Miss Dunstable did not look like a love-lorn maiden, as she stood in a small ante-chamber at the top of her drawing-room stairs, receiving her guests. Her house was one of those abnormal mansions, which are to be seen here and there in London, built in compliance rather with the rules of rural architecture, than with those which usually govern the erection of city streets and town terraces. It stood back from its brethren, and alone, so that its owner could walk around it. It was approached by a short carriage-way; the chief door was in the back of the building; and the front of the house looked on to one of the parks. Miss Dunstable in procuring it had had her usual luck. It had been built by an eccentric millionaire at an enormous cost; and the eccentric millionaire, after living in it for twelve months, had declared that it did not possess a single comfort, and that it was deficient in most of those details which, in point of house accommodation, are necessary to the very existence of man. Consequently the mansion was sold, and Miss Dunstable was the purchaser. Cranbourn House it had been named, and its present owner had made no change in that respect; but the world at large very generally called it Ointment Hall, and Miss Dunstable herself as frequently used that name for it as any other. It was impossible to quiz Miss Dunstable with any success, because she always joined in the joke herself. Not a word further had passed between Mrs Gresham and Dr Thorne on the subject of their last conversation; but the doctor, as he entered the lady’s portals amongst a tribe of servants and in a glare of light, and saw the crowd before him and the crowd behind him, felt that it was quite impossible that he should ever be at home there. It might be all right that a Miss Dunstable should live in this way, but it could not be right that the wife of Dr Thorne should so live. But all this was a matter of the merest speculation, for he was well aware — as he said to himself a dozen times — that his niece had blundered strangely in her reading of Miss Dunstable’s character.
When the Gresham party entered the ante-room into which the staircase opened, they found Miss Dunstable standing there surrounded by a few of her most intimate allies. Mrs Harold Smith was sitting quite close to her; Dr Easyman was reclining on a sofa against the wall, and the lady who habitually lived with Miss Dunstable was by his side. One or two others were there also, so that a little running conversation was kept up in order to relieve Miss Dunstable of the tedium which might otherwise be engendered by the work she had in hand. As Mrs Gresham, leaning on her husband’s arm, entered the room, she saw the back of Mrs Proudie, as that lady made her way through the opposite door, leaning on the arm of the bishop. Mrs Harold Smith had apparently recovered from the annoyance which she must no doubt have felt when Miss Dunstable so utterly rejected her suit on behalf of her brother. If any feeling had existed, even for a day, calculated to put a stop to the intimacy between the two ladies, that feeling had altogether died away, for Mrs Harold Smith was conversing with her friend, quite in the old way. She made some remark on each of the guests as they passed by, and apparently did so in a manner satisfactory to the owner of the house, for Miss Dunstable answered with her kindest smiles, and in that genial, happy tone of voice which gave its peculiar character to her good humour: ‘She is quite convinced that you are a mere plagiarist in what you are doing,’ said Mrs Harold Smith, speaking of Mrs Proudie.
‘And so I am. I don’t suppose there can be anything very original nowadays about an evening party.’
‘She thinks you are copying her.’
‘And why not? I copy everybody that I see, more or less. You did not at first begin to wear petticoats out of your own head? If Mrs Proudie has any such pride as that, pray don’t rob her of it. Here’s the doctor and the Greshams. Mary, my darling, how are you?’ and in spite of all her grandeur of apparel, Miss Dunstable took hold of Mrs Gresham and kissed her — to the disgust of the dozen and half of the distinguished fashionable world who were passing up the stairs behind. The doctor was somewhat repressed in his mode of address by the communication which had so lately been made to him. Miss Dunstable was now standing on the very top of the pinnacle of wealth, and seemed to him to be not only so much above his reach, but also so far removed from his track of life, that he could not in any way put himself on a level with her. He could neither aspire so high nor descend so low; and thinking of this he spoke to Miss Dunstable as though there were some great distance between them — as though there had been no hours of intimate friendship down at Greshambury. There been such hours, during which Miss Dunstable and Dr Thorne had lived as though they belonged to the same world: and this at any rate may be said of Miss Dunstable, that she had no idea of forgetting them.
Dr Thorne merely gave her his hand, and then prepared to pass on.
‘Don’t go, doctor,’ she said; ‘for heaven’s sake, don’t go yet. I don’t know when I may catch you if you get in there. I shan’t be able to follow you for the next two hours. Lady Meredith, I am so much obliged to you for coming — your mother will be here, I hope. Oh, I am so glad! From her you know that is quite a favour. You, Sir George, are half a sinner yourself, so I don’t think so much about it.’
