Gradually the news of the intended marriage between Mr Glascock and Miss Spalding spread itself over Florence, and people talked about it with that energy which subjects of such moment certainly deserve. That Caroline Spalding had achieved a very great triumph, was, of course, the verdict of all men and of all women; and I fear that there was a corresponding feeling that poor Mr Glascock had been triumphed over, and, as it were, subjugated. In some respects he had been remiss in his duties as a bachelor visitor to Florence, as a visitor to Florence who had manifestly been much in want of a wife. He had not given other girls a fair chance, but had thrown himself down at the feet of this American female in the weakest possible manner. And then it got about the town that he had been refused over and over again by Nora Rowley. It is too probable that Lady Rowley in her despair and dismay had been indiscreet, and had told secrets which should never have been mentioned by her. And the wife of the English minister, who had some grudges of her own, lifted her eyebrows and shook her head and declared that all the Glascocks at home would be outraged to the last degree. ‘My dear Lady Rowley,’ she said, ‘I don’t know whether it won’t become a question with them whether they should issue a commission de lunatico.’ Lady Rowley did not know what a commission de lunatico meant, but was quite willing to regard poor Mr Glascock as a lunatic. ‘And there is poor Lord Peterborough at Naples just at death’s door,’ continued the British Ministers wife. In this she was perhaps nearly correct; but as Lord Peterborough had now been in the same condition for many months, as his mind had altogether gone, and as the doctor declared that he might live in his present condition for a year, or for years, it could not fairly be said that Mr Glascock was acting without due filial feeling in engaging himself to marry a young lady. ‘And she such a creature!’ said Lady Rowley, with emphasis. This the British Minister’s wife noticed simply by shaking her head. Caroline Spalding was undoubtedly a pretty girl; but, as the British Minister’s wife said afterwards, it was not surprising that poor Lady Rowley should be nearly out of her mind.
This had occurred a full week after the evening spent at Mr Spalding’s house; and even yet Lady Rowley had never been put right as to that mistake of hers about Wallachia Petrie. That other trouble of hers, and her eldest daughter’s journey to Siena, had prevented them from going out; and though the matter had often been discussed between Lady Rowley and Nora, there had not as yet come between them any proper explanation. Nora would declare that the future bride was very pretty and very delightful; and Lady Rowley would throw up her hands in despair and protest that her daughter was insane. ‘Why should he not marry whom he likes, mamma?’ Nora once said, almost with indignation.
‘Because he will disgrace his family.’
‘I cannot understand what you mean, mamma. They are, at any rate, as good as we are. Mr Spalding stands quite as high as papa does.’
‘She is an American,’ said Lady Rowley.
‘And her family might say that he is an Englishman,’ said Nora.
‘My dear, if you do not understand the incongruity between an English peer and a Yankee female, I cannot help you. I suppose it is because you have been brought up within the limited society of a small colony. If so, it is not your fault. But I had hoped you had been in Europe long enough to have learned what was what. Do you think, my dear, that she will look well when she is presented to her Majesty as Lord Peterborough’s wife?’
‘Splendid,’ said Nora.‘she has just the brow for a coronet.’
‘Heavens and earth!’ said Lady Rowley, throwing up her hands. ‘And you believe that he will be proud of her in England?’
‘I am sure he will.’
‘My belief is that he will leave her behind him, or that they will settle somewhere in the wilds of America out in Mexico, or Massachusetts, or the Rocky Mountains. I do not think that he will have the courage to shew her in London.’
The marriage was to take place in the Protestant church at Florence early in June, and then the bride and bridegroom were to go over the Alps, and to remain there subject to tidings as to the health of the old man at Naples. Mr Glascock had thrown up his seat in Parliament, some month or two ago, knowing that he could not get back to his duties during the present session, and feeling that he would shortly be called upon to sit in the other House. He was thus free to use his time and to fix his days as he pleased; and it was certainly clear to those who knew him, that he was not ashamed of his American bride. He spent much of his time at the Spaldings’ house, and was always to be seen with them in the Casino and at the Opera. Mrs Spalding, the aunt, was, of course, in great glory. A triumphant, happy, or even simply a splendid marriage, for the rising girl of a family is a great glory to the maternal mind. Mrs Spalding could not but be aware that the very air around her seemed to breathe congratulations into her ears. Her friends spoke to her, even on indifferent subjects, as though everything was going well with her, better with her than with anybody else; and there came upon her in these days a dangerous feeling, that in spite of all the preachings of the preachers, the next world might perhaps be not so very much better than this. She was, in fact, the reverse of the medal of which poor Lady Rowley filled the obverse. And the American Minister was certainly an inch taller than before, and made longer speeches, being much more regardless of interruption. Olivia was delighted at her sister’s success, and heard with rapture the description of Monkhams, which came to her second-hand through her sister. It was already settled that she was to spend her next Christmas at Monkhams, and perhaps there might be an idea in her mind that there were other eldest sons of old lords who would like American brides. Everything around Caroline Spalding was pleasant except the words of Wallachia Petrie.
