Adelaide Palliser was a tall, fair girl, exquisitely made, with every feminine grace of motion, highly born, and carrying always the warranty of her birth in her appearance; but with no special loveliness of face. Let nor any reader suppose that therefore she was plain. She possessed much more than a sufficiency of charm to justify her friends in claiming her as a beauty, and the demand had been generally allowed by public opinion. Adelaide Palliser was always spoken of as a girl to be admired; but she was not one whose countenance would strike with special admiration any beholder who did not know her. Her eyes were pleasant and bright, and, being in truth green, might, perhaps with propriety, be described as grey. Her nose was well formed. Her mouth was, perhaps, too small. Her teeth were perfect. Her chin was somewhat too long, and was on this account the defective feature of her face. Her hair was brown and plentiful; but in no way peculiar. No doubt she wore a chignon; but if so she wore it with the special view of being in no degree remarkable in reference to her head-dress. Such as she was — beauty or no beauty — her own mind on the subject was made up, and she had resolved long since that the gift of personal loveliness had not been bestowed upon her. And yet after a fashion she was proud of her own appearance. She knew that she looked like a lady, and she knew also that she had all that command of herself which health and strength can give to a woman when she is without feminine affectation.
Lady Chiltern, in describing her to Phineas Finn, had said that she talked Italian, and wrote for the Times . The former assertion was, no doubt, true, as Miss Palliser had passed some years of her childhood in Florence; but the latter statement was made probably with reference to her capability rather than her performance. Lady Chiltern intended to imply that Miss Palliser was so much better educated than young ladies in general that she was able to express herself intelligibly in her own language. She had been well educated, and would, no doubt, have done the Times credit had the Times chosen to employ her.
She was the youngest daughter of the youngest brother of the existing Duke of Omnium, and the first cousin, therefore, of Mr Plantagenet Palliser, who was the eldest son of the second brother. And as her mother had been a Bavilard there could be no better blood. But Adelaide had been brought up so far away from the lofty Pallisers and lofty Bavilards as almost to have lost the flavour of her birth. Her father and mother had died when she was an infant, and she had gone to the custody of a much older half-sister, Mrs Atterbury, whose mother had been not a Bavilard, but a Brown. And Mr Atterbury was a mere nobody, a rich, erudite, highly-accomplished gentleman, whose father had made his money at the bar, and whose grandfather had been a country clergyman. Mrs Atterbury, with her husband, was still living at Florence; but Adelaide Palliser had quarrelled with Florence life, and had gladly consented to make a long visit to her friend Lady Chiltern.
In Florence she had met Gerard Maule, and the acquaintance had not been viewed with favour by the Atterburys. Mrs Atterbury knew the history of the Maule family, and declared to her sister that no good could come from any intimacy. Old Mr Maule, she said, was disreputable. Mrs Maule, the mother — who, according to Mr Atterbury, had been the only worthy member of the family — was long since dead. Gerard Maule’s sister had gone away with an Irish cousin, and they were now living in India on the professional income of a captain in a foot regiment. Gerard Maule’s younger brother had gone utterly to the dogs, and nobody knew anything about him. Maule Abbey, the family seat in Herefordshire, was — so said Mrs Atterbury — absolutely in ruins. The furniture, as all the world knew, had been sold by the squire’s creditors under the sheriff’s order ten years ago, and not a chair or a table had been put into the house since that time. The property, which was small — oe2,000 a year at the outside — was, no doubt, entailed on the eldest son; and Gerard, fortunately, had a small fortune of his own, independent of his father. But then he was also a spendthrift — so said Mrs Atterbury — keeping a stable full of horses, for which he could not afford to pay; and he was, moreover, the most insufferably idle man who ever wandered about the world without any visible occupation for his hours. “But he hunts,” said Adelaide. “Do you call that an occupation?” asked Mrs Atterbury with scorn. Now Mrs Atterbury painted pictures, copied Madonnas, composed sonatas, corresponded with learned men in Rome, Berlin, and Boston, had been the intimate friend of Cavour, had paid a visit to Garibaldi on his island with the view of explaining to him the real condition of Italy — and was supposed to understand Bismarck. Was it possible that a woman who so filled her own life should accept hunting as a creditable employment for a young man, when it was admitted to be his sole employment? And, moreover, she desired that her sister Adelaide should marry a certain Count Brudi, who, according to her belief, had more advanced ideas about things in general than any other living human being. Adelaide Palliser had determined that she would not marry Count Brudi; had, indeed, almost determined that she would marry Gerard Maule, and had left her brother-in-law’s house in Florence after something like a quarrel. Mrs Atterbury had declined to authorise the visit to Harrington Hall, and then Adelaide had pleaded her age and independence. She was her own mistress if she so chose to call herself, and would not, at any rate, remain in Florence at the present moment to receive the attentions of Signor Brudi. Of the previous winter she had passed three months with some relatives in England, and there she had learned to ride to hounds, had first met Gerard Maule, and had made acquaintance with Lady Chiltern. Gerard Maule had wandered to Italy after her, appearing at Florence in his desultory way, having no definite purpose, not even that of asking Adelaide to be his wife — but still pursuing her, as though he wanted her without knowing what he wanted. In the course of the Spring, however, he had proposed, and had been almost accepted. But Adelaide, though she would not yield to her sister, had been frightened. She knew that she loved the man, and she swore to herself a thousand times that she would not be dictated to by her sister — but was she prepared to accept the fate which would at once be hers were she now to marry Gerard Maule? What could she do with a man who had no ideas of his own as to what he ought to do with himself?
