The next three days passed slowly and tediously for most of the guests assembled at Grey Abbey.
Captain Cokely, and a Mr Battersby, came over from Newbridge barracks, but they did not add much to the general enjoyment of the party, though their arrival was hailed with delight by some of the young ladies. At any rate they made the rooms look less forlorn in the evenings, and made it worth the girls’ while to put on their best bibs and tuckers.
‘But what’s the use of it at all?’ said Matilda Fitzgerald to little Letty O’Joscelyn, when she had spent three-quarters of an hour in adjusting her curls, and setting her flounces properly, on the evening before the arrival of the two cavalry officers; ‘not a soul to look at us but a crusty old colonel, a musty old bishop, and a fusty old beau!’
‘Who’s the old beau?’ said Letty.
‘Why, that Mr Tierney. I can’t conceive how Lady Cashel can have asked us to meet such a set,’ and Matilda descended, pouting, and out of humour.
But on the next day she went through her work much more willingly, if not more carefully.
‘That Captain Cokely’s a very nice fellow,’ said Matilda; ‘the best of that Newbridge set, out and out.’
‘Well now, I really think he’s not so nice as Mr Battersby,’ said Letty. ‘I’m sure he’s not so good-looking.’
‘Oh, Battersby’s only a boy. After all, Letty, I don’t know whether I like officers so much better than other men,’ and she twisted her neck round to get a look at her back in the pier-glass, and gave her dress a little pull just above her bustle.
‘I’m sure I do,’ said Letty; ‘they’ve so much more to say for themselves, and they’re so much smarter.’
‘Why, yes, they are smarter,’ said Matilda; ‘and there’s nothing on earth so dowdy as an old black coat, But, then, officers are always going away: you no sooner get to know one or two of a set, and to feel that one of them is really a darling fellow, but there, they are off to Jamaica, China, Hounslow barracks, or somewhere; and then it’s all to do over again.’
‘Well, I do wish they wouldn’t move them about quite so much.’
‘But let’s go down. I think I’ll do now, won’t I?’ and they descended, to begin the evening campaign.
‘Wasn’t Miss Wyndham engaged to some one?’ said old Mrs Ellison to Mrs Moore. ‘I’m sure some one told me so.’
‘Oh, yes, she was,’ said Mrs Moore; ‘the affair was settled, and everything arranged; but the man was very poor, and a gambler Lord Ballindine: he has the name of a property down in Mayo somewhere; but when she got all her brother’s money, Lord Cashel thought it a pity to sacrifice it so he got her out of the scrape. A very good thing for the poor girl, for they say he’s a desperate scamp.’
‘Well, I declare I think,’ said Mrs Ellison, ‘she’ll not have far to look for another.’
‘What, you think there’s something between her and Lord Kilcullen?’ said Mrs Moore.
‘It looks like it, at any rate, don’t it?’ said Mrs Ellison.
‘Well, I really think it does,’ said Mrs Moore; ‘I’m sure I’d be very glad of it. I know he wants money desperately, and it would be such a capital thing for the earl.’
‘At any rate, the lady does not look a bit unwilling,’ said Mrs Ellison. ‘I suppose she’s fond of rakish young men. You say Lord Ballindine was of that set; and I’m sure Lord Kilcullen’s the same he has the reputation, at any rate. They say he and his father never speak, except just in public, to avoid the show of the thing.’
And the two old ladies set to work to a good dish of scandal.
‘Miss Wyndham’s an exceedingly fine girl,’ said Captain Cokely to Mat Tierney, as they were playing a game of piquet in the little drawing-room.
‘Yes,’ said Mat; ‘and she’s a hundred thousand exceedingly fine charms too, independently of her fine face.’
‘So I hear,’ said Cokely; ‘but I only believe half of what I hear about those things.’
‘She has more than that; I know it.’
‘Has she though? Faith, do you know I think Kilcullen has a mind to keep it in the family. H’s very soft on her, and she’s just as sweet to him. I shouldn’t be surprised if he were to marry now, and turn steady.’
‘Not at all; there are two reasons against it. In the first place, he’s too much clipped for even Fanny’s fortune to be any good to him; and secondly, she’s engaged.’
‘What, to Ballindine?’ said Cokely.
