. “I almost wish she had never been born,” said Lady Baldock to her daughter. “Oh, mamma, don’t say that.” I certainly do wish that I had never seen her.” “Indeed she has been a grievous trouble to you, mamma,” said Miss Boreham, sympathetically.
“Brighton! What nonsense!” said Lady Laura.
“Of course it’s nonsense. Fancy going to Brighton! And then they have proposed Switzerland. If you could only hear Augusta talking in rapture of a month among the glaciers! And I feel so ungrateful. I believe they would spend three months with me at any horrible place that I could suggest — at Hong Kong if I were to ask it — so intent are they on taking me away from metropolitan danger.”
“But you will not go?”
“No! — I won’t go. I know I am very naughty; but I can’t help feeling that I cannot be good without being a fool at the same time. I must either fight my aunt, or give way to her. If I were to yield, what a life I should have — and I should despise myself after all.”
“And what is the special danger to be feared now?”
“I don’t know — you, I fancy. I told her that if she went, I should go to you. I knew that would make her stay.”
“I wish you would come to me,” said Lady Laura.
“I shouldn’t think of it really — not for any length of time.”
“Because I should be in Mr Kennedy’s way.”
“You wouldn’t be in his way in the least. If you would only be down punctually for morning prayers, and go to church with him on Sunday afternoon, he would be delighted to have you.”
“What did he say about Madame Max coming?”
“Not a word. I don’t think he quite knew who she was then. I fancy he has inquired since, by something he said yesterday.”
“What did he say?”
“Nothing that matters — only a word. I haven’t come here to talk about Madame Max Goesler — nor yet about Mr Kennedy.”
“Whom have you come to talk about?” asked Violet, laughing a little, with something of increased colour in her cheeks, though she could not be said to blush.
“A lover of course,” said Lady Laura.
“I wish you would leave me alone with my lovers. You are as bad or worse than my aunt. She, at any rate, varies her prescription. She has become sick of poor Lord Fawn because he’s a Whig.”
“And who is her favourite now?”
“Old Mr Appledom — who is really a most unexceptionable old party, and whom I like of all things. I really think I could consent to be Mrs Appledom, to get rid of my troubles — if he did not dye his whiskers and have his coats padded.”
“He’d give up those little things if you asked him.”
“I shouldn’t have the heart to do it. Besides, this isn’t his time of the year for making proposals. His love fever, which is of a very low kind, and intermits annually, never comes on till the autumn. It is a rural malady, against which he is proof while among his clubs!”
“Well, Violet — I am like your aunt.”
“Like Lady Baldock?”
“In one respect. I, too, will vary my prescription.”
“What do you mean, Laura?”
“Just this — that if you like to marry Phineas Finn, I will say that you are right.”
“Heaven and earth! And why am I to marry Phineas Finn?”
“Only for two reasons; because he loves you, and because — ”
“No — I deny it. I do not.”
“I had come to fancy that you did.”
“Keep your fancy more under control then. But upon my word I can’t understand this. He was your great friend.”
“What has that to do with it?” demanded Lady Laura.
“And you have thrown over your brother, Laura?”
“You have thrown him over. Is he to go on for ever asking and being refused?”
“I do not know why he should not,” said Violet, seeing how very little trouble it gives him. Half an hour once in six months does it all for him, allowing him time for coming and going in a cab.”
“Violet, I do not understand you. Have you refused Oswald so often because he does not pass hours on his knees before you?”
“No, indeed! His nature would be altered very much for the worse before he could do that.”
“Why do you throw it in his teeth then that he does not give you more of his time?”
“Why have you come to tell me to marry Mr Phineas Finn? That is what I want to know. Mr Phineas Finn, as far as I am aware, has not a shilling in the world — except a month’s salary now due to him from the Government. Mr Phineas Finn I believe to be the son of a country doctor in Ireland — with about seven sisters. Mr Phineas Finn is a Roman Catholic. Mr Phineas Finn is — or was a short time ago — in love with another lady; and Mr Phineas Finn is not so much in love at this moment but what he is able to entrust his cause to an ambassador. None short of a royal suitor should ever do that with success.”
“Has he never pleaded his cause to you himself?”
“My dear, I never tell gentlemen’s secrets. It seems that if he has, his success was so trifling that he has thought he had better trust someone else for the future.”
“He has not trusted me. He has not given me any commission.”
“Then why have you come?”
“Because — I hardly know how to tell his story. There have been things about Oswald which made it almost necessary that Mr Finn should explain himself to me.”
“I know it all — about their fighting. Foolish young men! I am not a bit obliged to either of them — not a bit. Only fancy, if my aunt knew it, what a life she would lead me! Gustavus knows all about it, and I feel that I am living at his mercy. Why were they so wrong-headed?”
“I cannot answer that — though I know them well enough to be sure that Chiltern was the one in fault.”
“It is so odd that you should have thrown your brother over.”
“I have not thrown my brother over. Will you accept Oswald if he asks you again?”
“No,” almost shouted Violet.
“Then I hope that Mr Finn may succeed. I want him to succeed in everything. There — you may know it all. He is my Phoebus Apollo.”
“That is flattering to me — looking at the position in which you desire to place your Phoebus at the present moment.”
“Come, Violet, I am true to you, and let me have a little truth from you. This man loves you, and I think is worthy of you. He does not love me, but he is my friend. As his friend, and believing in his worth, I wish for his success beyond almost anything else in the world. Listen to me, Violet. I don’t believe in those reasons which you gave me just now for not becoming this man’s wife.”
“Nor do I.”
“I know you do not. Look at me. I, who have less of real heart than you, I who thought that I could trust myself to satisfy my mind and my ambition without caring for my heart, I have married for what you call position. My husband is very rich, and a Cabinet Minister, and will probably be a peer. And he was willing to marry me at a time when I had not a shilling of my own.”
“He was very generous.”
“He has asked for it since,” said Lady Laura. But never mind. I have not come to talk about myself — otherwise than to bid you not do what I have done. All that you have said about this man’s want of money and of family is nothing.”
“Nothing at all,” said Violet. Mere words — fit only for such people as my aunt.”
“If you love him —!”
“Ah! but if I do not? You are very close in inquiring into my secrets. Tell me, Laura — was not this young Crichton once a lover of your own?”
“Psha! And do you think I cannot keep a gentleman’s secret as well as you?”
“What is the good of any secret, Laura, when we have been already so open? He tried his ‘prentice hand on you; and then he came to me. Let us watch him, and see who’ll be the third. I too like him well enough to hope that he’ll land himself safely at last.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14