Caroline Spalding, when she received Nora’s letter, was not disposed to give much weight to it. She declared to herself that the girl’s unpremeditated expression of opinion was worth more than her studied words. But she was not the less grateful or the less loving towards her new friend. She thought how nice it would be to have Nora at that splendid abode in England of which she had heard so much, but she thought also that in that splendid abode she herself ought never to have part or share. If it were the case that this were an unfitting match, it was clearly her duty to decide that there should be no marriage. Nora had been quite right in bidding her speak to Mr Glascock himself, and to Mr Glascock she would go. But it was very difficult for her to determine on the manner in which she would discuss the subject with him. She thought that she could be firm if her mind were once made up. She believed that perhaps she was by nature more firm than he. In all their intercourse together he had ever yielded to her; and though she had been always pleased and grateful, there had grown upon her an idea that he was perhaps too easy, that he was a man as to whom it was necessary that they who loved him should see that he was not led away by weakness into folly. But she would want to learn something from him before her decision was finally reached, and in this she foresaw a great difficulty. In her trouble she went to her usual counsellor, the Republican Browning. In such an emergency she could hardly have done worse. ‘Wally,’ she said, ‘we talk about England, and Italy, and France, as though we knew all about them; but how hard it is to realise the difference between one’s own country and others.’
‘We can at least learn a great deal that is satisfactory,’ said Wallachia. ‘About one out of every five Italians can read a book, about two out of every five Englishmen can read a book. Out of every five New Englanders four and four-fifths can read a book. I guess that is knowing a good deal.’
‘I don’t mean in statistics.’
‘I cannot conceive how you are to learn anything about any country except by statistics. I have just discovered that the number of illegitimate children —’
‘Oh, Wally, I can’t talk about that — not now, at least. What I cannot realise is this, what sort of a life it is that they will lead at Monkhams.’
‘Plenty to eat and drink, I guess; and you’ll always have to go around in fine clothes.’
‘And that will be all?’
‘No not all. There will be carriages and horses, and all manner of people there who won’t care much about you. If he is firm, very firm, if he have that firmness which one does not often meet, even in an American man, he will be able, after a while, to give you a position as an English woman of rank.’ It is to be feared that Wallachia Petrie had been made aware of Caroline’s idea as to Mr Glascock’s want of purpose.
‘And that will be all?’
‘If you have a baby, they’ll let you go and see it two or three times a day. I don’t suppose you will be allowed to nurse it, because they never do in England. You have read what the Saturday Review says. In every other respect the Saturday Review has been the falsest of all false periodicals, but I guess it has been pretty true in what it has said about English women.’
‘I wish I knew more about it really.’
‘When a man has to leap through a window in the dark, Caroline, of course he doubts whether the feather bed said to be below will be soft enough for him.’
‘I shouldn’t fear the leap for myself, if it wouldn’t hurt him. Do you think it possible that society can be so formed that a man should lose caste because he doesn’t marry just one of his own set?’
‘It has been so all over the world, my dear. If like to like is to be true anywhere, it should be true in marriage.’
‘Yes but with a difference. He and I are like to like. We come of the same race, we speak the same language, we worship the same God, we have the same ideas of culture and of pleasures. The difference is one that is not patent to the eye or to the ear. It is a difference of accidental incident, not of nature or of acquirement.’
‘I guess you would find, Caroline, that a jury of English matrons sworn to try you fairly, would not find you to be entitled to come among them as one of themselves.’
‘And how will that affect him?’
‘Less powerfully than many others, because he is not impassioned. He is, perhaps, lethargic.’
‘No, Wally, he is not lethargic.’
‘If you ask me I must speak. It would harass some men almost to death; it will not do so with him. He would probably find his happiness best in leaving his old country and coming among your people.’
The idea of Mr Glascock, the future Lord Peterborough, leaving England, abandoning Monkhams, deserting his duty in the House of Lords, and going away to live in an American town, in order that he might escape the miseries which his wife had brought upon him in his own country, was more than Caroline could bear. She knew that, at any rate, it would not come to that. The lord of Monkhams would live at Monkhams, though the heavens should fall in regard to domestic comforts. It was clear to Caroline that Wallachia Petrie had in truth never brought home to her own imagination the position of an English peer. ‘I don’t think you understand the people at all,’ she said angrily.
‘You think that you can understand them better because you are engaged to this man!’ said Miss Petrie, with well-pronounced irony. ‘You have found generally that when the sun shines in your eyes your sight is improved by it! You think that the love-talk of a few weeks gives clearer instruction than the laborious reading of many volumes and thoughtful converse with thinking persons! I hope that you may find it so, Caroline.’ So saying Wallachia Petrie walked off in great dudgeon.