‘Oh, quite so,’ said Sir George; ‘perhaps rather the largest half.’
‘The men divide the world into gods and giants,’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘We women have our divisions also. We are saints or sinners according to our party. The worst of it is, that we rat almost as often as you do.’ Whereupon Sir George laughed, and passed on.
‘I know, doctor, you don’t like this kind of thing,’ she continued, ‘but there is no reason why you should indulge yourself altogether in your way, more than another, is there, Frank?’
‘I am not so sure but he does like it,’ said Mr Gresham. ‘There are some of your reputed friends whom he owns that he is anxious to see.’
‘Are there? Then there is some hope of his ratting too. But he’ll never make a good staunch sinner; will he, Mary? You’re too old to learn new tricks; eh, doctor?’
‘I am afraid I am,’ said the doctor with a faint laugh.
‘Does Dr Thorne rank himself among the army of saints?’ asked Mrs Harold Smith.
‘Decidedly,’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘But you must always remember that there are saints of different orders; are there not, Mary? and nobody supposes that the Franciscans and the Dominicans agree very well together. Dr Thorne does not belong to the school of St Proudie, of Barchester; he would prefer the priestess whom I see coming round the corner of the staircase, with a very famous young novice at her elbow.’
‘From all that I can hear, you will have to reckon with Miss Grantly among the sinners,’ said Mrs Harold Smith — seeing that Lady Lufton with her young friend was approaching —‘unless indeed, you can make a saint of Lady Hartletop.’ And then Lady Lufton entered the room, and Miss Dunstable came forward to meet her with more quiet respect in her manner than she had as yet shown to many of her guests. ‘I am much obliged to you for coming, Lady Lufton,’ she said, ‘and the more so, for bringing Miss Grantly with you.’ Lady Lufton uttered some pretty little speech, during which Dr Thorne came up and shook hands with her; as did also Frank Gresham and his wife. There was a county acquaintance between the Framley people and the Greshambury people, and therefore there was a little general conversation before Lady Lufton passed out of the small room into what Mrs Proudie would have called the noble suite of apartments. ‘Papa will be here,’ said Miss Grantly; ‘at least so I understand. I have not seen him yet myself.’
‘Oh yes, he has promised me,’ said Miss Dunstable; ‘and the archdeacon, I know, will keep his word. I should by no means have the proper ecclesiastical balance without him.’
‘Papa always does keep his word,’ said Miss Grantly, in a tone that was almost severe. She had not at all understood poor Miss Dunstable’s little joke, or at any rate, she was too dignified to respond to it.
‘I understand that old Sir John is to accept the Chiltern Hundreds at once,’ said Lady Lufton, in a half whisper to Frank Gresham.
Lady Lufton had always taken a keen interest in the politics of East Barsetshire, and was now desirous of expressing her satisfaction that a Gresham should again sit for the county. The Greshams had been old county members for Barsetshire, time out of mind.
‘Oh yes; I believe so,’ said Frank, blushing. He was still young enough to feel most ashamed of putting himself forward for such honours.
‘There will be no contest, of course,’ said Lady Lufton, confidently. ‘There seldom is in East Barsetshire, I am happy to say. But if there were, every tenant at Framley would vote on the right side; I can assure you of that. Lord Lufton was saying to me only this morning.’ Frank Gresham made a pretty little speech in reply, such as young sucking politicians are expected to make; and this, with sundry other small courteous murmurings, detained the Lufton party for a minute or two in the ante-chamber. In the meantime the world was pressing on and passing to the four or five large reception-rooms — the noble suite which was already piercing poor Mrs Proudie’s heart with envy to the very core. ‘These are the sort of rooms,’ she said to herself unconsciously, ‘which ought to be provided by the country for the use of the bishops.’
‘But the people are not brought enough together,’ she said to her lord.
‘No, no; I don’t think they are,’ said the bishop.
