Lord Chiltern, though he had passed two entire days in the house with Violet without renewing his suit, had come to Loughlinter for the express purpose of doing so, and had his plans perfectly fixed in his own mind. After breakfast on that last morning he was upstairs with his sister in her own room, and immediately made his request to her. “Laura,” he said, go down like a good girl, and make Violet come up here.” She stood a moment looking at him and smiled. “And, mind,” he continued, you are not to come back yourself. I must have Violet alone.”
“But suppose Violet will not come? Young ladies do not generally wait upon young men on such occasions.”
“No — but I rank her so high among young women, that I think she will have common sense enough to teach her that, after what has passed between us, I have a right to ask for an interview, and that it may be more conveniently had here than in the wilderness of the house below.”
Whatever may have been the arguments used by her friend, Violet did come. She reached the door all alone, and opened it bravely. She had promised herself, as she came along the passages, that she would not pause with her hand on the lock for a moment. She had first gone to her own room, and as she left it she had looked into the glass with a hurried glance, and had then rested for a moment — thinking that something should be done, that her hair might be smoothed, or a ribbon set straight, or the chain arranged under her brooch. A girl would wish to look well before her lover, even when she means to refuse him. But her pause was but for an instant, and then she went on, having touched nothing. She shook her head and pressed her hands together, and went on quick and opened the door — almost with a little start. “Violet, this is very good of you,” said Lord Chiltern, standing with his back to the fire, and not moving from the spot.
“Laura has told me that you thought I would do as much as this for you, and therefore I have done it.”
“Thanks, dearest. It is the old story, Violet, and I am so bad at words!”
“I must have been bad at words too, as I have not been able to make you understand.”
“I think I have understood. You are always clear-spoken, and I, though I cannot talk, am not muddle-pated. I have understood. But while you are single there must be yet hope — unless, indeed, you will tell me that you have already given yourself to another man.”
“I have not done that.”
“Then how can I not hope? Violet, I would if I could tell you all my feelings plainly. Once, twice, thrice, I have said to myself that I would think of you no more. I have tried to persuade myself that I am better single than married.”
“But I am not the only woman.”
“To me you are — absolutely, as though there were none other on the face of God’s earth. I live much alone; but you are always with me. Should you marry any other man, it will be the same with me still. If you refuse me now I shall go away — and live wildly.”
“Oswald, what do you mean?”
“I mean that I will go to some distant part of the world, where I may be killed or live a life of adventure. But I shall do so simply in despair. It will not be that I do not know how much better and greater should be the life at home of a man in my position.”
“Then do not talk of going.”
“I cannot stay. You will acknowledge, Violet, that I have never lied to you. I am thinking of you day and night. The more indifferent you show yourself to me, the more I love you, Violet, try to love me.” He came up to her, and took her by both her hands, and tears were in his eyes. “Say you will try to love me.”
“It is not that,” said Violet, looking away, but still leaving her hands with him.
“It is not what, dear?”
“What you call — trying.”
“It is that you do not wish to try?”
“Oswald, you are so violent, so headstrong. I am afraid of you — as is everybody. Why have you not written to your father, as we have asked you?”
“I will write to him instantly, now, before I leave the room, and you shall dictate the letter to him. By heavens, you shall!” He had dropped her hands when she called him violent; but now he took them again, and still she permitted it. “I have postponed it only till I had spoken to you once again.”
“No, Lord Chiltern, I will not dictate to you.”
“But will you love me?” She paused and looked down, having even now not withdrawn her hands from him. But I do not think he knew how much he had gained. “You used to love me — a little,” he said.
“Indeed — indeed, I did.”
“And now? Is it all changed now?”
“No,” she said, retreating from him.
“How is it, then? Violet, speak to me honestly. Will you be my wife?” She did not answer him, and he stood for a moment looking at her. Then he rushed at her, and, seizing her in his arms, kissed her all over — her forehead, her lips, her cheeks, then both her hands, and then her lips again. “By G — she is my own!” he said. Then he went back to the rug before the fire, and stood there with his back turned to her. Violet, when she found herself thus deserted, retreated to a sofa, and sat herself down. She had no negative to produce now in answer to the violent assertion which he had pronounced as to his own success. It was true. She had doubted, and doubted — and still doubted. But now she must doubt no longer. Of one thing she was quite sure. She could love him. As things had now gone, she would make him quite happy with assurances on that subject. As to that other question — that fearful question, whether or not she could trust him — on that matter she had better at present say nothing, and think as little, perhaps, as might be. She had taken the jump, and therefore why should she not be gracious to him? But how was she to be gracious to a lover who stood there with his back turned to her?