Miss Petrie, not having learned from her many volumes and her much converse with thoughtful persons to read human nature aright, was convinced by this conversation that her friend Caroline was blind to all results, and was determined to go on with this dangerous marriage, having the rays of that sun of Monkhams so full upon her eyes that she could not see at all. She was specially indignant at finding that her own words had no effect. But, unfortunately, her words had had much effect; and Caroline, though she had contested her points, had done so only with the intention of producing her Mentor’s admonitions. Of course it was out of the question that Mr Glascock should go and live in Providence, Rhode Island, from which thriving town Caroline Spalding had come; but, because that was impossible, it was not the less probable that he might be degraded and made miserable in his own home. That suggested jury of British matrons was a frightful conclave to contemplate, and Caroline was disposed to believe that the verdict given in reference to herself would be adverse to her. So she sat and meditated, and spoke not a word further to any one on the subject till she was alone with the man that she loved.
Mr Spalding at this time inhabited the ground floor of a large palace in the city, from which there was access to a garden, which at this period of the year was green, bright, and shady, and which, as being in the centre of a city, was large and luxurious. From one end of the house there projected a covered terrace, or loggia, in which there were chairs and tables, sculptured ornaments, busts, and old monumental relics let into the wall in profusion. It was half chamber and half garden, such an adjunct to a house as in our climate would give only an idea of cold, rheumatism, and a false romance, but under an Italian sky is a luxury daily to be enjoyed during most months of the year. Here Mr Glascock and Caroline had passed many hours and here they were now seated, late in the evening, while all others of the family were away. As far as regarded the rooms occupied by the American Minister, they had the house and garden to themselves, and there never could come a time more appropriate for the saying of a thing difficult to be said. Mr Glascock had heard from his father’s physician, and had said that it was nearly certain now that he need not go down to Naples again before his marriage. Caroline was trembling, not knowing how to speak, not knowing how to begin but resolved that the thing should be done. ‘He will never know you, Carry,’ said Mr Glascock. ‘It is, perhaps, hardly a sorrow to me, but it is a regret.’
‘It would have been a sorrow, perhaps, to him had he been able to know me,’ said she, taking the opportunity of rushing at her subject.
‘Why so? Of all human beings he was the softest-hearted.’
‘Not softer-hearted than you, Charles. But soft hearts have to be hardened.’
‘What do you mean? Am I becoming obdurate?’
‘I am, Charles,’ she said. ‘I have got something to say to you. What will your uncles and aunts and your mother’s relations say of me when they see me at Monkhams?’
‘They will swear to me that you are charming; and then when my back is turned they’ll pick you to pieces a little among themselves. I believe that is the way of the world, and I don’t suppose that we are to do better than others.’
‘And if you had married an English girl, a Lady Augusta Somebody, would they pick her to pieces?’
‘I guess they would, as you say.’
‘Just the same?’
‘I don’t think anybody escapes, as far as I can see. But that won’t prevent their becoming your bosom friends in a few weeks’ time.’
‘No one will say that you have been wrong to marry an American girl?’
‘Now, Carry, what is the meaning of all this?’
‘Do you know any man in your position who ever did marry an American girl, any man of your rank in England?’ Mr Glascock began to think of the case, and could not at the moment remember any instance. ‘Charles, I do not think you ought to be the first.’
‘And yet somebody must be first, if the thing is ever to be done, and I am too old to wait on the chance of being the second.’
She felt that at the rate she was now progressing she would only run from one little suggestion to another, and that he, either wilfully or in sheer simplicity, would take such suggestions simply as jokes; and she was aware that she lacked the skill to bring the conversation round gradually to the point which she was bound to reach. She must make another dash, let it be ever so sudden. Her mode of doing so would be crude, ugly, almost vulgar, she feared; but she would attain her object and say what she had to say. When once she had warmed herself with the heat which argument would produce, then, she was pretty sure, she would find herself at least as strong as he. ‘I don’t know that the thing ought to be done at all,’ she said. During the last moment or two he had put his arm round her waist; and she, not choosing to bid him desist from embracing her, but unwilling in her present mood to be embraced, got up and stood before him. ‘I have thought, and thought, and thought, and feel that it should not be done. In marriage, like should go to like.’ She despised herself for using Wallachia’s words, but they fitted in so usefully, that she could not refrain from them. ‘I was wrong not to know it before, but it is better to know it now, than not to have known it till too late. Everything that I hear and see tells me that it would be so. If you were simply an Englishman, I would go anywhere with you; but I am not fit to be the wife of an English lord. The time would come when I should be a disgrace to you, and then I should die.’
‘I think I should go near dying myself,’ said he, ‘if you were a disgrace to me.’ He had not risen from his chair, and sat calmly looking up into her face.
