In the conference which took place between Sir Marmaduke and his wife after the interview between him and Nora, it was his idea that nothing further should be done at all. ‘I don’t suppose the man will come here if he be told not,’ said Sir Marmaduke, ‘and if he does, Nora of course will not see him.’ He then suggested that Nora would of course go back with them to the Mandarins, and that when once there she would not be able to see Stanbury any more. ‘There must be no correspondence or anything of that sort, and so the thing will die away.’ But Lady Rowley declared that this would not quite suffice. Mr Stanbury had made his offer in due form, and must be held to be entitled to an answer. Sir Marmaduke, therefore, wrote the following letter to the ‘penny-a-liner,’ mitigating the asperity of his language in compliance with his wife’s counsels.
‘Manchester Street, April 20th, 186—.
My Dear Sir,
Lady Rowley has told me of your proposal to my daughter Nora; and she has told me also what she learned from you as to your circumstances in life. I need hardly point out to you that no father would be justified in giving his daughter to a gentleman upon so small an income, and upon an income so very insecure.
I am obliged to refuse my consent, and I must therefore ask you to abstain from visiting and from communicating with my daughter.
Hugh Stanbury, Esq.’
This letter was directed to Stanbury at the office of the D. R., and Sir Marmaduke, as he wrote the pernicious address, felt himself injured in that he was compelled to write about his daughter to a man so circumstanced. Stanbury, when he got the letter, read it hastily and then threw it aside. He knew what it would contain before he opened it. He had heard enough from Lady Rowley to be aware that Sir Marmaduke would not welcome him as a son-in-law; Indeed, he had never expected such welcome. He was half-ashamed of his own suit because of the lowliness of his position, half-regretful that he should have induced such a girl as Nora Rowley to give up for his sake her hopes of magnificence and splendour. But Sir Marmaduke’s letter did not add anything to this feeling. He read it again, and smiled as he told himself that the father would certainly be very weak in the hands of his daughter. Then he went to work again at his article with a persistent resolve that so small a trifle as such a note should have no effect upon his daily work. ‘Of course Sir Marmaduke would refuse his consent. Of course it would be for him, Stanbury, to marry the girl he loved in opposition to her father. Her father indeed! If Nora chose to take him — and as to that he was very doubtful as to Nora’s wisdom — but if Nora would take him, what was any father’s opposition to him. He wanted nothing from Nora’s father. He was not looking for money with his wife, nor for fashion, nor countenance. Such a Bohemian was he that he would be quite satisfied if his girl would walk out to him, and become his wife, with any morning-gown on and with any old hat that might come, readiest to hand. He wanted neither cards, nor breakfast, nor carriages, nor fine clothes. If his Nora should choose to come to him as she was, he having had all previous necessary arrangements duly made, such as calling of banns or procuring of licence, if possible, he thought that a father’s opposition would almost add something to the pleasure of the occasion. So he pitched the letter on one side, and went on with his article. And he finished his article; but it may be doubted whether it was completed with the full strength and pith needed for moving the pulses of the national mind as they should be moved by leading articles in the D. R. As he was writing he was thinking of Nora and thinking of the letter which Nora’s father had sent to him. Trivial as was the letter, he could not keep himself from repeating the words of it to himself. ‘“Need hardly point out,” oh; needn’t he? Then why does he? Refusing his consent! I wonder what the old buffers think is the meaning of their consent, when they are speaking of daughters old enough to manage for themselves? Abstain from visiting or communicating with her! But if she visits and communicates with me, what then? I can’t force my way into the house, but she can force her way out. Does he imagine that she can be locked up in the nursery or put into the corner?’ So he argued with himself, and by such arguments he brought himself to the conviction that it would be well for him to answer Sir Marmaduke’s letter. This he did at once before leaving the office of the D.R.
‘250, Fleet Street,
My Dear Sir Marmaduke Rowley
‘I have just received your letter, and am indeed sorry that its contents should be so little favourable to my hopes. I understand that your objection to me is simply in regard to the smallness and insecurity of my income. On the first point I may say that I have fair hopes that it may be at once increased. As to the second, I believe I may assert that it is as sure at least as the income of other professional men, such as barristers, merchants, and doctors. I cannot promise to say that I will not see your daughter. If she desires me to do so, of course I shall be guided by her views. I wish that I might be allowed an opportunity of seeing you, as think I could reverse or at least mitigate some of the objections which you feel to our marriage.’