Lady Chiltern was in favour of the marriage. The fortune, she said, was as much as Adelaide was entitled to expect, the man was a gentleman, was tainted by no vices, and was truly in love. “You had better let them fight it out somewhere else,” Lord Chiltern had said when his wife proposed that the invitation to Gerard Maule should be renewed; but Lady Chiltern had known that if “fought out” at all, it must be fought out at Harrington Hall. “We have asked him to come back,” she said to Adelaide, “in order that you may make up your mind. If he chooses to come, it will show that he is in earnest; and then you must take him, or make him understand that he is not to be taken.” Gerard Maule had chosen to come; but Adelaide Palliser had not as yet quite made up her mind.
Perhaps there is nothing so generally remarkable in the conduct of young ladies in the phase of life of which we are now speaking as the facility — it may almost be said audacity — with which they do make up their minds. A young man seeks a young woman’s hand in marriage, because she has waltzed stoutly with him, and talked pleasantly between the dances — and the young woman gives it, almost with gratitude. As to the young man, the readiness of his action is less marvellous than hers. He means to be master, and, by the very nature of the joint life they propose to lead, must take her to his sphere of life, not bind himself to hers. If he worked before he will work still. If he was idle before he will be idle still; and he probably does in some sort make a calculation and strike a balance between his means and the proposed additional burden of a wife and children. But she, knowing nothing, takes a monstrous leap in the dark, in which everything is to be changed, and in which everything is trusted to chance. Miss Palliser, however, differing in this from the majority of her friends and acquaintances, frightened, perhaps by those representations of her sister to which she would not altogether yield, had paused, and was still pausing. “Where should we go and live if I did marry him?” she said to Lady Chiltern.
“I suppose he has an opinion of his own on that subject?”
“Not in the least, I should think.”
“Has he never said anything about it?”
“Oh dear no. Matters have not got so far as that at all — nor would they ever, out of his own head. If we were married and taken away to the train he would only ask what place he should take the tickets for when he got to the station.”
“Couldn’t you manage to live at Maule Abbey?”
“Perhaps we might; only there is no furniture, and, as I am told, only half a roof.”
“It does seem to be absurd that you two should not make up your mind, just as other people do,” said Lady Chiltern. “Of course he is not a rich man, but you have known that all along.”
“It is not a question of wealth or poverty, but of an utterly lack-a-daisical indifference to everything in the world.”
“He is not indifferent to you.”
“That is the marvellous part of it,” said Miss Palliser.
This was said on the evening of the famous day at Broughton Spinnies, and late on that night Lord Chiltern predicted to his wife that another episode was about to occur in the life of their friend.
“What do you think Spooner has just asked me?”
“Permission to fight the Duke, or Mr Palliser?”
“No — it’s nothing about the hunting. He wants to know if you’d mind his staying here three or four days longer.”
“What a very odd request!”
“It is odd, because he was to have gone tomorrow. I suppose there’s no objection.”
“Of course not if you like to have him.”
“I don’t like it a bit,” said Lord Chiltern; “but I couldn’t turn him out. And I know what it means.”
“What does it mean?”
“You haven’t observed anything?”
“I have observed nothing in Mr Spooner, except an awestruck horror at the trapping of a fox.”
“He’s going to propose to Adelaide Palliser.”
“Oswald! You are not in earnest.”
“I believe he is. He would have told me if he thought I could give him the slightest encouragement. You can’t very well turn him out now.”
“He’ll get an answer that he won’t like if he does,” said Lady Chiltern.
