It would, perhaps, be difficult to decide — between Lord Chiltern and Miss Effingham — which had been most wrong, or which had been nearest to the right, in the circumstances which had led to their separation. The old lord, wishing to induce his son to undertake work of some sort, and feeling that his own efforts in this direction were worse than useless, had closeted himself with his intended daughter-in-law, and had obtained from her a promise that she would use her influence with her lover. “Of course I think it right that he should do something,” Violet had said. “And he will if you bid him,” replied the Earl. Violet expressed a great doubt as to this willingness of obedience; but, nevertheless, she promised to do her best, and she did her best. Lord Chiltern, when she spoke to him, knit his brows with an apparent ferocity of anger which his countenance frequently expressed without any intention of ferocity on his part. He was annoyed, but was not savagely disposed to Violet. As he looked at her, however, he seemed to be very savagely disposed. “What is it you would have me do?” he said.
“I would have you choose some occupation, Oswald.”
“What occupation? What is it that you mean? Ought I to be a shoemaker?”
“Not that by preference, I should say; but that if you please.” When her lover had frowned at her, Violet had resolved — had strongly determined, with inward assertions of her own rights — that she would not be frightened by him.
“You are talking nonsense, Violet. You know that I cannot be a shoemaker.”
“You may go into Parliament.”
“I neither can, nor would I if I could. I dislike the life.”
“You might farm.”
“I cannot afford it.”
“You might — might do anything. You ought to do something. You know that you ought. You know that your father is right in what he says.”
“That is easily asserted, Violet; but it would, I think, be better that you should take my part than my father’s, if it be that you intend to be my wife.”
“You know that I intend to be your wife; but would you wish that I should respect my husband?”
“And will you not do so if you marry me?” he asked.
Then Violet looked into his face and saw that the frown was blacker than ever. The great mark down his forehead was deeper and more like an ugly wound than she had ever seen it; and his eyes sparkled with anger; and his face was red as with fiery wrath. If it was so with him when she was no more than engaged to him, how would it be when they should be man and wife? At any rate, she would not fear him — not now at least. “No, Oswald,” she said. If you resolve upon being an idle man, I shall not respect you. It is better that I should tell you the truth.”
“A great deal better,” he said.
“How can I respect one whose whole life will be — will be —?”
“Will be what?” he demanded with a loud shout.
“Oswald, you are very rough with me.”
“What do you say that my life will be?”
Then she again resolved that she would not fear him. “It will be discreditable,” she said.
“It shall not discredit you,” he replied. I will not bring disgrace on one I have loved so well. Violet, after what you have said, we had better part.” She was still proud, still determined, and they did part. Though it nearly broke her heart to see him leave her, she bid him go. She hated herself afterwards for her severity to him; but, nevertheless, she would not submit to recall the words which she had spoken. She had thought him to be wrong, and, so thinking, had conceived it to be her duty and her privilege to tell him what she thought. But she had no wish to lose him — no wish not to be his wife even, though he should be as idle as the wind. She was so constituted that she had never allowed him or any other man to be master of her heart — till she had with a full purpose given her heart away. The day before she had resolved to give it to one man, she might, I think, have resolved to give it to another. Love had not conquered her, but had been taken into her service. Nevertheless, she could not now rid herself of her servant, when she found that his services would stand her no longer in good stead. She parted from Lord Chiltern with an assent, with an assured brow, and with much dignity in her gait; but as soon as she was alone she was a prey to remorse. She had declared to the man who was to have been her husband that his life was discreditable — and, of course, no man would bear such language. Had Lord Chiltern borne it, he would not have been worthy of her love.
She herself told Lady Laura and Lord Brentford what had occurred — and had told Lady Baldock also. Lady Baldock had, of course, triumphed — and Violet sought her revenge by swearing that she would regret for ever the loss of so inestimable a gentleman. “Then why have you given him up, my dear?” demanded Lady Baldock. “Because I found that he was too good for me,” said Violet. It may be doubtful whether Lady Baldock was not justified, when she declared that her niece was to her a care so harassing that no aunt known in history had ever been so troubled before.
