June was now far advanced, and the Rowleys and the Spaldings had removed from Florence to the Baths of Lucca. Mr Glascock had followed in their wake, and the whole party were living at the Baths in one of those hotels in which so many English and Americans are wont to congregate in the early weeks of the Italian summer. The marriage was to take place in the last week of the month; and all the party were to return to Florence for the occasion with the exception of Sir Marmaduke and Mrs Trevelyan. She was altogether unfitted for wedding joys, and her father had promised to bear her company when the others left her. Mr Glascock and Caroline Spalding were to be married in Florence, and were to depart immediately from thence for some of the cooler parts of Switzerland. After that Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley were to return to London with their daughters, preparatory to that dreary journey back to the Mandarins; and they had not even yet resolved what they had better do respecting that unfortunate man who was living in seclusion on the hilltop near Siena. They had consulted lawyers and doctors in Florence, but it had seemed that everybody there was afraid of putting the law in force against an Englishman. Doubtless there was a law in respect to the custody of the insane; and it was admitted that if Trevelyan were dangerously mad something could be done; but it seemed that nobody was willing to stir in such a case as that which now existed. Something, it was said, might be done at some future time; but the difficulties were so great that nothing could be done now.
It was very sad, because it was necessary that some decision should be made as to the future residence of Mrs Trevelyan and of Nora. Emily had declared that nothing should induce her to go to the Islands with her father and mother unless her boy went with her. Since her journey to Casalunga she had also expressed her unwillingness to leave her husband. Her heart had been greatly softened towards him, and she had declared that where he remained, there would she remain as near to him as circumstances would admit. It might be that at last her care would be necessary for his comfort. He supplied her with means of living, and she would use these means as well as she might be able in his service.
Then there had arisen the question of Nora’s future residence. And there had come troubles and storms in the family. Nora had said that she would not go back to the Mandarins, but had not at first been able to say where or how she would live. She had suggested that she might stay with her sister, but her father had insisted that she could not live on the income supplied by Trevelyan. Then, when pressed hard, she had declared that she intended to live on Hugh Stanbury’s income. She would marry him at once with her father’s leave, if she could get it, but without it if it needs must be so. Her mother told her that Hugh Stanbury was not himself ready for her; he had not even proposed so hasty a marriage, nor had he any home fitted for her. Lady Rowley, in arguing this, had expressed no assent to the marriage, even as a distant arrangement, but had thought thus to vanquish her daughter by suggesting small but insuperable difficulties. On a sudden, however, Lady Rowley found that all this was turned against her, by an offer that came direct from Mr Glascock. His Caroline, he said, was very anxious that Nora should come to them at Monkhams as soon as they had returned home from Switzerland. They intended to be there by the middle of August, and would hurry there sooner, if there was any immediate difficulty about finding a home for Nora. Mr Glascock said nothing about Hugh Stanbury; but, of course, Lady Rowley understood that Nora had told all her troubles and hopes to Caroline, and that Caroline had told them to her future husband. Lady Rowley, in answer to this, could only say that she would consult her husband.
There was something very grievous in the proposition to Lady Rowley. If Nora had not been self-willed and stiff-necked beyond the usual self-willedness and stiff-neckedness of young women she might have been herself the mistress of Monkhams. It was proposed now that she should go there to wait till a poor man should have got together shillings enough to buy a few chairs and tables, and a bed to lie upon! The thought of this was very bitter. ‘I cannot think, Nora, how you could have the heart to go there,’ said Lady Rowley.
‘I cannot understand why not, mamma. Caroline and I are friends, and surely he and I need not be enemies. He has never injured me; and if he does not take offence, why should I?’
‘If you don’t see it, I can’t help it,’ said Lady Rowley.