Everything around her was pleasant till there came to her a touch of a suspicion that the marriage which Mr Glascock was going to make would be detrimental to her intended husband in his own country. There were many in Florence who were saying this besides the wife of the English Minister and Lady Rowley. Of course Caroline Spalding herself was the last to hear it, and to her the idea was brought by Wallachia Petrie. ‘I wish I could think you would make yourself happy, or him,’ Wallachia had said, croaking.
‘Why should I fail to make him happy?’
‘Because you are not of the same blood, or race, or manners as himself. They say that he is very wealthy in his own country, and that those who live around him will look coldly on you.’
‘So that he does not look coldly, I do not care how others may look,’ said Caroline proudly.
‘But when he finds that he has injured himself by such a marriage in the estimation of all his friends, how will it be then?’
This set Caroline Spalding thinking of what she was doing. She began to realise the feeling that perhaps she might not be a fit bride for an English lord’s son, and in her agony she came to Nora Rowley for counsel. After all, how little was it that she knew of the home and the country to which she was to be carried! She might not, perhaps, get adequate advice from Nora, but she would probably learn something on which she could act. There was no one else among the English at Florence to whom she could speak with freedom. When she mentioned her fears to her aunt, her aunt of course laughed at her. Mrs Spalding told her that Mr Glascock might be presumed to know his own business best, and that she, as an American lady of high standing — the niece of a minister! — was a fitting match for any Englishman, let him be ever so much a lord. But Caroline was not comforted by this, and in her suspense she went to Nora Rowley. She wrote a line to Nora, and when she called at the hotel, was taken up to her friend’s bedroom. She found great difficulty in telling her story, but she did tell it. ‘Miss Rowley,’ she said, ‘if this is a silly thing that he is going to do, I am bound to save him from his own folly. You know your own country better than I do. Will they think that he has disgraced himself?’
‘Certainly not that,’ said Nora.
‘Shall I be a load round his neck? Miss Rowley, for my own sake I would not endure such a position as that, not even though I love him. But for his sake! Think of that. If I find that people think ill of him because of me!’
‘No one will think ill of him.’
‘Is it esteemed needful that such a one as he should marry a woman of his own rank. I can bear to end it all now; but I shall not be able to bear his humiliation, and my own despair, if I find that I have injured him. Tell me plainly, is it a marriage that he should not make?’ Nora paused for a while before she answered, and as she sat silent the other girl watched her face carefully. Nora on being thus consulted, was very careful that her tongue should utter nothing that was not her true opinion as best she knew how to express it. Her sympathy would have prompted her to give such an answer as would at once have made Caroline happy in her mind. She would have been delighted to have been able to declare that these doubts were utterly groundless, and this hesitation needless. But she conceived that she owed it as a duty from one woman to another to speak the truth as she conceived it on so momentous an occasion, and she was not sure but that Mr Glascock would be considered by his friends in England to be doing badly in marrying an American girl. What she did not remember was this that her very hesitation was in fact an answer, and such an answer as she was most unwilling to give. ‘I see that it would be so,’ said Caroline Spalding.
‘No, not that.’
‘What then? Will they despise him and me?’
‘No one who knows you can despise you. No one who sees you can fail to admire you.’ Nora, as she said this, thought of her mother, but told herself at once that in this matter her mother’s judgment had been altogether destroyed by her disappointment. ‘What I think will take place will be this. His family, when first they hear of it, will be sorry.’
‘Then,’ said Caroline, ‘I will put an end to it.’
‘You can’t do that, dear. You are engaged, and you haven’t a right. I am engaged to a man, and all my friends object to it. But I shan’t put an end to it. I don’t think I have a right. I shall not do it any way, however.’
‘But if it were for his good?’
‘It couldn’t be for his good. He and I have got to go along together somehow.’