‘And that is so essential for a conversazione,’ continued Mrs Proudie. ‘Now in Gloucester Place —’ But we will not record all her adverse criticisms, as Lady Lufton is waiting for us in the ante-room. And now another arrival of moment had taken place; — and arrival indeed of very great moment. To tell the truth, Miss Dunstable’s heart had been set upon having two special persons; and though no stone had been left unturned — no stone which could be turned with discretion — she was still left in doubt as to both these two wondrous potentates. At the very moment of which we are now speaking, light and airy as she appeared to be — for it was her character to be light and airy — her mind was torn with doubts. If the wished-for two would come, her evening would be thoroughly successful; but if not, all her trouble would have been thrown away, and the thing would have been a failure; and there were circumstances connected with the present assembly which made Miss Dunstable very anxious that she should not fail. That the two great ones of the earth were Tom Towers of the Jupiter, and the Duke of Omnium, need hardly be expressed in words. And now, at this very moment, as Lady Lufton was making her civil speeches to young Gresham, apparently in no hurry to move on, and while Miss Dunstable was endeavouring to whisper something into the doctor’s ear, which would make him feel himself at home in this new world, a sound was heard which made that lady know that half her wish had at any rate been granted to her. A sound was heard — but only by her own and one other attentive pair of ears. Mrs Harold Smith had also caught the name, and knew that the duke was approaching. There was great glory and triumph in this; but why had his grace come at so unchancy a moment? Miss Dunstable had been fully aware of the impropriety of bringing Lady Lufton and the Duke of Omnium into the same house at the same time; but when she had asked Lady Lufton, she had been led to believe that there was no hope of obtaining the duke; and then, when that hope had dawned upon her, she had comforted herself with the reflection that the two suns, though they might for some few minutes be in the same hemisphere, could hardly be expected to clash, or come across each other’s orbits. Her rooms were large and would be crowded; the duke would probably do little more than walk through them once, and Lady Lufton would certainly be surrounded by persons of her own class. Thus Miss Dunstable had comforted herself. But now all things were going wrong, and Lady Lufton would find herself in close contiguity to the nearest representative of the Satanic agency, which, according to her ideas, was allowed to walk this nether English world of ours. Would she scream? or indignantly retreat out of the house? — or would she proudly raise her head, and with outstretched hand and audible voice, boldly defy the devil and all his works? In thinking of these things as the duke approached Miss Dunstable almost lost her presence of mind. But Mrs Harold Smith did not lose hers. ‘So here at last is the duke,’ she said, in a tone intended to catch the express attention of Lady Lufton.
Mrs Smith had calculated that there might still be time for her ladyship to pass on and avoid the interview. But Lady Lufton, if she heard the words, did not completely understand them. At any rate they did not convey to her mind at the moment the meaning they were intended to convey. She paused to whisper a last little speech to Frank Gresham, and then looking round, found that the gentleman who was pressing against her dress was — the Duke of Omnium! On this great occasion, when the misfortune could no longer be avoided, Miss Dunstable was by no means beneath herself or her character. She deplored the calamity, but she now saw that it was only left to her to make the best of it. The duke had honoured her by coming to her house, and she was bound to welcome him, though in doing so she should bring Lady Lufton to her last gasp. ‘Duke,’ she said, ‘I am greatly honoured by this kindness on the part of your grace. I hardly expected that you would be so good to me.’
‘The goodness is all on the other side,’ said the duke, bowing over her hand. And then in the usual course of things this would have been all. The duke would have walked on and shown himself, would have said a word or two to Lady Hartletop, to the bishop, to Mr Gresham, and such like, and would have left the rooms by another way, and quietly escaped. This was the duty expected from him, and this he would have done, and the value of the party would have been increased by thirty per cent. by such doing; but now, as it was, the newsmongers of the West End were likely to get much more out of it.
Circumstances had so turned out, that he had absolutely been pressed close against Lady Lufton, and she, when she heard the voice, and was made positively acquainted with the fact of the great man’s presence by Miss Dunstable’s words, turned round quickly, but still with much feminine dignity, removing her dress from the contact. In doing this she was brought absolutely face to face with the duke, so that each could not but look full at the other. ‘I beg your pardon,’ said the duke. They were the only words that had ever passed between them, nor have they spoken to each other since; but simple as they were, accompanied by the little by-play of the speakers, they gave rise to a considerable amount of ferment in the fashionable world. Lady Lufton, as she retreated back on to Dr Easyman, curtsied low; she curtsied low and slowly, and with a haughty arrangement of her drapery that was all her own; but the curtsy, though it was eloquent, did not say half so much — did not reprobate the habitual iniquities of the duke with a voice nearly so potent, as that which was expressed in the gradual fall of her eye, and the gradual pressure of her lips. When she commenced her curtsy she was looking full in her foe’s face. By the time that she had completed it her eyes were turned upon the ground, but there was an ineffable amount of scorn expressed in the lines of her mouth. She spoke no word and retreated, as modest virtue and feminine weakness must ever retreat, before barefaced vice and virile power; but nevertheless she was held by all the world to have had the best of the encounter. The duke, as he begged her pardon, wore in his countenance that expression of modified sorrow which is common to any gentleman who is supposed by himself to have incommoded a lady. But over and above this — or rather under it — there was a slight smile of derision, as though it were impossible for him to look upon the bearing of Lady Lufton without some amount of ridicule. All this was legible to eyes so keen as those of Miss Dunstable and Mrs Harold Smith, and the duke was known to be a master of this silent inward sarcasm; but even by them — by Miss Dunstable and Mrs Harold Smith — it was admitted that Lady Lufton had conquered. When her ladyship again looked up, the duke had passed on; she then resumed the care of Miss Grantly’s hand, and followed in among the company.