‘We have made a mistake, and let us unmake it,’ she continued. ‘I will always be your friend. I will correspond with you. I will come and see your wife.’
‘That will be very kind!’
‘Charles, if you laugh at me, I shall be angry with you. It is right that you should look to your future life, as it is right that I should do so also. Do you think that I am joking? Do you suppose that I do not mean it?’
‘You have taken an extra dose this morning of Wallachia Petrie, and of course you mean it.’
‘If you think that I am speaking her mind and not my own, you do not know me.’
‘And what is it you propose?’ he said, still keeping his seat and looking calmly up into her face.
‘Simply that our engagement should be over.’
‘Because it is not a fitting one for you to have made. I did not understand it before, but now I do. It will not be good for you to marry an American girl. It will not add to your happiness, and may destroy it. I have learned, at last, to know how much higher is your position than mine.’
‘And I am to be supposed to know nothing about it?’
‘Your fault is only this that you have been too generous. I can be generous also.’
‘Now, look here, Caroline, you must not be angry with me if on such a subject I speak plainly. You must not even be angry if I laugh a little.’
‘Pray do not laugh at me! not now.’
‘I must a little, Carry. Why am I supposed to be so ignorant of what concerns my own happiness and my own duties? If you will not sit down, I will get up, and we will take a turn together.’ He rose from his seat, but they did not leave the covered terrace. They moved on to the extremity, and then he stood hemming her in against a marble table in the corner. ‘In making this rather wild proposition, have you considered me at all?’
‘I have endeavoured to consider you, and you only.’
‘And how have you done it? By the aid of some misty, far-fetched ideas respecting English society, for which you have no basis except your own dreams, and by the fantasies of a rabid enthusiast.’
‘She is not rabid,’ said Caroline earnestly; ‘other people think just the same.’
‘My dear, there is only one person whose thinking on this subject is of any avail, and I am that person. Of course, I can’t drag you into church to be married, but practically you can not help yourself from being taken there now. As there need be no question about our marriage which is a thing as good as done —’
‘It is not done at all,’ said Caroline.
‘I feel quite satisfied you will not jilt me, and as I shall insist on having the ceremony performed, I choose to regard it as a certainty. Passing that by, then, I will go on to the results. My uncles, and aunts, and cousins, and the people you talk of, were very reasonable folk when I last saw them, and quite sufficiently alive to the fact that they had to regard me as the head of their family. I do not doubt that we shall find them equally reasonable when we get home; but should they be changed, should there be any sign shewn that my choice of a wife had occasioned displeasure, such displeasure would not affect you.’
‘But it would affect you.’
‘Not at all. In my own house I am master, and I mean to continue to be so. You will be mistress there, and the only fear touching such a position is that it may be recognised by others too strongly. You have nothing to fear, Carry.’
‘It is of you I am thinking.’
‘Nor have I. What if some old women, or even some young women, should turn up their noses at the wife I have chosen, because she has not been chosen from among their own countrywomen, is that to be a cause of suffering to us? Can not we rise above that, lasting as it would do for a few weeks, a month or two perhaps, say a year, till my Caroline shall have made herself known? I think that we are strong enough to live down a trouble so light.’ He had come close to her as he was speaking, and had again put his arm round her waist.
She tried to escape from his embrace, not with persistency, not with the strength which always suffices for a woman when the embrace is in truth a thing to be avoided, but clutching at his fingers with hers, pressing them rather than loosening their grasp. ‘No, Carry,’ he continued; ‘we have got to go through with it now, and we will try and make the best of it. You may trust me that we shall not find it difficult — not, at least, on the ground of your present fears. I can bear a heavier burden than you will bring upon me.’
‘I know that I ought to prove to you that I am right,’ she said, still struggling with his hand.
‘And I know that you can prove nothing of the kind. Dearest, it is fixed between us now, and do not let us be so silly as to raise imaginary difficulties. Of course you would have to marry me, even if there were cause for such fears. If there were any great cause, still the game would be worth the candle. There could be no going back, let the fear be what it might. But there need be no fear if you will only love me.’ She felt that he was altogether too strong for her that she had mistaken his character in supposing that she could be more firm than he. He was so strong that he treated her almost as a child, and yet she loved him infinitely the better for so treating her. Of course, she knew now that her objection, whether true or unsubstantial, could not avail. As he stood with his arm round her, she was powerless to contradict him in anything. She had so far acknowledged this that she no longer struggled with him, but allowed her hand to remain quietly within his. If there was no going back from this bargain that had been made, why, then, there was no need for combating. And when he stooped over her and kissed her lips, she had not a word to say. ‘Be good to me,’ he said, ‘and tell me that I am right.’
‘You must be master, I suppose, whether you are right or wrong. A man always thinks himself entitled to his own way.’