Yours most faithfully,
On the next day but one Sir Marmaduke came to him. He was sitting at the office of the D. R., in a very small and dirty room at the back of the house, and Sir Marmaduke found his way thither through a confused crowd of compositors, pressmen, and printers’ boys. He thought that he had never before been in a place so foul, so dark, so crowded, and so comfortless. He himself was accustomed to do his work, out in the Islands, with many of the appanages of vice-royalty around him. He had his secretary, and his private secretary, and his inner-room, and his waiting-room; and not unfrequently he had the honour of a dusky sentinel walking before the door through which he was to be approached. He had an idea that all gentlemen at their work had comfortable appurtenances around them such as carpets, dispatch-boxes, unlimited stationery, easy chairs for temporary leisure, big table-space, and a small world of books around them to give at least a look of erudition to their pursuits. There was nothing of the kind in the miserably dark room occupied ‘by Stanbury. He was sitting at a wretched little table on which there was nothing but a morsel of blotting paper, a small ink-bottle, and the paper on which he was scribbling. There was no carpet there, and no dispatch box, and the only book in the room was a little dog’s-eared dictionary.‘Sir Marmaduke, I am so much obliged to you for coming,’ said Hugh. ‘I fear you will find this place a little rough, but we shall be all alone.’
‘The place, Mr Stanbury, will not signify, I think’
‘Not in the least — if you don’t mind it. I got your letter, you know, Sir Marmaduke.’
‘And I have had your reply. I have come to you because you have expressed a wish for an interview, but I do not see that it will do any good.’
‘You are very kind for coming, indeed, Sir Marmaduke, very kind. I thought I might explain something to you about my income.’
‘Can you tell me that you have any permanent income?’
‘It goes on regularly from month to month;’ Sir Marmaduke did not feel the slightest respect for an income that was paid monthly. According to his ideas, a gentleman’s income should be paid quarterly, or perhaps half-yearly. According to his view, a monthly salary was only one degree better than weekly wages ‘and I suppose that is permanence,’ said Hugh Stanbury.
‘I cannot say that I so regard it.’
‘A barrister gets his, you know, very irregularly. There is no saying when he may have it.’
‘But a barrister’s profession is recognised as a profession among gentlemen, Mr Stanbury.’
‘And is not ours recognised? Which of us, barristers or men of literature, have the most effect on the world at large? Who is most thought of in London, Sir Marmaduke, the Lord Chancellor or the Editor of the “Jupiter”?’
‘The Lord Chancellor a great deal,’ said Sir Marmaduke, quite dismayed by the audacity of the question.
‘By no means, Sir Marmaduke,’ said Stanbury, throwing out his hand before him so as to give the energy of action to his words. ‘He has the higher rank. I will admit that.’
‘I should think so,’ said Sir Marmaduke.
‘And the larger income.’
‘Very much larger, I should say,’ said Sir Marmaduke, with a smile.
‘And he wears a wig.’
‘Yes he wears a wig,’ said Sir Marmaduke, hardly knowing in what spirit to accept this assertion.
‘And nobody cares one brass button for him or his opinions,’ said Stanbury, bringing down his hand heavily on the little table for the sake of emphasis.
‘If you’ll think of it, it is so.’
‘Nobody cares for the Lord Chancellor!’ It certainly is the fact that gentlemen living in the Mandarin Islands do think more of the Lord Chancellor, and the Lord Mayor, and the Lord-Lieutenant, and the Lord Chamberlain, than they whose spheres of life bring them into closer contact with those august functionaries. ‘I presume, Mr Stanbury, that a connection with a penny newspaper makes such opinions as these almost a necessity.’
‘Quite a necessity, Sir Marmaduke. No man can hold his own in print, now-a-days, unless he can see the difference between tinsel and gold.’
‘And the Lord Chancellor, of course, is tinsel.’
‘I do not say so. He may be a great lawyer and very useful. But his lordship, and his wig, and his woolsack, are tinsel in comparison with the real power possessed by the editor of a leading newspaper. If the Lord Chancellor were to go to bed for a month, would he be much missed?’
‘I don’t know, sir. I’m not in the secrets of the Cabinet. I should think he would.’
‘About as much as my grandmother; but if the Editor of the Jupiter were to be taken ill, it would work quite a commotion. For myself I should be glad on public grounds because I don’t like his mode of business. But it would have an effect because he is a leading man.’
‘I don’t see what all this leads to, Mr Stanbury.’
‘Only to this, that we who write for the press think that our calling is recognised, and must be recognised, as a profession. Talk of permanence, Sir Marmaduke; are not the newspapers permanent? Do not they come out regularly every day, and more of them, and still more of them, are always coming out? You do not expect a collapse among them.’