And then Mrs Spalding’s triumph was terrible to Lady Rowley. Mrs Spalding knew nothing of her future son-in-law’s former passion, and spoke of her Caroline as having achieved triumphs beyond the reach of other girls. Lady Rowley bore it, never absolutely telling the tale of her daughter’s fruitless victory. She was too good at heart to utter the boast but it was very hard to repress it. Upon the whole she would have preferred that Mr Glascock and his bride should not have become the fast friends of herself and her family. There was more of pain than of pleasure in the alliance. But circumstances had been too strong for her. Mr Glascock had been of great use in reference to Trevelyan, and Caroline and Nora had become attached to each other almost on their first acquaintance. Here they were together at the Baths of Lucca, and Nora was to be one of the four bridesmaids. When Sir Marmaduke was consulted about this visit to Monkhams, he became fretful, and would give no answer. The marriage, he said, was impossible, and Nora was a fool. He could give her no allowance more than would suffice for her clothes, and it was madness for her to think of stopping in England. But he was so full of cares that he could come to no absolute decision on this matter. Nora, however, had come to a very absolute decision.
‘Caroline,’ she said, ‘if you will have me, I will go to Monkhams.’
‘Of course we will have you. Has not Charles said how delighted he would be?’
‘Oh yes, your Charles,’ said Nora laughing.
‘He is mine now, dear. You must not expect him to change his mind again. I gave him the chance, you know, and he would not take it. But, Nora, come to Monkhams, and stay as long as it suits. I have talked it all over with him, and we both agree that you shall have a home there. You shall be just like a sister. Olivia is coming too after a bit; but he says there is room for a dozen sisters. Of course it will be all right with Mr Stanbury after a while.’ And so it was settled among them that Nora Rowley should find a home at Monkhams, if a home in England should be wanted for her.
It wanted but four days to that fixed for the marriage at Florence, and but six to that on which the Rowleys were to leave Italy for England, when Mr Glascock received Trevelyan’s letter. It was brought to him as he was sitting at a late breakfast in the garden of the hotel; and there were present at the moment not only all the Spalding family, but the Rowleys also. Sir Marmaduke was there and Lady Rowley, and the three unmarried daughters; but Mrs Trevelyan, as was her wont, had remained alone in her own room. Mr Glascock read the letter, and read it again, without attracting much attention. Caroline, who was of course sitting next to him, had her eyes upon him, and could see that the letter moved him; but she was not curious, and at any rate asked no question. He himself understood fully how great was the offer made, how all-important to the happiness of the poor mother, and he was also aware, or thought that he was aware, how likely it might be that the offer would be retracted. As regarded himself, a journey from the Baths at Lucca to Casalunga and back before his marriage, would be a great infliction on his patience. It was his plan to stay where he was till the day before his marriage, and then to return to Florence with the rest of the party. All this must be altered, and sudden changes must be made, if he decided on going to Siena himself. The weather now was very hot, and such a journey would be most disagreeable to him. Of course he had little schemes in his head, little amatory schemes for prenuptial enjoyment, which, in spite of his mature years, were exceedingly agreeable to him. The chestnut woods round the Baths of Lucca are very pleasant in the early summer, and there were excursions planned in which Caroline would be close by his side, almost already his wife. But, if he did not go, whom could he send? It would be necessary at least that he should consult her, the mother of the child, before any decision was formed.
At last he took Lady Rowley aside, and read to her the letter. She understood at once that it opened almost a heaven of bliss to her daughter, and she understood also how probable it might be that wretched man, with his shaken wits, should change his mind. ‘I think I ought to go,’ said Mr Glascock. ‘But how can you go now?’
‘I can go,’ said he. ‘There is time for it. It need not put off my marriage, to which of course I could not consent. I do not know whom I could send.’
‘Moonier could go,’ said Lady Rowley, naming the courier.
‘Yes he could go. But it might be that he would return without the child, and then we should not forgive ourselves. I will go, Lady Rowley. After all, what does it signify? I am a little old, I sometimes think, for this philandering. You shall take his letter to your daughter, and I will explain it all to Caroline.’
Caroline had not a word to say. She could only kiss him, and promise to make him what amends she could when he came back. ‘Of course you are right,’ she said. ‘Do you think that I would say a word against it, even though the marriage were to be postponed?’
‘I should — a good many words. But I will be back in time for that, and will bring the boy with me.’