‘Exactly so,’ said Mat. ‘Ah, my dear fellow, that’s all off long since. I heard Kilcullen say so myself. I’ll back Kilcullen to marry her against Ballindine for a hundred pounds.’
‘Done,’ said Mat; and the bet was booked.
The same evening, Tierney wrote to Dot Blake, and said in a postscript, ‘I know you care for Ballindine; so do I, but I don’t write to him. If he really wants to secure his turtle-dove, he should see that she doesn’t get bagged in his absence. Kilcullen is here, and I tell you he’s a keen sportsman. They say it’s quite up with him in London, and I should be sorry she were sacrificed: she seems a nice girl.’
Lord Kilcullen had ample opportunities of forwarding his intimacy with Fanny, and he did not neglect them. To give him his due, he played his cards as well as his father could wish him. He first of all overcame the dislike with which she was prepared to regard him; he then interested her about himself; and, before he had been a week at Grey Abbey, she felt that she had a sort of cousinly affection for him. He got her to talk with a degree of interest about himself; and when he could do that, there was no wonder that Tierney should have fears for his friend’s interests. Not that there was any real occasion for them. Fanny Wyndham was not the girl to be talked out of, or into, a real passion, by anyone.
‘Now, tell me the truth, Fanny,’ said Kilcullen, as they were sitting over the fire together in the library, one dark afternoon, before they went to dress for dinner; ‘hadn’t you been taught to look on me as a kind of ogre a monster of iniquity, who spoke nothing but oaths, and did nothing but sin?’
‘Not exactly that: but I won’t say I thought you were exactly just what you ought to be.’
‘But didn’t you think I was exactly what I ought not to have been? Didn’t you imagine, now, that I habitually sat up all night, gambling, and drinking buckets of champagne and brandy-and-water? And that I lay in bed all day, devising iniquity in my dreams? Come now, tell the truth, and shame the devil; if I am the devil, I know people have made me out to be.’
‘Why, really, Adolphus, I never calculated how your days and nights were spent. But if I am to tell the truth, I fear some of them might have been passed to better advantage.’
‘Which of us, Fanny, mightn’t, with truth, say the same of ourselves?’
‘Of course, none of us,’ said Fanny; ‘don’t think I’m judging you; you asked me the question and I suppose you wanted an answer.’
‘I did; I wanted a true one for though you may never have given yourself much trouble to form an opinion about me, I am anxious that you should do so now. I don’t want to trouble you with what is done and past; I don’t want to make it appear that I have not been thoughtless and imprudent wicked and iniquitous, if you are fond of strong terms; neither do I want to trouble you with confessing all my improprieties, that I may regularly receive absolution. But I do wish you to believe that I have done nothing which should exclude me from your future good opinion; from your friendship and esteem.’
‘I am not of an unforgiving temperament, even had you done anything for me to forgive: but I am not aware that you have.’
‘No; nothing for you to forgive, in the light of an offence to yourself; but much, perhaps, to prevent your being willing to regard me as a personal friend, We’re not only first cousins, Fanny, but are placed more closely together than cousins usually are. You have neither father nor mother; now, also, you have no brother,’ and he took her hands in his own as he said so. ‘Who should be a brother to you, if I am not? who, at any rate, should you look on as a friend, if not on me? Nobody could be better, I believe, than Selina; but she is stiff, and cold unlike you in everything. I should be so happy if I could be the friend the friend of friends you spoke of the other evening; if I could fill the place which must be empty near your heart. I can never be this to you, if you believe that anything in my past life has been really disgraceful. It is for this reason that I want to know what you truly think of me. I won’t deny that I am anxious you should think well of me: well, at any rate for the present, and the future, and charitably as regards the past.’
Fanny had been taken much by surprise by the turn her cousin had given to the conversation; and was so much affected, that, before he had finished, she was in tears. She had taken her hand out of his, to put her handkerchief to her eyes, and as she did not immediately answer, he continued:
‘I shall probably be much here for some time to come such, at least, are my present plans; and I hope that while I am, we shall become friends: not such friends, Fanny, as you and Judith O’Joscelyn friends only of circumstance, who have neither tastes, habits, or feelings in common friends whose friendship consists in living in the same parish, and meeting each other once or twice a week; but friends in reality friends in confidence friends in mutual dependence friends in love friends, dear Fanny, as cousins situated as we are should be to each other.’