Lord Brentford had fussed and fumed, and had certainly made things worse. He had quarrelled with his son, and then made it up, and then quarrelled again — swearing that the fault must all be attributed to Chiltern’s stubbornness and Chiltern’s temper. Latterly, however, by Lady Laura’s intervention, Lord Brentford and his son had again been reconciled, and the Earl endeavoured manfully to keep his tongue from disagreeable words, and his face from evil looks, when his son was present. “They will make it up,” Lady Laura had said, “if you and I do not attempt to make it up for them. If we do, they will never come together.” The Earl was convinced, and did his best. But the task was very difficult to him. How was he to keep his tongue off his son while his son was daily saying things of which any father — any such father as Lord Brentford — could not but disapprove? Lord Chiltern professed to disbelieve even in the wisdom of the House of Lords, and on one occasion asserted that it must be a great comfort to any Prime Minister to have three or four old women in the Cabinet. The father, when he heard this, tried to rebuke his son tenderly, strove even to be jocose. It was the one wish of his heart that Violet Effingham should be his daughter-in-law. But even with this wish he found it very hard to keep his tongue off Lord Chiltern.
When Lady Laura discussed the matter with Violet, Violet would always declare that there was no hope. “The truth is,” she said on the morning of that day on which they both went to Mrs Gresham’s, “that though we like each other — love each other, if you choose to say so — we are not fit to be man and wife.”
“And why not fit?”
“We are too much alike. Each is too violent, too headstrong, and too masterful.”
“You, as the woman, ought to give way,” said Lady Laura.
“But we do not always do just what we ought.”
“I know how difficult it is for me to advise, seeing to what a pass I have brought myself.”
“Do not say that, dear — or rather do say it, for we have, both of us, brought ourselves to what you call a pass — to such a pass that we are like to be able to live together and discuss it for the rest of our lives. The difference is, I take it, that you have not to accuse yourself and that I have.”
“I cannot say that I have not to accuse myself,” said Lady Laura. “I do not know that I have done much wrong to Mr Kennedy since I married him; but in marrying him I did him a grievous wrong.”
“And he has avenged himself.”
“We will not talk of vengeance. I believe he is wretched, and I know that I am — and that has come of the wrong that I have done.”
“I will make no man wretched,” said Violet.
“Do you mean that your mind is made up against Oswald?”
“I mean that, and I mean much more. I say that I will make no man wretched. Your brother is not the only man who is so weak as to be willing to run the hazard.”
“There is Lord Fawn.”
“Yes, there is Lord Fawn, certainly. Perhaps I should not do him much harm; but then I should do him no good.”
“And poor Phineas Finn.”
“Yes — there is Mr Finn. I will tell you something, Laura. The only man I ever saw in the world whom I have thought for a moment that it was possible that I should like — like enough to love as my husband — except your brother, was Mr Finn.”
“Oh: now; of course that is over,” said Violet.
“It is over?”
“Quite over. Is he not going to marry Madame Goesler? I suppose all that is fixed by this time. I hope she will be good to him, and gracious, and let him have his own way, and give him his tea comfortably when he comes up tired from the House; for I confess that my heart is a little tender towards Phineas still. I should not like to think that he had fallen into the hands of a female Philistine.”
“I do not think he will marry Madame Goesler.”
“I can hardly tell you — but I do not think he will. And you loved him once — eh, Violet?”
“Not quite that, my dear. It has been difficult with me to love. The difficulty with most girls, I fancy, is not to love. Mr Finn, when I came to measure him in my mind, was not small, but he was never quite tall enough. One feels oneself to be a sort of recruiting sergeant, going about with a standard of inches. Mr Finn was just half an inch too short. He lacks something in individuality. He is a little too much a friend to everybody.”