‘You wouldn’t hurt him,’ said Caroline.
‘I won’t if I can help it, but he has got to take me along with him any how; and Mr Glascock has got to take you. If I were you, I shouldn’t ask any more questions.’
‘It isn’t the same. You said that you were to be poor, but he is very rich. And I am beginning to understand that these titles of yours are something like kings’ crowns. The man who has to wear them can’t do just as he pleases with them. Noblesse oblige. I can see the meaning of that, even when the obligation itself is trumpery in its nature. If it is a man’s duty to marry a Talbot because he’s a Howard, I suppose he ought to do his duty.’ After a pause she went on again. ‘I do believe that I have made a mistake. It seemed to be absurd at the first to think of it, but I do believe it now. Even what you say to me makes me think it.’
‘At any rate you can’t go back,’ said Nora enthusiastically.
‘I will try.’
‘Go to himself and ask him. You must leave him to decide it at last. I don’t see how a girl when she is engaged, is to throw a man over unless he consents. Of course you can throw yourself into the Arno.’
‘And get the water into my shoes, for it wouldn’t do much more at present.’
‘And you can jilt him,’ said Nora.
‘It would not be jilting him.’
‘He must decide that. If he so regards it, it will be so. I advise you to think no more about it; but if you speak to anybody it should be to him.’ This was at last the result of Nora’s wisdom, and then the two girls descended together to the room in which Lady Rowley was sitting with her other daughters. Lady Rowley was very careful in asking after Miss Spalding’s sister, and Miss Spalding assured her that Olivia was quite well. Then Lady Rowley made some inquiry about Olivia and Mr Glascock, and Miss Spalding assured her that no two persons were ever such allies, and that she believed that they were together at this moment investigating some old church. Lady Rowley simpered, and declared that nothing could be more proper, and expressed a hope that Olivia would like England. Caroline Spalding, having still in her mind the trouble that had brought her to Nora, had not much to say about this. ‘If she goes again to England I am sure she will like it,’ replied Miss Spalding.
‘But of course she is going,’ said Lady Rowley.
‘Of course she will some day, and of course she’ll like it,’ said Miss Spalding. ‘We both of us have been there already.’
‘But I mean Monkhams,’ said Lady Rowley, still simpering.
‘I declare I believe mamma thinks that your sister is to be married to Mr Glascock!’ said Lucy.
‘And so she is, isn’t she?’ said Lady Rowley.
‘Oh, mamma!’ said Nora, jumping up. ‘It is Caroline, this one, this one, this one,’ and Nora took her friend by the arm as she spoke ‘it is this one that is to be Mrs Glascock.’
‘It is a most natural mistake to make,’ said Caroline. Lady Rowley became very red in the face, and was unhappy. ‘I declare,’ she said, ‘that they told me it was your elder sister.’
‘But I have no elder sister,’ said Caroline, laughing. ‘Of course she is oldest,’ said Nora ‘and looks to be so, ever so much. Don’t you, Miss Spalding?’
‘I have always supposed so.’
‘I don’t understand it at all,’ said Lady Rowley, who had no image before her mind’s eye but that of Wallachia Petrie, and who was beginning to feel that she had disgraced her own judgment by the criticisms she had expressed everywhere as to Mr Glascock’s bride. ‘I don’t understand it at all. Do you mean that both your sisters are younger than you, Miss Spalding?’
‘I have only got one, Lady Rowley.’
‘Mamma, you are thinking of Miss Petrie,’ said Nora, clapping both her hands together.
‘I mean the lady that wears the black bugles.’
‘Of course you do, Miss Petrie. Mamma has all along thought that Mr Glascock was going to carry away with him the republican Browning!’
‘Oh, mamma, how can you have made such a blunder!’ said Sophie Rowley. ‘Mamma does make such delicious blunders.’
‘Sophie, my dear, that is not a proper way of speaking.’
‘But, dear mamma, don’t you?’
‘If somebody has told me wrong, that has not been my fault,’ said Lady Rowley.
The poor woman was so evidently disconcerted that Caroline Spalding was quite unhappy.
‘My dear Lady Rowley, there has been no fault. And why shouldn’t it have been so. Wallachia is so clever, that it is the most natural thing in the world to have thought.’
‘I cannot say that I agree with you there,’ said Lady Rowley, somewhat recovering herself.
