When the Rowleys were back in London, and began to employ themselves on the terrible work of making ready for their journey to the Islands, Lady Rowley gradually gave way about Hugh Stanbury. She had become aware that Nora would not go back with them unless under an amount of pressure which she would find it impossible to use. And if Nora did not go out to the Islands, what was to become of her unless she married this man? Sir Marmaduke, when all was explained to him, declared that a girl must do what her parents ordered her to do. ‘Other girls live with their fathers and mothers, and so must she.’ Lady Rowley endeavoured to explain that other girls lived with their fathers and mothers, because they found themselves in established homes from which they are not disposed to run away; but Nora’s position was, as she alleged, very different. Nora’s home had latterly been with her sister, and it was hardly to be expected that the parental authority should not find itself impaired by the interregnum which had taken place. Sir Marmaduke would not see the thing in the same light, and was disposed to treat his daughter with a high hand. If she would not do as she was bidden, she should no longer be daughter of his. In answer to this Lady Rowley could only repeat her conviction that Nora would not go out to the Mandarins; and that as for disinheriting her, casting her out, cursing her, and the rest, she had no belief in such doings at all. ‘On the stage they do such things as that’ she said; ‘and, perhaps, they used to do it once in reality. But you know that it’s out of the question now. Fancy your standing up and cursing at the dear girl, just as we are all starting from Southampton!’ Sir Marmaduke knew as well as his wife that it would be impossible, and only muttered something about the ‘dear girl’ behaving herself with great impropriety.
They were all aware that Nora was not going to leave England, because no berth had been taken for her on board the ship, and because, while the other girls were preparing for their long voyage, no preparations were made for her. Of course she was not going. Sir Marmaduke would probably have given way altogether immediately on his return to London, had he not discussed the matter with his friend Colonel Osborne. It became, of course, his duty to make some inquiry as to the Stanbury family, and he knew that Osborne had visited Mrs Stanbury when he made his unfortunate pilgrimage to the porch of Cockchaffington Church. He told Osborne the whole story of Nora’s engagement, telling also that other most heart-breaking tale of her conduct in regard to Mr Glascock, and asked the Colonel what he thought about the Stanburys. Now the Colonel did not hold the Stanburys in high esteem. He had met Hugh, as the reader may perhaps remember, and had had some intercourse with the young man, which had not been quite agreeable to him, on the platform of the railway station at Exeter. And he had also heard something of the ladies at Nuncombe Putney during his short sojourn at the house of Mrs Crocket. ‘My belief is, they are beggars,’ said Colonel Osborne.
‘I suppose so,’ said Sir Marmaduke, shaking his head.
‘When I went over to call on Emily that time I was at Cockchaffington, you know, when Trevelyan made himself such a d fool, I found the mother and sister living in a decentish house enough; but it wasn’t their house.’
‘Not their own, you mean?’
‘It was a place that Trevelyan had got this young man to take for Emily, and they had merely gone there to be with her. They had been living in a little bit of a cottage; a sort of place that any any ploughman would live in. Just that kind of cottage.’
‘And they’ve gone to another just like it so I’m told.’
‘And can’t he do anything better for them than that?’ asked Sir Marmaduke.
‘I know nothing about him. I have met him, you know. He used to be with Trevelyan; that was when Nora took a fancy for him, of course. And I saw him once down in Devonshire, when I must say he behaved uncommonly badly, doing all he could to foster Trevelyan’s stupid jealousy.’
‘He has changed his mind about that, I think.’
‘Perhaps he has; but he behaved very badly then. Let him shew up his income; that, I take it, is the question in such a case as this. His father was a clergyman, and therefore I suppose he must be considered to he a gentleman. But has he means to support a wife, and keep up a house in London? If he has not, that is an end to it, I should say.’
But Sir Marmaduke could not see his way to any such end, and, although he still looked black upon Nora, and talked to his wife of his determination to stand no contumacy, and hinted at cursing, disinheriting, and the like, he began to perceive that Nora would have her own way. In his unhappiness he regretted this visit to England, and almost thought that the Mandarins were a pleasanter residence than London. He could do pretty much as he pleased there, and could live quietly, without the trouble which encountered him now on every side.
Nora, immediately on her return to London, had written a note to Hugh, simply telling him of her arrival and begging him to come and see her. ‘Mamma,’ she said, ‘I must see him, and it would be nonsense to say that he must not come here. I have done what I have said I would do, and you ought not to make difficulties.’ Lady Rowley declared that Sir Marmaduke would be very angry if Hugh were admitted without his express permission. ‘I don’t want to do anything in the dark,’ continued Nora, ‘but of course I must see him. I suppose it will be better that he should come to me than that I should go to him?’ Lady Rowley quite understood the threat that was conveyed in this. It would be much better that Hugh should come to the hotel, and that he should be treated then as an accepted lover. She had come to that conclusion. But she was obliged to vacillate for awhile between her husband and her daughter. Hugh came of course, and Sir Marmaduke, by his wife’s advice, kept out of the way. Lady Rowley, though she was at home, kept herself also out of the way, remaining above with her two other daughters. Nora thus achieved the glory and happiness of receiving her lover alone.