‘Why, yes. When he has won the battle, he claims his captive. Now, the truth is this, I have won the battle, and your friend, Miss Petrie, has lost it. I hope she will understand that she has been beaten at last out of the field.’ As he said this, he heard a step behind them, and turning round saw Wallachia there almost before he could drop his arm.
‘I am sorry that I have intruded on you,’ she said very grimly.
‘Not in the least,’ said Mr Glascock. ‘Caroline and I have had a little dispute, but we have settled it without coming to blows.’
‘I do not suppose that an English gentleman ever absolutely strikes a lady,’ said Wallachia Petrie.
‘Not except on strong provocation,’ said Mr Glascock. ‘In reference to wives, a stick is allowed as big as your thumb.’
‘I have heard that it is so by the laws of England,’ said Wallachia.
‘How can you be so ridiculous, Wally!’ said Caroline. ‘There is nothing that you would not believe.’
‘I hope that it may never be true in your case,’ said Wallachia.
A couple of days after this Miss Spalding found that it was absolutely necessary that she should explain the circumstances of her position to Nora. She had left Nora with the purpose of performing a very high-minded action, of sacrificing herself for the sake of her lover, of giving up all her golden prospects, and of becoming once again the bosom friend of Wallachia Petrie, with this simple consolation for her future life, that she had refused to marry an English nobleman because the English nobleman’s condition was unsuited to her. It would have been an episode in female life in which pride might be taken, but all that was now changed. She had made her little attempt, had made it, as she felt, in a very languid manner, and had found herself treated as a child for doing so. Of course she was happy in her ill success; of course she would have been broken-hearted had she succeeded. But, nevertheless, she was somewhat lowered in her own esteem, and it was necessary that she should acknowledge the truth to the friend whom she had consulted. A day or two had passed before she found herself alone with Nora, but when she did so she confessed her failure at once.
‘You told him all, then?’ said Nora.
‘Oh yes, I told him all. That is, I could not really tell him. When the moment came I had no words.’
‘And what did he say?’
‘He had words enough. I never knew him to be eloquent before.’
‘He can speak out if he likes,’ said Nora.
‘So I have found with a vengeance. Nobody was ever so put down as I was. Don’t you know that there are times when it does not seem to be worth your while to put out your strength against an adversary? So it was with him. He just told me that he was my master, and that I was to do as he bade me.’
‘And what did you say?’
‘I promised to be a good girl,’ said Caroline, ‘and not to pretend to have any opinion of my own ever again. And so we kissed, and were friends.’
‘I dare say there was a kiss, my dear.’
‘Of course there was, and he held me in his arms, and comforted me, and told me how to behave just as you would do a little girl. It’s all over now, of course; and if there be a mistake, it is his fault. I feel that all responsibility is gone from myself, and that for all the rest of my life I have to do just what he tells me.’
‘And what says the divine Wallachia?’
‘Poor Wally! She says nothing, but she thinks that I am a castaway and a recreant. I am a recreant, I know but yet I think that I was right. I know I could not help myself.’
‘Of course you were right, my dear,’ said the sage Nora. ‘If you had the notion in your head, it was wise to get rid of it; but I knew how it would be when you spoke to him.’
‘You were not so weak when he came to you.’
‘That was altogether another thing. It was not arranged in heaven that I was to become his captive.’
After that Wallachia Petrie never again tried her influence on her former friend, but admitted to herself that the evil was done, and that it could not be remedied. According to her theory of life, Caroline Spalding had been wrong, and weak — had shewn herself to be comfort-loving and luxuriously-minded, had looked to get her happiness from soft effeminate pleasures rather than from rational work and the useful, independent exercise of her own intelligence. In the privacy of her little chamber Wallachia Petrie shed not absolute tears but many tearful thoughts over her friend. It was to her a thing very terrible that the chosen one of her heart should prefer the career of an English lord’s wife to that of an American citizeness, with all manner of capability for female voting, female speechmaking, female poetising, and, perhaps, female political action before her. It was a thousand pities! ‘You may take a horse to water,’ said Wallachia to herself, thinking of the ever-freshly springing fountain of her own mind, at which Caroline Spalding would always have been made welcome freely to quench her thirst ‘but you cannot make him drink if he be not athirst.’ In the future she would have no friend. Never again would she subject herself to the disgrace of such a failure. But the sacrifice was to be made, and she knew that it was bootless to waste her words further on Caroline Spalding. She left Florence before the wedding, and returned alone to the land of liberty. She wrote a letter to Caroline explaining her conduct, and Caroline Spalding shewed the letter to her husband as one that was both loving and eloquent.
‘Very loving and eloquent,’ he said. ‘But, nevertheless, one does think of sour grapes.’
‘There I am sure you wrong her,’ said Caroline.
Last updated Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 20:26