Fanny’s heart was very full, for she felt how much, how desperately, she wanted such a friend as Kilcullen described. How delightful it would be to have such a friend, and to find him in her own cousin! The whole family, hitherto, were so cold to her so uncongenial. The earl she absolutely disliked; she loved her aunt, but it was only because she was her aunt she couldn’t like her; and though she loved Lady Selina, and, to a degree, admired her, it was like loving a marble figure. There was more true feeling in what Kilcullen had now said to her, than in. all that had fallen from the whole family, for the four years she had lived at Grey Abbey, and she could not therefore but close on the offer of his affection.
‘Shall we be such friends, then?’ said he; ‘or, after all, am I too bad? Have I too much of the taint of the wicked world to be the friend of so pure a creature as you?’
‘Oh no, Adolphus; I’m sure I never thought so,’ said she. ‘I never judged you, and indeed I am not disposed to do so now. I’m too much in want of kindness to reject yours even were I disposed to do so, which I am not.’
‘Then, Fanny, we are to be friends true, loving, trusting friends?’
‘Oh, yes!’ said Fanny. ‘I am really, truly grateful for your affection and kindness. I know how precious they are, and I will value them accordingly.’
Again Lord Kilcullen took her hand, and pressed it in his; and then he kissed it, and told her she was his own dear cousin Fanny; and then recommended her to go and dress, which she did. He sat himself down for a quarter of an hour, ruminating, and then also went off to dress; but, during that quarter of an hour, very different ideas passed through his mind, than such as those who knew him best would have given him credit for.
In the first place, he thought that he really began to feel an affection for his cousin Fanny, and to speculate whether it were absolutely within the verge of possibility that he should marry her retrieve his circumstances treat her well, and live happily for the rest of his life as a respectable nobleman.
For two or three minutes the illusion remained, till it was banished by retrospection. It was certainly possible that he should marry her: it was his full intention to do so: but as to retrieving his circumstances and treating her well! the first was absolutely impossible the other nearly so; and as to his living happily at Grey Abbey as a family man, he yawned as he felt how impossible it would be that he should spend a month in such a way, let alone a life. But then Fanny Wyndham was so beautiful, so lively, so affectionate, so exactly what a cousin and a wife ought to be: he could not bear to think that all his protestations of friendship and love had been hypocritical; that he could only look upon her as a gudgeon, and himself as a bigger fish, determined to swallow her! Yet such must be his views regarding her. He departed to dress, absolutely troubled in his conscience.
And what were Fanny’s thoughts about her cousin? She was much surprised and gratified, but at the same time somewhat flustered and overwhelmed, by the warmth and novelty of his affection. However, she never for a moment doubted his truth towards her, or had the slightest suspicion of his real object.
Her chief thought was whether she could induce him to be a mediator for her, between Lord Cashel and Lord Ballindine.
During the next two days he spoke to her a good deal about her brother of whom, by-the-bye, he had really known nothing. He contrived, however, to praise him as a young man of much spirit and great promise; then he spoke of her own large fortune, asked her what her wishes were about its investment, and told her how happy he would be to express those wishes at once to Lord Cashel, and to see that they were carried out. Once or twice she had gradually attempted to lead the conversation to Lord Ballindine, but Kilcullen was too crafty, and had prevented her; and she had not yet sufficient courage to tell him at once what was so near her heart.
‘Fanny,’ said Lady Selina, one morning, about a week after the general arrival of the company at Grey Abbey, and when some of them had taken their departure, ‘I am very glad to see you have recovered your spirits: I know you have made a great effort, and I appreciate and admire it.’
‘Indeed, Selina, I fear you are admiring me too soon. I own I have been amused this week past, and, to a certain degree, pleased; but I fear you’ll find I shall relapse. There’s been no radical reform; my thoughts are all in the same direction as they were.’
‘But the great trial in this world is to behave well and becomingly in spite of oppressive thoughts: and it always takes a struggle to do that, and that struggle you’ve made. I hope it may lead you to feel that you may be contented and in comfort without having everything which you think necessary to your happiness. I’m sure I looked forward to this week as one of unmixed trouble and torment; but I was very wrong to do so. It has given me a great deal of unmixed satisfaction.’