‘You must know the whole truth now,’ said Nora, turning to her friend, ‘and you must not be angry with us if we laugh a little at your poetess. Mamma has been frantic with Mr Glascock because he has been going to marry — whom shall I say — her edition of you. She has sworn that he must be insane. When we have sworn how beautiful you were, and how nice, and how jolly, and all the rest of it she has sworn that you were at least a hundred and that you had a red nose. You must admit that Miss Petrie has a red nose.’
‘Is that a sin?’
‘Not at all in the woman who has it; but in the man who is going to marry it, yes. Can’t you see how we have all been at cross-purposes, and what mamma has been thinking and saying of poor Mr Glascock? You mustn’t repeat it, of course; but we have had such a battle here about it. We thought that mamma had lost her eyes and her ears and her knowledge of things in general. And now it has all come out! You won’t be angry?’
‘Why should I be angry?’
‘Miss Spalding,’ said Lady Rowley, ‘I am really unhappy at what has occurred, and I hope that there may be nothing more said about it. I am quite sure that somebody told me wrong, or I should not have fallen into such an error. I beg your pardon and Mr Glascock’s!’
‘Beg Mr Glascock’s pardon, certainly,’ said Lucy.
Miss Spalding looked very pretty, smiled very gracefully, and coming up to Lady Rowley to say good-bye, kissed her on her cheeks. This overcame the spirit of the disappointed mother, and Lady Rowley never said another word against Caroline Spalding or her marriage. ‘Now, mamma, what do you think of her?’ said Nora, as soon as Caroline was gone.
‘Was it odd, my dear, that I should be astonished at his wanting to marry that other woman?’
‘But, mamma, when we told you that she was young and pretty and bright!’
‘I thought that you were all demented. I did indeed. I still think it a pity that he should take an American. I think that Miss Spalding is very nice, but there are English girls quite as nice-looking as her.’ After that there was not another word said by Lady Rowley against Caroline Spalding.
Nora, when she thought of it all that night, felt that she had hardly spoken to Miss Spalding as she should have spoken as to the treatment in England which would be accorded to Mr Glascock’s wife. She became aware of the effect which her own hesitation must have had, and thought that it was her duty to endeavour to remove it. Perhaps, too, the conversion of her mother had some effect in making her feel that she had been wrong in supposing that there would be any difficulty in Caroline’s position in England. She had heard so much adverse criticism from her mother that she had doubted in spite of her own convictions; but now it had come to light that Lady Rowley’s criticisms had all come from a most absurd blunder. ‘Only fancy;’ she said to herself ‘Miss Petrie coming out as Lady Peterborough! Poor mamma!’ And then she thought of the reception which would be given to Caroline, and of the place the future Lady Peterborough would fill in the world, and of the glories of Monkhams! Resolving that she would do her best to counteract any evil which she might have done, she seated herself at her desk, and wrote the following letter to Miss Spalding:
‘My Dear Caroline,
I am sure you will let me call you so, as had you not felt towards me like a friend, you would not have come to me today and told me of your doubts. I think that I did not answer you as I ought to have done when you spoke to me. I did not like to say anything off-hand, and in that way I misled you. I feel quite sure that you will encounter nothing in England as Mr Glascock’s wife to make you uncomfortable, and that he will have nothing to repent. Of course Englishmen generally marry Englishwomen; and, perhaps, there may be some people who will think that such a prize should not be lost to their countrywomen. But that will be all. Mr Glascock commands such universal respect that his wife will certainly be respected, and I do not suppose that anything will ever come in your way that can possibly make you feel that he is looked down upon. I hope you will understand what I mean.
As for your changing now, that is quite impossible. If I were you, I would not say a word about it to any living being; but just go on straight forward in your own way, and take the good the gods provide you, as the poet says to the king in the ode. And I think the gods have provided for you very well and for him.
I do hope that I may see you sometimes. I cannot explain to you how very much out of your line “we” shall be, for of course there is a “we.” People are more separated with us than they are, I suppose, with you. And my “we” is a very poor man, who works hard at writing in a dingy newspaper office, and we shall live in a garret and have brown sugar in our tea, and eat hashed mutton. And I shall have nothing a year to buy my clothes with. Still I mean to do it; and I don’t mean to be long before I do do it. When a girl has made up her mind to be married, she had better go on with it at once, and take it all afterwards as it may come. Nevertheless, perhaps, we may see each other somewhere, and I may be able to introduce you to the dearest, honestest, very best, and most affectionate man in the world. And he is very, very clever.
Yours very affectionately,
Last updated Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 20:26