Mrs Trevelyan, when her husband’s letter was read to her, was almost overcome by the feelings which it excited. In her first paroxysm of joy she declared that she would herself go to Siena, not for her child’s sake, but for that of her husband. She felt at once that the boy was being given up because of the father’s weakness, because he felt himself to be unable to be a protector to his son, and her woman’s heart was melted with softness as she thought of the condition of the man to whom she had once given her whole heart. Since then, doubtless, her heart had revolted from him. Since that time there had come hours in which she had almost hated him for his cruelty to her. There had been moments in which she had almost cursed his name because of the aspersion which it had seemed that he had thrown upon her. But this was now forgotten, and she remembered only his weakness. ‘Mamma,’ she said, ‘I will go. It is my duty to go to him.’ But Lady Rowley withheld her, explaining that were she to go, the mission might probably fail in its express purpose. ‘Let Louey be sent to us first,’ said Lady Rowley, ‘and then we will see what can be done afterwards.’
And so Mr Glascock started, taking with him a maid-servant who might help him with the charge of the child. It was certainly very hard upon him. In order to have time for his journey to Siena and back, and time also to go out to Casalunga, it was necessary that he should leave the Baths at five in the morning. ‘If ever there was a hero of romance, you are he!’ said Nora to him.
‘The heroes of life are so much better than the heroes of romance,’ said Caroline.
‘That is a lesson from the lips of the American Browning,’ said Mr Glascock. ‘Nevertheless, I think I would rather ride a charge against a Paynim knight in Palestine than get up at half-past four in the morning.’
‘We will get up too, and give the knight his coffee,’ said Nora. They did get up, and saw him off; and when Mr Glascock and Caroline parted with a lover’s embrace, Nora stood by as a sister might have done. Let us hope that she remembered that her own time was coming.
There had been a promise given by Nora, when she left London, that she would not correspond with Hugh Stanbury while she was in Italy, and this promise had been kept. It may be remembered that Hugh had made a proposition to his lady-love, that she should walk out of the house one fine morning, and get herself married without any reference to her father’s or her mother’s wishes. But she had not been willing to take upon herself as yet independence so complete as this would have required. She had assured her lover that she did mean to marry him some day, even though it should be in opposition to her father, but that she thought that the period for filial persuasion was not yet over; and then, in explaining all this to her mother, she had given a promise neither to write nor to receive letters during the short period of her sojourn in Italy. She would be an obedient child for so long but, after that, she must claim the right to fight her own battle. She had told her lover that he must not write; and, of course, she had not written a word herself. But now, when her mother threw it in her teeth that Stanbury would not be ready to marry her, she thought that an unfair advantage was being taken of her and of him. How could he be expected to say that he was ready, deprived as he was of the power of saying anything at all?
‘Mamma,’ she said, the day before they went to Florence, ‘has papa fixed about your leaving England yet? I suppose you’ll go now on the last Saturday in July?’
‘I suppose we shall, my dear.’
‘Has not papa written about the berths?’
‘I believe he has, my dear.’
‘Because he ought to know who are going. I will not go.
‘You will not, Nora. Is that a proper way of speaking?’
‘Dear mamma, I mean it to be proper. I hope it is proper. But is it not best that we should understand each other. All my life depends on my going or my staying now. I must decide.’
‘After what has passed, you do not, I suppose, mean to live in Mr Glascock’s house?’
‘Certainly not. I mean to live with with with my husband. Mamma, I promised not to write, and I have not written. And he has not written because I told him not. Therefore, nothing is settled. But it is not fair to throw it in my teeth that nothing is settled.’
‘I have thrown nothing in your teeth, Nora.’
‘Papa talks sneeringly about chairs and tables. Of course, I know what he is thinking of. As I cannot go with him to the Mandarins, I think I ought to be allowed to look after the chairs and tables.’
‘What do you mean, my dear?’
‘That you should absolve me from my promise, and let me write to Mr Stanbury. I do not want to be left without a home.’
‘You cannot wish to write to a gentleman and ask him to marry you!’
‘Why not? We are engaged. I shall not ask him to marry me; that is already settled; but I shall ask him to make arrangements.’
‘Your papa will be very angry if you break your word to him.’