‘I’m very glad of that, Selina, but what was it? I’m sure it could not have come from poor Mrs Ellison, or the bishop’s wife; and you seemed to me to spend all your time in talking to them. Virtue, they say, is its own reward: I don’t know what other satisfaction you can have had from them.’
‘In the first place, it has given me great pleasure to see that you were able to exert yourself in company, and that the crowd of people did not annoy you: but I have chiefly been delighted by seeing that you and Adolphus are such good friends. You must think, Fanny, that I am anxious about an only brother especially when we have all had so much cause to be anxious about him; and don’t you think it must be a delight to me to find that he is able to take pleasure in your society? I should be doubly pleased, doubly delighted, if I could please him myself. But I have not the vivacity to amuse him.’
‘What nonsense, Selina! Don’t say that.’
‘But it’s true, Fanny; I have not; and Grey Abbey has become distasteful to him because we are all sedate, steady people. Perhaps some would call us dull, and heavy; and I have grieved that it should be so, though I cannot alter my nature; but you are so much the contrary there is so much in your character like his own, before he became fond of the world, that I feel he can become attached to and fond of you; and I am delighted to see that he thinks so himself. What do you think of him, now that you have seen more of him than you ever did before?’
‘Indeed,’ said Fanny, ‘I like him very much.’
‘He is very clever, isn’t he? He might have been anything if he had given himself fair play. He seems to have taken greatly to you.’
‘Oh yes; we are great friends:’ and then Fanny paused ‘— so great friends,’ she continued, looking somewhat gravely in Lady Selina’s face, ‘that I mean to ask the greatest favour of him that I could ask of anyone: one I am sure I little dreamed I should ever ask of him.’
‘What is it, Fanny? Is it a secret?’
‘Indeed it is, Selina; but it’s a secret I will tell you. I mean to tell him all I feel about Lord Ballindine, and I mean to ask him to see him for me. Adolphus has offered to be a brother to me, and I mean to take him at his word.’
Lady Selina turned very pale, and looked very grave as she replied,
‘That is not giving him a brother’s work, Fanny. A brother should protect you from importunity and insult, from injury and wrong; and that, I am sure, Adolphus would do: but no brother would consent to offer your hand to a man who had neglected you and been refused, and who, in all probability, would now reject you with scorn if he has the opportunity or if not that, will take you for your money’s sake. That, Fanny, is not a brother’s work; and it is an embassy which I am sure Adolphus will not undertake. If you take my advice you will not ask him.’
As Lady Selina finished speaking she walked to the door, as if determined to hear no reply from her cousin; but, as she was leaving the room, she fancied that she heard her sobbing, and her heart softened, and she again turned towards her and said, ‘God knows, Fanny, I do not wish to be severe or ill-natured to you; I would do anything for your comfort and happiness, but I cannot bear to think that you should’ Lady Selina was puzzled for a word to express her meaning ‘that you should forget yourself,’ and she attempted to put her arm round Fanny’s waist.
But she was mistaken; Fanny was not sobbing, but was angry; and what Selina now said about her forgetting herself, did not make her less so.
‘No,’ she said, withdrawing herself from her cousin’s embrace and standing erect, while her bosom was swelling with indignation: ‘I want no affection from you, Selina, that is accompanied by so much disapprobation. You don’t wish to be severe, only you say that I am likely to forget myself. Forget myself!’ and Fanny threw back her beautiful head, and clenched her little fists by her side: ‘The other day you said “disgrace myself “, and I bore it calmly then; but I will not any longer bear such imputations. I tell you plainly, Selina, I will not forget myself, nor will I be forgotten. Nor will I submit to whatever fate cold, unfeeling people may doom me, merely because I am a woman and alone. I will not give up Lord Ballindine, if I have to walk to his door and tell him so. And were I to do so, I should never think that I had forgotten myself.’
‘Listen to me, Fanny,’ said Selina.