‘My own true girl!’ he said, speaking with his arms still round her waist.
‘I am true enough; but whether I am your own, that is another question.’
‘You mean to be?’
‘But papa doesn’t mean it. Papa says that you are nobody, and that you haven’t got an income; and thinks that I had better go back and be an old maid at the Mandarins.’
‘And what do you think yourself, Nora?’
‘What do I think? As far as I can understand, young ladies are not allowed to think at all. They have to do what their papas tell them. That will do, Hugh. You can talk without taking hold of me.’
‘It is such a time since I have had a hold of you as you call it.’
‘It will be much longer before you can do so again, if I go back to the Islands with papa. I shall expect you to be true, you know; and it will be ten years at the least before I can hope to be home again.’
‘I don’t think you mean to go, Nora.’
‘But what am I to do? That idea of yours of walking out to the next church and getting ourselves married sounds very nice and independent, but you know that it is not practicable.’
‘On the other hand, I know it is.’
‘It is not practicable for me, Hugh. Of all things in the world I don’t want to be a Lydia. I won’t do anything that anybody shall ever say that your wife ought not to have done. Young women when they are married ought to have their papas’ and mammas’ consent. I have been thinking about it a great deal for the last month or two, and I have made up my mind to that.’
‘What is it all to come to, then?’
‘I mean to get papa’s consent. That is what it is to come to.’
‘And if he is obstinate?’
‘I shall coax him round at last. When the time for going comes, he’ll yield then.’
‘But you will not go with them?’ As he asked this he came to her and tried again to take her by the waist; but she retreated from him, and got herself clear from us arm. ‘If you are afraid of me, I shall know that you think it possible that we may be parted.’
‘I am not a bit afraid of you, Hugh.’
‘Nora, I think you ought to tell me something definitely.’
‘I think I have been definite enough, sir. You may be sure of this, however I will not go back to the Islands.’
‘Give me your hand on that.’
‘There is my hand. But, remember, I had told you just as much before. I don’t mean to go back. I mean to stay here. I mean — but I do not think I will tell you all the things I mean to do.’
‘You mean to be my wife?’
‘Certainly, some day, when the difficulty about the chairs and tables can settle itself. The real question now is what am I to do with myself when papa and mamma are gone?’
‘Become Mrs H. Stanbury at once. Chairs and tables! You shall have chairs and tables as many as you want. You won’t be too proud to live in lodgings for a few months?’
‘There must be preliminaries, Hugh even for lodgings, though they may be very slender. Papa goes in less than three weeks now, and mamma has got something else to think of than my marriage garments. And then there are all manner of difficulties, money difficulties and others, out of which I don’t see my way yet’. Hugh began to asseverate that it was his business to help her through all money difficulties as well as others; but she soon stopped his eloquence. ‘It will be by-and-by, Hugh, and I hope you’ll support the burden like a man; but just at present there is a hitch. I shouldn’t have come over at all; I should have stayed with Emily in Italy, had I not thought that I was bound to see you’
‘My own darling!’
‘When papa goes, I think that I had better go back to her.’
‘I’ll take you!’ said Hugh, picturing to himself all the pleasures of such a tour together, over the Alps.
‘No you won’t, because that would be improper. When we travel together we must go Darby and Joan fashion, as man and wife. I think I had better go back to Emily, because her position there is so terrible. There must come some end to it, I suppose soon. He will be better, or he will become so bad that that medical interference will be unavoidable. But I do not like that she should be alone. She gave me a home when she had one, and I must always remember that I met you there.’ After this there was of course another attempt with Hugh’s right arm, which on this occasion was not altogether unsuccessful. And then she told him of her friendship for Mr Glascock’s wife, and of her intention at some future time to visit them at Monkhams.
‘And see all the glories that might have been your own,’ he said.
‘And think of the young man who has robbed me of them all! And you are to go there too, so that you may see what you have done. There was a time, Hugh, when I was very nearly pleasing all my friends and shewing myself to be a young lady of high taste and noble fortune and an obedient, good girl.’
‘And why didn’t you?’
‘I thought I would wait just a little longer. Because, because, because — Oh, Hugh, how cross you were to me afterwards when you came down to Nuncombe and would hardly speak to me!’
‘And why didn’t I speak to you?’
‘I don’t know. Because you were cross, and surly, and thinking of nothing but your tobacco, I believe. Do you remember how we walked to Liddon, and you hadn’t a word for anybody?’
‘I remember I wanted you to go down to the river with me, and you wouldn’t go.’
‘You asked me only once, and I did so long to go with you. Do you remember the rocks in the river? I remember the place as though I saw it now; and how I longed to jump from one stone to another. Hugh, if we are ever married, you must take me there, and let me jump on those stones.’