‘That is what I call unfortunate,’ said Miss Dunstable, as soon as both belligerents had departed from the field of battle. ‘The Fates sometimes will be against me.’
‘But they have not been all against you here,’ said Mrs Harold Smith. ‘If you could arrive at her ladyship’s private thoughts tomorrow morning, you would find her to be quite happy in having met the duke. It will be years before she has done boasting of her triumph, and it will be talked of by the young ladies of Framley for the next three generations.’
The Gresham party, including Dr Thorne, had remained in the ante-chamber during the battle. The whole combat did not occupy above two minutes, and the three of them were hemmed off from escape by Lady Lufton’s retreat into Dr Easyman’s lap; but now they, too, essayed to pass on.
‘What, will you desert me,’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘Very well; but I shall find you out by and by. Frank, there is to be some dancing in one of the rooms — just to distinguish the affair from Mrs Proudie’s conversazione. It would be stupid, you know, if all conversazione’s were alike; wouldn’t it? So I hope you will go and dance.’
‘There will, I presume, be another variation at feeding time,’ said Mrs Harold Smith.
‘Oh, yes, certainly; I am the most vulgar of all wretches in that respect. I do love to set people eating and drinking. — Mr Supplehouse, I am delighted to see you; but do tell me —’ and then she whispered with great energy into the ear of Mr Supplehouse, and Mr Supplehouse again whispered into her ear. ‘You think he will, then?’ said Miss Dunstable. Mr Supplehouse assented; he did think so; but he had no warrant for stating the circumstance as a fact. And then he passed on, hardly looking at Mrs Harold Smith as he passed.
‘What a hang-dog countenance he has,’ said that lady.
‘Ah, you’re prejudiced, my dear, and no wonder; as for myself, I always liked Supplehouse. He means mischief; but then mischief is his trade, and he does not conceal it. If I were a politician, I should as soon think of being angry with Mr Supplehouse for turning against me as I am now with a pin pricking me. It’s my own awkwardness, and I ought to have known how to use the pin more craftily.’
‘But you must detest a man who professes to stand by his party, and then does his best to ruin it.’
‘So many have done that, my dear; and with much more success than Mr Supplehouse! All is fair in love and war — and why not add politics to the list? If we could only agree to do that, it would save us from such a deal of heartburning, and would make none of us a bit the worse.’
Miss Dunstable’s rooms, large as they were —‘a noble suite of rooms certainly, though perhaps a little too — too — too scattered, we will say, eh, bishop?’ were now nearly full, and would have been inconveniently crowded, were it not that many who came only remained for half an hour or so. Space, however, had been kept for the dancers — much to Mrs Proudie’s consternation. Not that she disapproved of dancing in London, as a rule; but she was indignant that the laws of a conversazione as re-established by herself in the fashionable world, should be so violently infringed.
‘Conversaziones will come to mean nothing,’ she said to the bishop, putting great stress on the latter word, ‘nothing at all, if they are to be treated in this way.’
‘No, they won’t; nothing in the least,’ said the bishop.
‘Dancing may be very well in its place,’ said Mrs Proudie.
‘I have never objected to it myself; that is, for the laity,’ said the bishop.
‘But when people profess to assemble for higher objects,’ said Mrs Proudie, ‘they ought to act up to the professions.’
‘Otherwise they are no better than hypocrites,’ said the bishop.
‘A spade should be called a spade,’ said Mrs Proudie.
‘Decidedly,’ said the bishop, assenting.