‘Wait a moment,’ continued Fanny, ‘I have listened enough: it is my turn to speak now. For one thing I have to thank you: you have dispelled the idea that I could look for help to anyone in this family. I will not ask your brother to do anything for me which you think so disgraceful. I will not subject him to the scorn with which you choose to think my love will be treated by him who loved me so well. That you should dare to tell me that he who did so much for my love should now scorn it! Oh, Selina, that I may live to forget that you said those words!’ and Fanny, for a moment, put her handkerchief to her eyes but it was but for a moment.
‘However,’ she continued, ‘I will now act for myself. As you think I might forget myself, I tell you I will do it in no clandestine way. I will write to Lord Ballindine, and I will show my letter to my uncle. The whole house shall read it if they please. I will tell Lord Ballindine all the truth and if Lord Cashel turns me from his house, I shall probably find some friend to receive me, who may still believe that I have not forgotten myself.’ And Fanny Wyndham sailed out of the room.
Lady Selina, when she saw that she was gone, sat down on the sofa and took her book. She tried to make herself believe that she was going to read; but it was no use: the tears dimmed her eyes, and she put the book down.
The same evening the countess sent for Selina into her boudoir, and, with a fidgety mixture of delight and surprise, told her that she had a wonderful piece of good news to communicate to her.
‘I declare, my dear,’ she said, ‘it’s the most delightful thing I’ve heard for years and years; and it’s just exactly what I had planned myself, only I never told anybody. Dear me; it makes me so happy!’
‘What is it, mamma?
‘Your papa has been talking to me since dinner, my love, and he tells me Adolphus is going to marry Fanny Wyndham.’
‘Going to marry whom?’ said Lady Selina, almost with a shout.
‘Fanny, I say: it’s the most delightful match in the world: it’s just what ought to be done. I suppose they won’t have the wedding before summer; though May is a very nice month. Let me see; it only wants three weeks to May.’
‘Mamma, what are you talking about? you’re dreaming.’
‘Dreaming, my dear? I’m not dreaming at all: it’s a fact. Who’d ‘ve thought of all this happening so soon, out of this party, which gave us so much trouble! However, I knew your father was right. I said all along that he was in the right to ask the, people.’
‘Mamma,’ said Lady Selina, gravely, ‘listen to me: calmly now, and attentively. I don’t know what papa has told you; but I tell you Fanny does not dream of marrying Adolphus. He has never asked her, and if he did she would never accept him. Fanny is more than ever in love with Lord Ballindine.’
The countess opened her eyes wide, and looked up into her daughter’s face, but said nothing.
‘Tell me, mamma, as nearly as you can recollect, what it is papa has said to you, that, if possible, we may prevent mischief and misery. Papa couldn’t have said that Fanny had accepted Adolphus?’
‘He didn’t say exactly that, my dear; but he said that it was his wish they should be married; that Adolphus was very eager for it, and that Fanny had received his attentions and admiration with evident pleasure and satisfaction. And so she has, my dear; you couldn’t but have seen that yourself.’
‘Well, mamma, what else did papa say?’
‘Why, he said just what I’m telling you: that I wasn’t to be surprised if we were called on to be ready for the wedding at a short notice; or at any rate to be ready to congratulate Fanny. He certainly didn’t say she had accepted him. But he said he had no doubt about it; and I’m sure, from what was going on last week, I couldn’t have any doubt either. But he told me not to speak to anyone about it yet; particularly not to Fanny; only, my dear, I couldn’t help, you know, talking it over with you;’ and the countess leaned back in her chair, very much exhausted with the history she had narrated.
‘Now, mamma, listen to me. It is not many hours since Fanny told me she was unalterably determined to throw herself at Lord Ballindine’s feet.’
‘Goodness gracious me, how shocking!’ said the countess.
‘She even said that she would ask Adolphus to be the means of bringing Lord Ballindine back to Grey Abbey.’
‘Lord have mercy!’ said the countess.
‘I only tell you this, mamma, to show you how impossible it is that papa should be right.’
‘What are we to do, my dear? Oh, dear, there’ll be such a piece of work! What a nasty thing Fanny is. I’m sure she’s been making love to Adolphus all the week!’
‘No, mamma, she has not. Don’t be unfair to Fanny. If there is anyone in fault it is Adolphus; but, as you say, what shall we do to prevent further misunderstanding? I think I had better tell papa the whole.’
And so she did, on the following morning. But she was too late; she did not do it till after Lord Kilcullen had offered and had been refused.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14