‘You pretended that you could not think of wetting your feet.’
‘Of course I pretended, because you were so cross, and so cold. Oh, dear! I wonder whether you will ever know it all.’
‘Don’t I know it all now?’
‘I suppose you do, nearly. There is mighty little of a secret in it, and it is the same thing that is going on always. Only it seems so strange to me that I should ever have loved any one so dearly and that for next to no reason at all. You never made yourself very charming that I know of, did you?’
‘I did my best. It wasn’t much, I dare say.’
‘You did nothing, sir, except just let me fall in love with you. And you were not quite sure that you would let me do that.’
‘Nora, I don’t think you do understand.’
‘I do perfectly. Why were you cross with me, instead of saying one nice word when you were down at Nuncombe? I do understand.’
‘Why was it?’
‘Because you did not think well enough of me to believe that I would give myself to a man who had no fortune of his own. I know it now, and I knew it then; and therefore I wouldn’t dabble in the river with you. But it’s all over now, and we’ll go and get wet together like dear little children, and Priscilla shall scold us when we come back.’
They were alone in the sitting-room for more than an hour, and Lady Rowley was patient upstairs; as mothers will be patient in such emergencies. Sophie and Lucy had gone out and left her; and there she remained, telling herself, as the weary minutes went by, that as the thing was to be, it was well that the young people should be together. Hugh Stanbury could never be to her what Mr Glascock would have been — a son-in-law to sit and think about, and dream of, and be proud of, whose existence as her son-in-law would in itself have been a happiness to her out in her banishment at the other side of the world; but nevertheless it was natural to her, as a soft-hearted, loving mother with many daughters, that any son-in-law should be dear to her. Now that she had gradually brought herself round to believe in Nora’s marriage, she was disposed to make the best of Hugh, to remember that he was certainly a clever man, that he was an honest fellow, and that she had heard of him as a good son and a kind brother, and that he had behaved well in reference to her Emily and Trevelyan. She was quite willing now that Hugh should be happy, and she sat there thinking that the time was very long, but still waiting patiently till she should be summoned. ‘You must let me go for mamma for a moment,’ Nora said. ‘I want you to see her and make yourself a good boy before her. If you are ever to be her son-in-law, you ought to be in her good graces.’ Hugh declared that he would do his best, and Nora fetched her mother.
Stanbury found some difficulty in making himself a ‘good boy’ in Lady Rowley’s presence; and Lady Rowley herself, for sometime, felt very strongly the awkwardness of the meeting. She had never formally recognised the young man as her daughter’s accepted suitor, and as not yet justified in doing so by any permission from Sir Marmaduke; but, as the young people had been for the last hour or two alone together, with her connivance and sanction, it was indispensable that she should in some way signify her parental adherence to the arrangement. Nora began by talking about Emily, and Trevelyan’s condition and mode of living were discussed. Then Lady Rowley said something about their coming journey, and Hugh, with a lucky blunder, spoke of Nora’s intended return to Italy. ‘We don’t know how that may be,’ said Lady Rowley. ‘Her papa still wishes her to go back with us.’
‘Mamma, you know that that is impossible,’ said Nora.
‘Not impossible, my love.’
‘But she will not go back,’ said Hugh. ‘Lady Rowley, you would not propose to separate us by such a distance as that?’
‘It is Sir Marmaduke that you must ask.’
‘Mamma, mamma!’ exclaimed Nora, rushing to her mother’s side, ‘it is not papa that we must ask not now. We want you to be our friend. Don’t we, Hugh? And, mamma, if you will really be our friend, of course, papa will come round.’
‘My dear Nora!’
‘You know he will, mamma; and you know that you mean to be good and kind to us. Of course I can’t go back to the Islands with you. How could I go so far and leave him behind? He might have half-a-dozen wives before I could get back to him —’
‘If you have not more trust in him than that —’
‘Long engagements are awful bores,’ said Hugh, finding it to be necessary that he also should press forward his argument.
‘I can trust him as far as I can see him,’ said Nora, ‘and therefore I do not want to lose sight of him altogether.’
Lady Rowley of course gave way and embraced her accepted son-in-law. After all it might have been worse. He saw his way clearly, he said, to making six hundred a year, and did not at all doubt that before long he would do better than that. He proposed that they should be married some time in the autumn, but was willing to acknowledge that much must depend on the position of Trevelyan and his wife. He would hold himself ready at any moment, he said, to start to Italy, and would do all that could be done by a brother. Then Lady Rowley gave him her blessing, and kissed him again, and Nora kissed him too, and hung upon him, and did not push him away at all when his arm crept round her waist. And that feeling came upon him which must surely be acknowledged by all engaged young men when they first find themselves encouraged by mammas in the taking of liberties which they have hitherto regarded as mysteries to be hidden, especially from maternal eyes, that feeling of being a fine fat calf decked out with ribbons for a sacrifice.
Last updated Sunday, July 31, 2016 at 20:26