‘And when I undertook the trouble and expense of introducing conversaziones,’ continued Mrs Proudie, with an evident feeling that she had been ill-used, ‘I had no idea of seeing the word so — so — so misinterpreted;’ and then observing certain desirable acquaintances at the side of the room, she went across, leaving the bishop to fend for himself.
Lady Lufton, having achieved her success, passed on to the dancing, whither it was not probable that her enemy would follow her, and she had not been there very long before she was joined by her son. Her heart at the present moment was not quite satisfied at the state of affairs with reference to Griselda. She had gone so far as to tell her young friend what were her own wishes; she had declared her desire that Griselda should become her daughter-inlaw; but in answer to this Griselda herself had declared nothing. It was, to be sure, no more than natural that a young lady so well brought up as Miss Grantly should show no signs of passion till she was warranted in showing them by the proceedings of the gentleman; but notwithstanding this, fully aware as she was of the propriety of such reticence — Lady Lufton did think that to her Griselda might have spoken some word evincing that the alliance would be satisfactory to her. Griselda, however, had spoken no such word, nor had she uttered a syllable to show that she would accept Lord Lufton if he did offer. Then again she had uttered no syllable to show that she would not accept him; but, nevertheless, although she knew that the world had been talking about her and Lord Dumbello, she stood up to dance with the future marquess on every possible occasion. All this did give annoyance to Lady Lufton, who began to bethink herself that if she could not quickly bring her little plan to a favourable issue, it might be well for her to wash her hands of it. She was still anxious for the match on her son’s account. Griselda would, she did not doubt, make a good wife; but Lady Lufton was not so sure as she once had been that she herself would be able to keep up so strong a feeling for her daughter-inlaw as she had hitherto hoped to do. ‘Ludovic, have you been here long?’ she said, smiling as she always did smile when her eyes fell upon her son’s face.
‘This instant arrived; and I hurried on after you, as Miss Dunstable told me you were here. What a crowd she had? Did you see Lord Brock?’
‘I did not observe him.’
‘Or Lord De Terrier? I saw them both in the centre room.’
‘Lord De Terrier did me the honour of shaking hands with me as I passed through.’
‘I never saw such a mixture of people. There is Mrs Proudie going out of her mind because you are all going to dance.’
‘The Miss Proudies dance,’ said Griselda Grantly.
‘But not at the conversaziones. You don’t see the difference. And I saw Spermoil there, looking as pleased as Punch. He had quite a circle of his own round him, and was chattering away as though he were quite accustomed to the wickedness of the world.’
‘There certainly are people here whom one would not have wished to meet, had one thought of it,’ said Lady Lufton, mindful of her late engagement.
‘But it must be all right, for I walked up the stairs with the archdeacon. That is an absolute proof, is it not, Miss Grantly?’
‘I have no fears. When I am with your mother I know I must be safe.’
‘I am not so sure of that,’ said Lord Lufton, laughing. ‘Mother, you hardly know the worst of it yet. Who is here, do you think?’
‘I know whom you mean; I have seen him,’ said Lady Lufton, very quietly.
‘We came across him just at the top of the stairs,’ said Griselda, with more animation in her face than ever Lord Lufton had seen there before.
‘What; the duke?’
‘Yes, the duke,’ said Lady Lufton. ‘I certainly should not have come had I expected to be brought in contact with that man. But it was an accident, and on such an occasion as this it could not be helped.’ Lord Lufton at once perceived, by the tone of his mother’s voice and by the shades of her countenance, that she had absolutely endured some personal encounter with the duke, and also that she was by no means so indignant at the occurrence as might have been expected. There she was, still in Miss Dunstable’s house, and expressing no anger as to Miss Dunstable’s conduct. Lord Lufton could hardly have been more surprised had he seen the duke handing his mother down to supper; he said, however, nothing further on the subject.
‘Are you going to dance, Ludovic?’ said Lady Lufton.
‘Well, I am not sure that I do not agree with Mrs Proudie in thinking that dancing would contaminate a conversazione. What are your ideas, Miss Grantly?’ Griselda was never very good at a joke, and imagined that Lord Lufton wanted to escape the trouble of dancing with her. This angered her. For the only species of love-making, or flirtation, or sociability between herself as a young lady, and any other self as a young gentleman, which recommended itself to her taste, was to be found in the amusement of dancing. She was altogether at variance with Mrs Proudie on this matter, and gave Miss Dunstable great credit for her innovation. In society Griselda’s toes were more serviceable to her than her tongue, and she was to be won by a rapid twirl much more probably than by a soft word. The offer of which she would approve would be conveyed by two all but breathless words, during a spasmodic pause in a waltz; and then as she lifted up her arm to receive the accustomed support at her back, she might just find power enough to say, ‘you — must ask — papa.’ After that she would not care to have the affair mentioned till everything was properly settled.