After the interval of a minute or two he remembered himself, and turned round. Seeing her seated, he approached her, and went down on both knees close at her feet. Then he took her hands again, for the third time, and looked up into her eyes.
“Oswald, you on your knees!” she said.
“I would not bend to a princess”, he said, to ask for half her throne; but I will kneel here all day, if you will let me, in thanks for the gift of your love. I never kneeled to beg for it.”
“This is the man who cannot make speeches.”
“I think I could talk now by the hour, with you for a listener.”
“Oh, but I must talk too.”
“What will you say to me?”
“Nothing while you are kneeling. It is not natural that you should kneel. You are like Samson with his locks shorn, or Hercules with a distaff.”
“Is that better?” he said, as he got up and put his arm round her waist.
“You are in earnest?” she asked.
“In earnest. I hardly thought that that would be doubted. Do you not believe me?”
“I do believe you. And you will be good?”
“Ah — I do not know that.”
“Try, and I will love you so dearly. Nay, I do love you dearly. I do. I do.”
“Say it again.”
“I will say it fifty times — till your ears are weary with it’ — and she did say it to him, after her own fashion, fifty times.
“This is a great change,” he said, getting up after a while and walking about the room.
“But a change for the better — is it not, Oswald?”
“So much for the better that I hardly know myself in my new joy. But, Violet, we’ll have no delay — will we? No shilly-shallying. What is the use of waiting now that it’s settled?”
“None in the least, Lord Chiltern. Let us say — this day twelvemonth.”
“You are laughing at me, Violet.”
“Remember, sir, that the first thing you have to do is to write to your father.”
He instantly went to the writing-table and took up paper and pen. “Come along,” he said. You are to dictate it. But this she refused to do, telling him that he must write his letter to his father out of his own head, and out of his own heart. “I cannot write it,” he said, throwing down the pen. “My blood is in such a tumult that I cannot steady my hand.”
“You must not be so tumultuous, Oswald, or I shall have to live in a whirlwind.”
“Oh, I shall shake down. I shall become as steady as an old stager. I’ll go as quiet in harness by and by as though I had been broken to it a four-year-old. I wonder whether Laura could not write this letter.”
“I think you should write it yourself, Oswald.”
“If you bid me I will.”
“Bid you indeed! As if it was for me to bid you. Do you not know that in these new troubles you are undertaking you will have to bid me in everything, and that I shall be bound to do your bidding? Does it not seem to be dreadful? My wonder is that any girl can ever accept any man.”
“But you have accepted me now.”
“And you repent?”
“No, indeed, and I will try to do your biddings — but you must not be rough to me, and outrageous, and fierce — will you, Oswald?”
“I will not at any rate be like Kennedy is with poor Laura.”
“No — that is not your nature.”
“I will do my best, dearest. And you may at any rate be sure of this, that I will love you always. So much good of myself, if it be good, I can say.”
“It is very good,” she answered; the best of all good words. And now I must go. And as you are leaving Loughlinter I will say goodbye. When am I to have the honour and felicity of beholding your lordship again?”
“Say a nice word to me before I am off, Violet.”
“I— love — you — better — than all the world beside; and I mean — to be your wife — some day. Are not those twenty nice words?”
He would not prolong his stay at Loughlinter, though he was asked to do so both by Violet and his sister, and though, as he confessed himself, he had no special business elsewhere. “It is no use mincing the matter. I don’t like Kennedy, and I don’t like being in his house,” he said to Violet. And then he promised that there should be a party got up at Saulsby before the winter was over. His plan was to stop that night at Carlisle, and write to his father from thence. “Your blood, perhaps, won’t be so tumultuous at Carlisle,” said Violet. He shook his head and went on with his plans. He would then go on to London and down to Willingford, and there wait for his father’s answer. “There is no reason why I should lose more of the hunting than necessary.” “Pray don’t lose a day for me,” said Violet. As soon as he heard from his father, he would do his father’s bidding. “You will go to Saulsby,” said Violet; “you can hunt at Saulsby, you know.”
“I will go to Jericho if he asks me, only you will have to go with me.” “I thought we were to go to — Belgium, said Violet.
“And so that is settled at last,” said Violet to Laura that night.
“I hope you do not regret it.”
“On the contrary, I am as happy as the moments are long.”
“My fine girl!”
“I am happy because I love him. I have always loved him. You have known that.”
“But I have, after my fashion. I am not tumultuous, as he calls himself. Since he began to make eyes at me when he was nineteen — ”
“Fancy Oswald making eyes!”