‘I will write, and show you the letter. Papa may see it, and if he will not let it go, it shall not go. He shall not say that I broke my word. But, mamma, I will not go out to the Islands. I should never get back again, and I should be broken-hearted.’ Lady Rowley had nothing to say to this; and Nora went and wrote her letter. ‘Dear Hugh,’ the letter ran, ‘Papa and mamma leave England on the last Saturday in July. I have told mamma that I cannot return with them. Of course, you know why I stay. Mr .Glascock is to be married the day after tomorrow, and they have asked me to go with them to Monkhams some time in August. I think I shall do so, unless Emily wants me to remain with her. At any rate, I shall try to be with her till I go there. You will understand why I tell you all this. Papa and mamma know that I am writing. It is only a business letter, and, therefore, I shall say no more, except that I am ever and always yours NORA.’ ‘There,’ she said, handing her letter to her mother, ‘I think that ought to be sent. If papa chooses to prevent its going, he can.’
Lady Rowley, when she handed the letter to her husband, recommended that it should be allowed to go to its destination. She admitted that, if they sent it, they would thereby signify their consent to her engagement, and she alleged that Nora was so strong in her will, and that the circumstances of their journey out to the Antipodes were so peculiar, that it was of no avail for them any longer to oppose the match. They could not force their daughter to go with them. ‘But I can cast her off from me, if she be disobedient,’ said Sir Marmaduke. Lady Rowley, however, had no desire that her daughter should be cast off, and was aware that Sir Marmaduke, when it came to the point of casting off, would be as little inclined to be stern as she was herself. Sir Marmaduke, still hoping that firmness would carry the day, and believing that it behoved him to maintain his parental authority, ended the discussion by keeping possession of the letter, and saying that he would take time to consider the matter. ‘What security have we that he will ever marry her, if she does stay?’ he asked the next morning. Lady Rowley had no doubt on this score, and protested that her opposition to Hugh Stanbury arose simply from his want of income. ‘I should never be justified,’ said Sir Marmaduke, ‘if I were to go and leave my girl as it were in the hands of a penny-a-liner.’ The letter, in the end, was not sent; and Nora and her father hardly spoke to each other as they made their journey back to Florence together.
Emily Trevelyan, before the arrival of that letter from her husband, had determined that she would not leave Italy. It had been her purpose to remain somewhere in the neighbourhood of her husband and child; and to overcome her difficulties or be overcome by them, as circumstances might direct. Now her plans were again changed or, rather, she was now without a plan. She could form no plan till she should again see Mr Glascock. Should her child be restored to her, would it not be her duty to remain near her husband? All this made Nora’s line of conduct the more difficult for her. It was acknowledged that she could not remain in Italy. Mrs Trevelyan’s position would be most embarrassing; but as all her efforts were to be used towards a reconciliation with her husband, and as his state utterly precluded the idea of a mixed household, of any such a family arrangement as that which had existed in Curzon Street, Nora could not remain with her. Mrs Trevelyan herself had declared that she would not wish it. And, in that case, where was Nora to bestow herself when Sir Marmaduke and Lady Rowley had sailed? Caroline offered to curtail those honeymoon weeks in Switzerland, but it was impossible to listen to an offer so magnanimous and so unreasonable. Nora had a dim romantic idea of sharing Priscilla’s bedroom in that small cottage near Nuncombe Putney, of which she had heard, and of there learning lessons in strict economy; but of this she said nothing. The short journey from the Baths of Lucca to Florence was not a pleasant one, and the Rowley family were much disturbed as they looked into the future. Lodgings had now been taken for them, and there was the great additional doubt whether Mrs Trevelyan would find her child there on her arrival.
The Spaldings went one way from the Florence station, and the Rowleys another. The American Minister had returned to the city some days previously, drawn there nominally by pleas of business, but, in truth, by the necessities of the wedding breakfast, and he met them at the station. ‘Has Mr Glascock come back?’ Nora was the first to ask. Yes he had come. He had been in the city since two o’clock, and had been up at the American Minister’s house for half a minute. ‘And has he brought the child?’ asked Caroline, relieved of doubt on her own account. Mr Spalding did not know; indeed, he had not interested himself quite so intently about Mrs Trevelyan’s little boy, as had all those who had just returned from the Baths. Mr Glascock had said nothing to him about the child, and he had not quite understood why such a man should have made a journey to Siena, leaving his sweetheart behind him, just on the eve of his marriage. He hurried his women-kind into their carriage, and they were driven away; and then Sir Marmaduke was driven away with his women-kind. Caroline Spalding had perhaps thought that Mr Glascock might have been there to meet her.
Last updated Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 20:26