‘I have not thought about it,’ said Griselda, turning her face away from Lord Lufton.
It must not, however, be supposed that Miss Grantly had not thought about Lord Lufton, or that she had not considered how great might be the advantage of having Lady Lufton on her side is she made up her mind that she did wish to become Lord Lufton’s wife. She knew well that now was her time for a triumph, now in this very first season of her acknowledged beauty; and she knew also that young, good-looking bachelor lords do not grow in hedges like blackberries. Had Lord Lufton offered to her, she would have accepted him at once without any remorse as to the greater glories which might appertain to a future Marchioness of Hartletop. In that direction she was not without sufficient wisdom. But then Lord Lufton had not offered to her, nor given any signs that he intended to do so; and to give Griselda Grantly her due, she was not a girl to make the first overture. Neither had Lord Dumbello offered; but he had given signs — dumb signs, such as birds give to each other, quite as intelligible as verbal signs to a girl who preferred the use of her toes to that of her tongue. ‘I have not thought about it,’ said Griselda, very coldly, and at that moment a gentleman stood before her and asked her hand for the next dance. It was Lord Dumbello; and Griselda, making no reply except by a slight bow, got up and put her hand within her partner’s arm.
‘Shall I find you here, Lady Lufton, when we have done?’ she said; and then started off among the dancers. When the work before one is dancing the proper thing for a gentleman to do is, at any rate, to ask a lady; this proper thing Lord Lufton had omitted, and now the prize was taken away from under his very nose.
There was clearly an air of triumph about Lord Dumbello as he walked away with the beauty. The world had been saying that Lord Lufton was to marry her, and the world had also been saying that Lord Dumbello admired her. Now this had angered Lord Dumbello, and make him feel as though he walked about, a mark of scorn, as a disappointed suitor. Had it not been for Lord Lufton, perhaps he would not have cared so much for Griselda Grantly; but circumstances had so turned out that he did care for her, and felt it to be incumbent upon him, as the heir to a marquisate, to obtain what he wanted, let who would have a hankering after the same article. It is in this way that pictures are so well sold at auctions; and Lord Dumbello regarded Miss Grantly as being now subject to the auctioneer’s hammer, and conceived that Lord Lufton was bidding against him. There was, therefore, an air of triumph about him as he put his arm round Griselda’s waist, and whirled her up and down the room in obedience to the music. Lady Lufton and her son were left together looking at each other. Of course, he had intended to ask Griselda to dance, but it cannot be said that he very much regretted his disappointment. Of course also Lady Lufton had expected that her son and Griselda would stand up together, and she was a little inclined to be angry with her protegee. ‘I think she might have waited a minute,’ said Lady Lufton.
‘But why, mother? There are certain things for which no one ever waits: to give a friend, for instance, the first passage through a gate out hunting and such like. Miss Grantly was quite right to take the first that offered.’ Lady Lufton had determined to learn what was to be the end of this scheme of hers. She could not have Griselda always with her, and if anything were to be arranged it must be arranged now, while both of them were in London. At the close of the season Griselda would return to Plumstead, and Lord Lufton would go — nobody as yet knew where. It would be useless to look forward to further opportunities. If they did not contrive to love each other now, they would never do so. Lady Lufton was beginning to fear that her plan would not work, but she made up her mind that she would learn the truth then and there — at least as far as her son was concerned.
‘Oh, yes; quite so; — if it is equal to her with which she dances,’ said Lady Lufton.
‘Quite equal, I should think — unless it be that Dumbello is longer-winded than I am.’
‘I am sorry to hear you speak of her in that way, Ludovic.’
‘Why sorry, mother?’
‘Because I had hoped — that you and she would have liked each other.’ This she said in a serious tone of voice, tender and sad, looking up into his face with a plaintive gaze, as though she knew that she were asking of him some great favour.
‘Yes, mother; I have known that you have wished that.’
‘You have known it, Ludovic!’
‘Oh, dear, yes; you are not at all sharp at keeping your secrets from me. And, mother, at one time, for a day or so, I thought that I could oblige you. You have been so good to me, that I would almost do anything for you.’