“Shall I tell you a secret, Violet?”
“If you please, dear; though I fancy it is one I know already.”
“He is the only man whom I ever loved,” said Lady Laura.
“But it was too late when you learned to love him,” said Violet.
“It was too late, when I was so sure of it as to wish that I had never seen Mr Kennedy. I felt it coming on me, and I argued with myself that such a marriage would be bad for us both. At that moment there was trouble in the family, and I had not a shilling of my own.”
“You had paid it for Oswald.”
“At any rate, I had nothing — and he had nothing. How could I have dared to think even of such a marriage?”
“Did he think of it, Laura?”
“I suppose he did.”
“You know he did. Did you not tell me before?”
“Well — yes. He thought of it. I had come to some foolish, half-sentimental resolution as to friendship, believing that he and I could be knit together by some adhesion of fraternal affection that should be void of offence to my husband; and in furtherance of this he was asked to Loughlinter when I went there, just after I had accepted Robert. He came down, and I measured him too, as you have done. I measured him, and I found that he wanted nothing to come up to the height required by my standard, I think I knew him better than you did.”
“Very possibly — but why measure him at all, when such measurement was useless?”
“Can one help such things? He came to me one day as I was sitting up by the Linter. You remember the place, where it makes its first leap.”
“I remember it very well.”
“So do I. Robert had shown it me as the fairest spot in all Scotland.”
“And there this lover of ours sang his song to you?”
“I do not know what he told me then; but I know that I told him that I was engaged; and I felt when I told him so that my engagement was a sorrow to me. And it has been a sorrow from that day to this.”
“And the hero, Phineas — he is still dear to you?”
“Dear to me?”
“Yes. You would have hated me, had he become my husband? And you will hate Madame Goesler when she becomes his wife?”
“Not in the least. I am no dog in the manger. I have even gone so far as almost to wish, at certain moments, that you should accept him.”
“Because he has wished it so heartily.”
“One can hardly forgive a man for such speedy changes,” said Violet.
“Was I not to forgive him — I, who had turned myself away from him with a fixed purpose the moment that I found that he had made a mark upon my heart? I could not wipe off the mark, and yet I married. Was he not to try to wipe off his mark?”
“It seems that he wiped it off very quickly — and since that he has wiped off another mark. One doesn’t know how many marks he has wiped off. They are like the innkeeper’s score which he makes in chalk. A damp cloth brings them all away, and leaves nothing behind.”
“What would you have?”
“There should be a little notch on the stick — to remember by,” said Violet. “Not that I complain, you know. I cannot complain, as I was not notched myself.”
“You are silly, Violet.”
“In not having allowed myself to be notched by this great champion?”
“A man like Mr Finn has his life to deal with — to make the most of it, and to divide it between work, pleasure, duty, ambition, and the rest of it as best he may. If he have any softness of heart, it will be necessary to him that love should bear a part in all these interests. But a man will be a fool who will allow love to be the master of them all. He will be one whose mind is so ill-balanced as to allow him to be the victim of a single wish. Even in a woman passion such as that is evidence of weakness, and not of strength.”
“It seems, then, Laura, that you are weak.”
“And if I am, does that condemn him? He is a man, if I judge him rightly, who will be constant as the sun, when constancy can be of service.”
“You mean that the future Mrs Finn will be secure?”
“That is what I mean — and that you or I, had either of us chosen to take his name, might have been quite secure. We have thought it right to refuse to do so.”
“And how many more, I wonder?”
“You are unjust, and unkind, Violet. So unjust and unkind that it is clear to me he has just gratified your vanity, and has never touched your heart. What would you have had him do, when I told him that I was engaged?”
“I suppose that Mr Kennedy would not have gone to Blankenberg with him.”
“That seems to be the proper thing to do. But even that does not adjust things finally — does it?” Then someone came upon them, and the conversation was brought to an end.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01