Sir Marmaduke had come away from his brother-in-law the parson in much anger, for Mr Outhouse, with that mixture of obstinacy and honesty which formed his character, had spoken hard words of Colonel Osborne, and words which by implication had been hard also against Emily Trevelyan. He had been very staunch to his niece when attacked by his niece’s husband; but when his sympathies and assistance were invoked by Sir Marmaduke it seemed as though he had transferred his allegiance to the other side. He pointed out to the unhappy father that Colonel Osborne had behaved with great cruelty in going to Devonshire, that the Stanburys had been untrue to their trust in allowing him to enter the house, and that Emily had been ‘indiscreet’ in receiving him. When a young woman is called indiscreet by her friends it may be assumed that her character is very seriously assailed. Sir Marmaduke had understood this, and on hearing the word had become wroth with his brother-in-law. There had been hot words between them, and Mr Outhouse would not yield an inch or retract a syllable. He conceived it to be his duty to advise the father to caution his daughter with severity, to quarrel absolutely with Colonel Osborne, and to let Trevelyan know that this had been done. As to the child, Mr Outhouse expressed a strong opinion that the father was legally entitled to the custody of his boy, and that nothing could be done to recover the child, except what might be done with the father’s consent. In fact, Mr Outhouse made himself exceedingly disagreeable, and sent away Sir Marmaduke with a very heavy heart. Could it really be possible that his old friend Fred Osborne, who seven or eight-and-twenty years ago had been potent among young ladies, had really been making love to his old friend’s married daughter? Sir Marmaduke looked into himself, and conceived it to be quite out of the question that he should make love to any one. A good dinner, good wine, a good cigar, an easy chair, and a rubber of whist — all these things, with no work to do, and men of his own standing around him — were the pleasures of life which Sir Marmaduke desired. Now Fred Osborne was an older man than he, and, though Fred Osborne did keep up a foolish system of padded clothes and dyed whiskers, still at fifty-two or fifty-three surely a man might be reckoned safe. And then, too, that ancient friendship! Sir Marmaduke, who had lived all his life in the comparative seclusion of a colony, thought perhaps more of that ancient friendship than did the Colonel, who had lived amidst the blaze of London life, and who had had many opportunities of changing his friends. Some inkling of all this made its way into Sir Marmaduke’s bosom, as he thought of it with bitterness; and he determined that he would have it out with his friend.
Hitherto he had enjoyed very few of those pleasant hours which he had anticipated on his journey homewards. He had had no heart to go to his club, and he had fancied that Colonel Osborne had been a little backward in looking him up, and providing him with amusement. He had suggested this to his wife, and she had told him that the Colonel had been right not to come to Manchester Street. ‘I have told Emily,’ said Lady Rowley, ‘that she must not meet him, and she is quite of the same opinion.’ Nevertheless, there had been remissness. Sir Marmaduke felt that it was so, in spite of his wife’s excuses. In this way he was becoming sore with everybody, and very unhappy. It did not at all improve his temper when he was told that his second daughter had refused an offer from Lord Peterborough’s eldest son. ‘Then she may go into the workhouse for me,’ the angry father had said, declaring at the same time that he would never give his consent to her marriage with the man who ‘did dirty work’ for the Daily Record as he, with his paternal wisdom, chose to express it. But this cruel phrase was not spoken in Nora’s hearing, nor was it repeated to her. Lady Rowley knew her husband, and was aware that he would on occasions change his opinion.
It was not till two or three days after his visit to St. Diddulph’s that he met Colonel Osborne. The Easter recess was then over, and Colonel Osborne had just returned to London. They met on the door-steps of ‘The Acrobats,’ and the Colonel immediately began with an apology. ‘I have been so sorry to be away just when you are here — upon my word I have. But I was obliged to go down to the duchess’s. I had promised early in the winter; and those people are so angry if you put them off. By George, it’s almost as bad as putting off royalty.’
‘D n the duchess,’ said Sir Marmaduke.
‘With all my heart,’ said the Colonel ‘only I thought it as well that I should tell you the truth.’
‘What I mean is, that the duchess and her people make no difference to me. I hope you had a pleasant time; that’s all.’
‘Well yes, we had. One must get away somewhere at Easter. There is no one left at the club, and there’s no House, and no one asks one to dinner in town. In fact, if one didn’t go away one wouldn’t know what to do. There were ever so many people there that I liked to meet. Lady Glencora was there, and uncommon pleasant she made it. That woman has more to say for herself than any half-dozen men that I know. And Lord Cantrip, your chief, was there. He said a word or two to me about you.’
‘What sort of word?’
‘He says he wishes you would read up some blue books, or papers, or reports, or something of that kind, which he says that some of his fellows have sent you. It seems that there are some new rules, or orders, or fashions, which he wants you to have at your finger’s ends. Nothing could be more civil than he was but he just wished me to mention this, knowing that you and I are likely to see each other.’
‘I wish I had never come over,’ said Sir Marmaduke.
‘They didn’t bother me with their new rules and fashions over there. When the papers came somebody read them, and that was enough. I could do what they wanted me to do there.’
‘And so you will here after a bit.’