‘Oh, no, no, no,’ she said, deprecating his praise, and the sacrifice which he seemed to offer of his own hopes and aspirations. ‘I would not for worlds have you do so for my sake. No mother ever had a better son, and my only ambition is for your happiness.’
‘But, mother, she would not make me happy. I was mad enough for a moment to think that she could do so — for a moment I did think so. There was one occasion on which I would have asked her to take me, but —’
‘But what, Ludovic?’
‘Never mind, it passed away; and now I shall never ask her. Indeed I do not think she would have me. She is ambitious, and flying at higher game than I am. And I must say this for her, that she knows well what she is doing, and plays her cards as though she had been born with them in her hand.’
‘You will never ask her?’
‘No, mother; had I done so, it would have been for the love of you — only for the love of you.’
‘I would not for worlds that you should do that.’
‘Let her have Dumbello; she will make an excellent wife for him, just the wife that he will want. And you, you will have been so good to her in assisting her to such a matter.’
‘But, Ludovic, I am so anxious to see you settled.’
‘All in good time, mother.’
‘Ah, but the good time is passing away. Years run so very quickly. I hope you think of marrying, Ludovic.’
‘But, mother, what if I brought you a wife that you do not approve?’
‘I will approve of any one that you love; that is —’
‘That is, if you love her also; eh, mother?’
‘But I rely with such confidence on your taste. I know that you can like no one that is not ladylike and good.’
‘Ladylike and good; will that suffice?’ said he, thinking of Lucy Robarts.
‘Yes; it will suffice if you love her. I don’t want you to care for money. Griselda will have a fortune that would have been convenient; but I do not wish you to care for that.’ And thus, as they stood together in Miss Dunstable’s crowded room, the mother and son settled between themselves that the Lufton-Grantly alliance treaty was not to be ratified. ‘I suppose I must let Mrs Grantly know,’ said Lady Lufton to herself, as Griselda returned to her side. There had not been above a dozen words spoken between Lord Dumbello and his partner, but that young lady also had now fully made up her mind that the treaty above mentioned should never be brought into operation.
We must go back to our hostess, whom we should not have left for so long a time, seeing that this chapter is written to show how well she could conduct herself in great emergencies. She had declared that after awhile she would be able to leave her position near the entrance door, and find out her own peculiar friends among the crowd; but the opportunity for doing so did not come till very late in the evening. There was a continuation of arrivals; she was wearied to death with making little speeches, and had more than once declared that she must depute Mrs Harold Smith to take her place. That lady stuck to her through all her labours with admirable constancy, and made the work bearable. Without some such constancy on a friend’s part, it would have been unbearable; and it must be acknowledged that this was much to the credit of Mrs Harold Smith. Her own hopes with reference to the great heiress had all been shattered, and her answer had been given to her in very plain language. But, nevertheless, she was true to her friendship, and was almost as willing to endure the fatigue on this occasion as though she had a sister-inlaw’s right in the house. At about one o’clock her brother came. He had not yet seen Miss Dunstable since the offer had been made, and had now with great difficulty been persuaded by his sister to show himself.
‘What can be the use?’ said he. ‘The game is up with me now;’— meaning, poor ruined ne’er-do-well, not only that that game with Miss Dunstable was up, but that the great game of his whole life was being brought to an uncomfortable termination.
‘Nonsense,’ said his sister; ‘do you mean to despair because a man like the Duke of Omnium wants his money? What has been good security for him will be good security for another;’ and then Mrs Harold Smith made herself more agreeable then ever to Miss Dunstable.
When Miss Dunstable was nearly worn out, but was still endeavouring to buoy herself up by a hope of the still-expected great arrival — for she knew that the hero would show himself only at a very late hour if it were to be her good fortune that he showed himself at all — Mr Sowerby walked up the stairs. He had schooled himself to go through with this ordeal with all the cool effrontery which was at his command; but it was clearly to be seen that all his effrontery did not stand him in sufficient stead, and that the interview would have been embarrassing had it not been for the genuine good-humour of the lady. ‘Here is my brother,’ said Mrs Harold Smith, showing by the tremulousness of the whisper that she looked forward to the meeting with some amount of apprehension.
‘How do you do, Mr Sowerby?’ said Miss Dunstable, walking almost into the doorway to welcome him. ‘Better late than never.’
‘I have only just got away from the House,’ said he, as he gave her his hand.
‘Oh, I know well that you are sans reproche among senators — as Mr Harold Smith is sans peur; — eh, my dear?’