‘There will be plenty of newspapers, I do not doubt more than plenty, perhaps.’
‘Somebody must write them, and the writers will be paid.’
‘Anybody could write the most of them, I should say.’
‘I wish you would try, Sir Marmaduke. Just try your hand at a leading article to-night, and read it yourself tomorrow morning.’
‘I’ve a great deal too much to do, Mr Stanbury.’
‘Just so. You have, no doubt, the affairs of your Government to look to. We are all so apt to ignore the work of our neighbours! It seems to me that I could go over and govern the Mandarins without the slightest trouble in the world. But, no doubt, I am mistaken, just as you are about writing for the newspapers.’
‘I do not know,’ said Sir Marmaduke, rising from his chair with dignity, ‘that I called here to discuss such matters as these. As it happens, you, Mr Stanbury, are not the Governor of the Mandarins, and I have not the honour to write for the columns of the penny newspaper with which you are associated. It is therefore useless to discuss what either of us might do in the position held by the other.’
‘Altogether useless, Sir Marmaduke, except just for the fun of the thing.’
‘I do not see the fun, Mr Stanbury. I came here, at your request, to hear what you might have to urge against the decision which I expressed to you in reference to my daughter. As it seems that you have nothing to urge, I will not take up your time further.’
‘But I have a great deal to urge, and have urged a great deal.’
‘Have you, indeed?’
‘You have complained that my work is not permanent. I have shewn that it is so permanent that there is no possibility of its coming to an end. There must be newspapers, and the people trained to write them must be employed. I have been at it now about two years. You know what I earn. Could I have got so far in so short a time as a lawyer, a doctor, a clergyman, a soldier, a sailor, a Government clerk, or in any of those employments which you choose to call professions? I think that is urging a great deal. I think it is urging everything.’
‘Very well, Mr Stanbury. I have listened to you, and in a certain degree I admire your your your zeal and ingenuity, shall I say.’
‘I didn’t mean to call for admiration, Sir Marmaduke; but suppose you say good sense and discrimination.’
‘Let that pass. You must permit me to remark that your position is not such as to justify me in trusting my daughter to your care. As my mind on that matter is quite made up, as is that also of Lady Rowley, I must ask you to give me your promise that your suit to my daughter shall be discontinued.’
‘What does she say about it, Sir Marmaduke?’
‘What she has said to me has been for my ears, and not for yours.’
‘What I say is for her ears and for yours, and for her mother’s ears, and for the ears of any who may choose to hear it. I will never give up my suit to your daughter till I am forced to do so, by a full conviction given me up. It is best to be plain, Sir Marmaduke, of course.’
‘I do not understand this, Mr Stanbury.’
‘I mean to be quite clear.’
‘I have always thought that when a gentleman was told by the head of a family that he could not be made welcome in that family, it was considered to be the duty of that gentleman, as a gentleman, to abandon his vain pursuit. I have been brought up with that idea.’
‘And I, Sir Marmaduke, have been brought up in the idea that when a man has won the affections of a woman, it is the duty of that man, as a man, to stick to her through thick and thin; and I mean to do my duty, according to my idea.’
‘Then, sir, I have nothing further to say, but to take my leave. I must only caution you not to enter my doors.’ As the passages were dark and intricate, it was necessary that Stanbury should shew Sir Marmaduke out, and this he did in silence. When they parted each of them lifted his hat, and not a word more was said.
That same night there was a note put into Nora’s hands as she was following her mother out of one of the theatres. In the confusion she did not even see the messenger who had handed it to her. Her sister Lucy saw that she had taken the note, and questioned her about it afterwards with discretion, however, and in privacy. This was the note:
I have seen your father, who is stern after the manner of fathers. What granite equals a parent’s flinty bosom! For myself, I do not prefer clandestine arrangements and rope-ladders; and you, dear, have nothing of the Lydia about you. But I do like my own way, and like it especially when you are at the end of the path. It is quite out of the question that you should go back to those islands. I think I am justified in already assuming enough of the husband to declare that such going back must not be held for a moment in question. My proposition is that you should authorise me to make such arrangements as may be needed, in regard to licence, banns, or whatever else, and that you should then simply walk from the house to the church and marry me. You are of age, and can do as you please. Neither your father nor mother can have any right to stop you. I do not doubt but that your mother would accompany you, if she were fully satisfied of your purpose. Write to me to the D. R.
Your own, ever and ever, and always,
I shall try and get this given to you as you leave the theatre. If it should fall into other hands, I don’t much care. I’m not in the least ashamed of what I am doing; and I hope that you are not.’
Last updated Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 20:26