“Oh, he did, and mouths too. But from the beginning, when I was a child, I have known that he was dangerous, and I have thought that he would pass on and forget me after a while. And I could have lived without him. Nay, there have been moments when I thought I could learn to love someone else.”
“Poor Phineas, for instance.”
“We will mention no names. Mr Appledom, perhaps, more likely. He has been my most constant lover, and then he would be so safe! Your brother, Laura, is dangerous. He is like the bad ice in the parks where they stick up the poles. He has had a pole stuck upon him ever since he was a boy.”
“Yes — give a dog a bad name and hang him.”
“Remember that I do not love him a bit the less on that account — perhaps the better. A sense of danger does not make me unhappy, though the threatened evil may be fatal. I have entered myself for my forlorn hope, and I mean to stick to it. Now I must go and write to his worship. Only think — I never wrote a love-letter yet!”
Nothing more shall be said about Miss Effingham’s first love-letter, which was, no doubt, creditable to her head and heart; but there were two other letters sent by the same post from Loughlinter which shall be submitted to the reader, as they will assist the telling of the story. One was from Lady Laura Kennedy to her friend Phineas Finn, and the other from Violet to her aunt, Lady Baldock. No letter was written to Lord Brentford, as it was thought desirable that he should receive the first intimation of what had been done from his son.
Respecting the letter to Phineas, which shall be first given, Lady Laura thought it right to say a word to her husband. He had been of course told of the engagement, and had replied that he could have wished that the arrangement could have been made elsewhere than at his house, knowing as he did that Lady Baldock would not approve of it. To this Lady Laura had made no reply, and Mr Kennedy had condescended to congratulate the bride-elect. When Lady Laura’s letter to Phineas was completed she took care to put it into the letter-box in the presence of her husband. “I have written to Mr Finn,” she said, to tell him of this marriage.”
“Why was it necessary that he should be told?”
“I think it was due to him — from certain circumstances.”
“I wonder whether there was any truth in what everybody was saying about their fighting a duel?” asked Mr Kennedy. His wife made no answer, and then he continued — “You told me of your own knowledge that it was untrue.”
“Not of my own knowledge, Robert.”
“Yes — of your own knowledge.” Then Mr Kennedy walked away, and was certain that his wife had deceived him about the duel. There had been a duel, and she had known it; and yet she had told him that the report was a ridiculous fabrication. He never forgot anything. He remembered at this moment the words of the falsehood, and the look of her face as she told it. He had believed her implicitly, but he would never believe her again. He was one of those men who, in spite of their experience of the world, of their experience of their own lives, imagine that lips that have once lied can never tell the truth.
Lady Laura’s letter to Phineas was as follows:
“ Loughlinter, December 28th, 186 —
“ MY DEAR FRIEND,
“Violet Effingham is here, and Oswald has just left us. It is possible that you may see him as he passes through London. But, at any rate, I think it best to let you know immediately that she has accepted him — at last. If there be any pang in this to you, be sure that I will grieve for you. You will not wish me to say that I regret that which was the dearest wish of my heart before I knew you. Lately, indeed, I have been torn in two ways. You will understand what I mean, and I believe I need say nothing more — except this, that it shall be among my prayers that you may obtain all things that may tend to make you happy, honourable, and of high esteem.
“Your most sincere friend
odq; LAURA KENNEDY ”
Even though her husband should read the letter, there was nothing in that of which she need be ashamed. But he did not read the letter. He simply speculated as to its contents, and inquired within himself whether it would not be for the welfare of the world in general, and for the welfare of himself in particular, that husbands should demand to read their wives’ letters.
And this was Violet’s letter to her aunt:
“ MY DEAR AUNT,
“The thing has come at last, and all your troubles will be soon over — for I do believe that all your troubles have come from your unfortunate niece. At last I am going to be married, and thus take myself off your hands. Lord Chiltern has just been here, and I have accepted him. I am afraid you hardly think so well of Lord Chiltern as I do; but then, perhaps, you have not known him so long. You do know, however, that there has been some difference between him and his father. I think I may take upon myself to say that now, upon his engagement, this will be settled. I have the inexpressible pleasure of feeling sure that Lord Brentford will welcome me as his daughter-in-law. Tell the news to Augusta with my best love. I will write to her in a day or two. I hope my cousin Gustavus will condescend to give me away. Of course there is nothing fixed about time — but I should say, perhaps, in nine years.
“Your affectionate niece,
“ VIOLET EFFINGHAM
“What does she mean about nine years?” said Lady Baldock in her wrath.
“She is joking,” said the mild Augusta.
“I believe she would — joke, if I were going to be buried,” said Lady Baldock.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14