‘I must confess that you have contrived to be uncommonly severe upon them both,’ said Mrs Harold, laughing; ‘and as regards poor Harold, most undeservedly so; Nathaniel is here, and may defend himself.’
‘And no one is better able to do so on all occasions. But, my dear Mr Sowerby, I am dying of despair. Do you think he’ll come?’
‘You stupid man — as if there were more than one he! There were two, but the other has been.’
‘Upon my word, I don’t understand,’ said Mr Sowerby, now again at his ease. ‘But can I do anything? Shall I go and fetch anyone? Oh, Tom Towers; I fear I can’t help you. But here he is at the foot of the stairs!’ And then Mr Sowerby stood back with his sister to make way for the great representative man of the age.
‘Angels and ministers of grace assist me!’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘How on earth am I to behave myself? Mr Sowerby, do you think that I ought to kneel down? My dear, will he have a reporter at his back in the royal livery?’ And then Miss Dunstable advanced two or three steps — not into the doorway, as she had done for Mr Sowerby — put out her hand, and smiled her sweetest on Mr Towers of the Jupiter.
‘The honour done is all conferred on me,’ and he bowed and curtsied with very stately grace. Each thoroughly understood the badinage of the other; and then, in a few moments, they were engaged in very easy conversation.
‘By the by, Sowerby, what do you think of this threatened dissolution?’ said Tom Towers.
‘We are all in the hands of Providence,’ said Mr Sowerby, striving to take the matter without any outward show of emotion. But the question was one of terrible import to him, and up to this time he had heard of no such threat. Nor had Mrs Harold Smith, nor Miss Dunstable, nor had a hundred others who now either listened to the vaticinations of Mr Towers, or to the immediate report made of them. But it is given to some men to originate such tidings, and the performance of the prophecy is often brought about by the authority of the prophet. On the following morning the rumour that there would be a dissolution was current in all high circles. ‘They have no conscience in such matters; no conscience whatever,’ said a small god, speaking of the giants — a small god, whose constituency was expensive. Mr Towers stood there chatting for about twenty minutes, and then took his departure without making his way into the room. He had answered the purpose for which he had been invited, and left Miss Dunstable in a happy frame of mind.
‘I am very glad he came,’ said Mrs Harold Smith, with an air of triumph.
‘Yes, I am glad,’ said Miss Dunstable, ‘though I am thoroughly ashamed that I should be so. After all, what good has he done to me or to anyone?’ And having uttered this moral reflection, she made her way into the rooms, and soon discovered Dr Thorne standing by himself against the wall.
‘Well, doctor,’ said Miss Dunstable, ‘where are Mary and Frank? You do not look at all comfortable, standing here by yourself.’
‘I am quite as comfortable as I expected, thank you,’ said he. ‘They are in the room somewhere, and, as I believe, equally happy.’
‘That’s spiteful of you, doctor, to speak in that way. What would you say if you were called on to endure all that I have gone through this evening?’
‘There is no accounting for tastes, but I presume you like it?’
‘I am not so sure of that. Give me your arm and let me get some supper. One always likes the idea of having done hard work, and one always likes to have been successful.’
‘We all know that virtue is its own reward,’ said the doctor.
‘Well, that is something hard upon me,’ said Miss Dunstable, as she sat down to table. ‘And you really think that no good of any sort can come from my giving such a party as this?’
‘Oh, yes; some people, no doubt, have been amused.’
‘It is all vanity in your estimation,’ said Miss Dunstable; ‘vanity and vexation of spirit. Well; there is a good deal of the latter, certainly. Sherry, if you please. I would give anything for a glass of beer, but that is out of the question. Vanity and vexation of spirit! And yet I meant to do good.’
‘Pray, do not suppose I am condemning you, Miss Dunstable.’
‘Ah, but I do suppose it. Not only you, but another also, whose judgement I care for, perhaps, more than yours; and that, let me tell you, is saying a great deal. You do condemn me, Dr Thorne, and I also condemn myself. It is not that I have done wrong, but the game is not worth the candle.’
‘Ah; that is the question.’
‘The game is not worth the candle. And yet it was a triumph to have both the duke and Tom Towers. You must confess that I have not managed badly.’ Soon after that the Greshams went away, and in an hour’s time or so, Miss Dunstable was allowed to drag herself to her own bed.
That is the great question to be asked on all such occasions, ‘Is the game worth the candle?’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01