‘I’m not so sure of that. Those young fellows seem to forget that an old dog can’t learn new tricks. They’ve got a young brisk fellow there who seems to think that a man should be an encyclopaedia of knowledge because he has lived in a colony over twenty years.’
‘That’s the new under-secretary.’
‘Never mind who it is. Osborne, just come up to the library, will you? I want to speak to you.’
Then Sir Marmaduke, with considerable solemnity, led the way up to the most deserted room in the club, and Colonel Osborne followed him, well knowing that something was to be said about Emily Trevelyan.
Sir Marmaduke seated himself on a sofa, and his friend sat close beside him. The room was quite deserted. It was four o’clock in the afternoon, and the club was full of men. There were men in the morning-room, and men in the drawing-room, and men in the card-room, and men in the billiard-room; but no better choice of a chamber for a conference intended to be silent and secret could have been made in all London than that which had induced Sir Marmaduke to take his friend into the library of ‘The Acrobats.’ And yet a great deal of money had been spent in providing this library for ‘The Acrobats.’ Sir Marmaduke sat for awhile silent, and had he sat silent for an hour, Colonel Osborne would not have interrupted him. Then, at last, he began, with a voice that was intended to be serious, but which struck upon the ear of his companion as being affected and unlike the owner of it. ‘This is a very sad thing about my poor girl,’ said Sir Marmaduke.
‘Indeed it is. There is only one thing to be said about it, Rowley.’
‘And what’s that?’
‘The man must be mad.’
‘He is not so mad as to give us any relief by his madness, poor as such comfort would be. He has got Emily’s child away from her, and I think it will about kill her. And what is to become of her? As to taking her back to the islands without her child, it is out of the question. I never knew anything so cruel in my life.’
‘And so absurd, you know.’
‘Ah that’s just the question. If anybody had asked me, I should have said that you were the man of all men whom I could have best trusted.’
‘Do you doubt it now?’
‘I don’t know what to think.’
‘Do you mean to say that you suspect me and your daughter, too?’
‘No, by heavens! Poor dear. If I suspected her, there would be an end of all things with me. I could never get over that. No I don’t suspect her!’ Sir Marmaduke had now dropped his affected tone, and was speaking with natural energy.
‘But you do me?’
‘No; if I did, I don’t suppose I should be sitting with you here; but they tell me —’
‘They tell you what?’
‘They tell me that that you did not behave wisely about it. Why could you not let her alone when you found out how matters were going?’
‘Who has been telling you this, Rowley?’
Sir Marmaduke considered for awhile, and then, remembering that Colonel Osborne could hardly quarrel with a clergyman, told him the truth. ‘Outhouse says that you have done her an irretrievable injury by going down to Devonshire to her, and by writing to her.’
‘Outhouse is an ass.’
‘That is easily said, but why did you go?’
‘And why should I not go? What the deuce! Because a man like that chooses to take vagaries into his head I am not to see my own godchild!’ Sir Marmaduke tried to remember whether the Colonel was in fact the godfather of his eldest daughter, but he found that his mind was quite a blank about his children’s godfathers and godmothers. ‘And as for the letters, I wish you could see them. The only letters which had in them a word of importance were those about your coming home. I was anxious to get that arranged, not only for your sake, but because she was so eager about it.’
‘God bless her, poor child,’ said Sir Marmaduke, rubbing the tears away from his eyes with his red silk pocket-handkerchief.
‘I will acknowledge that those letters — there may have been one or two — were the beginning of the trouble. It was these that made this man show himself to be a lunatic. I do admit that. I was bound not to talk about your coming, and I told her to keep the secret. He went spying about, and found her letters, I suppose, and then he took fire because there was to be a secret from him. Dirty, mean dog! And now I’m to be told by such a fellow as Outhouse that it’s my fault, that I have caused all the trouble, because, when I happened to be in Devonshire, I went to see your daughter!’ We must do the Colonel the justice of supposing that he had by this time quite taught himself to believe that the church porch at Cockchaffington had been the motive cause of his journey into Devonshire. ‘Upon my word it is too hard,’ continued he indignantly. ‘As for Outhouse, only for the gown upon his hack, I’d pull his nose. And I wish that you would tell him that I say so.’
‘There is trouble enough without that,’ said Sir Marmaduke.
‘But it is hard. By G — it is hard. There is this comfort: if it hadn’t been me, it would have been some one else. Such a man as that couldn’t have gone two or three years without being jealous of some one. And as for poor Emily, she is better off perhaps with an accusation so absurd as this, than she might have been had her name been joined with a younger man, or with one whom you would have less reason for trusting.’
There was so much that seemed to be sensible in this, and it was spoken with so well assumed a tone of injured innocence, that Sir Marmaduke felt that he had nothing more to say. He muttered something further about the cruelty of the case, and then slunk away out of the club, and made his way home to the dull gloomy house in Manchester Street. There was no comfort for him there but neither was there any comfort for him at the club. And why did that vexatious Secretary of State send him messages about blue books? As he went, he expressed sundry wishes that he was back at the Mandarins, and told himself that it would be well that he should remain there till he died.
Last updated Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 20:26