Miss Palliser had ridden well on that day, and so had Gerard Maule. That Mr Spooner should ride well to hounds was quite a matter of course. It was the business of his life to do so, and he did it with great judgment. He hated Maule’s style of riding, considering it to be flashy, injurious to hunting, and unsportsmanlike; and now he had come to hate the man. He had, of course, perceived how close were the attentions paid by Mr Maule to Miss Palliser, and he thought that he perceived that Miss Palliser did not accept them with thorough satisfaction. On his way back to Harrington Hall he made some inquiries, and was taught to believe that Mr Maule was not a man of very high standing in the world. Mr Spooner himself had a very pretty property of his own — which was all his own. There was no doubt about his furniture, or about the roof at Spoon Hall. He was Spooner of Spoon Hall, and had been High Sheriff for his county. He was not so young as he once had been — but he was still a young man, only just turned forty, and was his own master in everything. He could read, and he always looked at the country newspaper; but a book was a thing that he couldn’t bear to handle. He didn’t think he had ever seen a girl sit a horse better than Adelaide Palliser sat hers, and a girl who rode as she did would probably like a man addicted to hunting. Mr Spooner knew that he understood hunting, whereas that fellow Maule cared for nothing but jumping over flights of rails. He asked a few questions that evening of Phineas Finn respecting Gerard Maule, but did not get much information. “I don’t know where he lives;” said Phineas; “I never saw him till I met him here.”
“Don’t you think he seems sweet upon that girl?”
“I shouldn’t wonder if he is.”
“She’s an uncommonly clean-built young woman, isn’t she?” said Mr Spooner; “but it seems to me she don’t care much for Master Maule. Did you see how he was riding today?”
“I didn’t see anything, Mr Spooner.”
“No, no; you didn’t get away. I wish he’d been with you, But she went uncommon well.” After that he made his request to Lord Chiltern, and Lord Chiltern, with a foresight quite unusual to him, predicted the coming event to his wife.
There was shooting on the following day, and Gerard Maule and Mr Spooner were both out. Lunch was sent down to the covert side, and the ladies walked down and joined the sportsmen. On this occasion Mr Spooner’s assiduity was remarkable, and seemed to be accepted with kindly grace. Adelaide even asked a question about Trumpeton Wood, and expressed an opinion that her cousin was quite wrong because he did not take the matter up. “You know it’s the keepers do it all,” said Mr Spooner, shaking his head with an appearance of great wisdom. “You never can have foxes unless you keep your keepers well in hand. If they drew the Spoon Hall coverts blank I’d dismiss my man the next day.”
“It mightn’t be his fault.”
“He knows my mind, and he’ll take care that there are foxes. They’ve been at my stick covert three times this year, and put a brace out each time. A leash went from it last Monday week. When a man really means a thing, Miss Palliser, he can pretty nearly always do it.” Miss Palliser replied with a smile that she thought that to be true, and Mr Spooner was not slow at perceiving that this afforded good encouragement to him in regard to that matter which was now weighing most heavily upon his mind.
On the next day there was hunting again, and Phineas was mounted on a horse more amenable to persuasion than old Dandolo. There was a fair run in the morning, and both Phineas and Madame Max were carried well. The remarkable event in the day, however, was the riding of Dandolo in the afternoon by Lord Chiltern himself. He had determined that the horse should go out, and had sworn that he would ride him over a fence if he remained there making the attempt all night. For two weary hours he did remain, with a groom behind him, spurring the brute against a thick hedge, with a ditch at the other side of it, and at the end of the two hours he succeeded. The horse at last made a buck leap and went over with a loud grunt. On his way home Lord Chiltern sold the horse to a farmer for fifteen pounds — and that was the end of Dandolo as far as the Harrington Hall stables were concerned. This took place on the Friday, the 8th of February. It was understood that Mr Spooner was to return to Spoon Hall on Saturday, and on Monday, the 11th, Phineas was to go to London. On the 12th the Session would begin, and he would once more take his seat in Parliament.
“I give you my word and honour, Lady Chiltern,” Gerard Maule said to his hostess, “I believe that oaf of a man is making up to Adelaide.” Mr Maule had not been reticent about his love towards Lady Chiltern, and came to her habitually in all his troubles.
“Chiltern has told me the same thing.”
“Why shouldn’t he see it, as well as you? But I wouldn’t believe it.”
“Upon my word I believe it’s true. But, Lady Chiltern — ”
“Well, Mr Maule.”
“You know her so well.”
“Adelaide, you mean?”
“You understand her thoroughly. There can’t be anything in it; is there?”
“She can’t really — like him?”
“Mr Maule, if I were to tell her that you had asked such a question as that I don’t believe that she’d ever speak a word to you again; and it would serve you right. Didn’t you call him an oaf?”
“And how long has she known him?”
“I don’t believe she ever spoke to him before yesterday.”
“And yet you think that she will be ready to accept this oaf as her husband tomorrow! Do you call that respect?”
“Girls do such wonderful strange things. What an impudent ass he must be!”
“I don’t see that at all. He may be an ass and yet not impudent, or impudent and yet not an ass. Of course he has a right to speak his mind — and she will have a right to speak hers.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14