The life of Mr Maurice Maule, of Maule Abbey, the father of Gerard Maule, had certainly not been prosperous. He had from his boyhood enjoyed a reputation for cleverness, and at school had done great things — winning prizes, spouting speeches on Speech days, playing in elevens, and looking always handsome. He had been one of those show boys of which two or three are generally to be found at our great schools, and all manner of good things had been prophesied on his behalf. He had been in love before he was eighteen, and very nearly succeeded in running away with the young lady before he went to college. His father had died when he was an infant, so that at twenty-one he was thought to be in possession of comfortable wealth. At Oxford he was considered to have got into a good set — men of fashion who were also given to talking of books — who spent money, read poetry, and had opinions of their own respecting the Tracts and Mr Newman. He took his degree, and then started himself in the world upon that career which is of all the most difficult to follow with respect and self-comfort. He proposed to himself the life of an idle man with a moderate income — a life which should be luxurious, refined, and graceful, but to which should be attached the burden of no necessary occupation. His small estate gave him but little to do, as he would not farm any portion of his own acres. He became a magistrate in his county; but he would not interest himself with the price of a good yoke of bullocks, as did Mr Justice Shallow — nor did he ever care how a score of ewes went at any fair. There is no harder life than this. Here and there we may find a man who has so trained himself that day after day he can devote his mind without compulsion to healthy pursuits, who can induce himself to work, though work be not required from him for any ostensible object, who can save himself from the curse of misusing his time, though he has for it no defined and necessary use; but such men are few, and are made of better metal than was Mr Maule. He became an idler, a man of luxury, and then a spendthrift. He was now hardly beyond middle life, and he assumed for himself the character of a man of taste. He loved music, and pictures, and books, and pretty women. He loved also good eating and drinking; but conceived of himself that in his love for them he was an artist, and not a glutton. He had married early, and his wife had died soon. He had not given himself up with any special zeal to the education of his children, nor to the preservation of his property. The result of his indifference has been told in a previous chapter. His house was deserted, and his children were scattered about the world. His eldest son, having means of his own, was living an idle, desultory life, hardly with prospects of better success than had attended his father.
Mr Maule was now something about fifty-five years of age, and almost considered himself young. He lived in chambers on a flat in Westminster, and belonged to two excellent clubs. He had not been near his property for the last ten years, and as he was addicted to no country sport there were ten weeks in the year which were terrible to him. From the middle of August to the end of October for him there was no whist, no society — it may almost be said no dinner. He had tried going to the seaside; he had tried going to Paris; he had endeavoured to enjoy Switzerland and the Italian lakes — but all had failed, and he had acknowledged to himself that this sad period of the year must always be endured without relaxation, and without comfort.
Of his children he now took but little notice. His daughter was married and in India. His younger son had disappeared, and the father was perhaps thankful that he was thus saved from trouble. With his elder son he did maintain some amicable intercourse, but it was very slight in its nature. They never corresponded unless the one had something special to say to the other. They had no recognised ground for meeting. They did not belong to the same clubs. They did not live in the same circles. They did not follow the same pursuits. They were interested in the same property — but, as on that subject there had been something approaching to a quarrel, and as neither looked for assistance from the other, they were now silent on the matter. The father believed himself to be a poorer man than his son, and was very sore on the subject; but he had nothing beyond a life interest in his property, and there remained to him a certain amount of prudence which induced him to abstain from eating more of his pudding — lest absolute starvation and the poorhouse should befall him. There still remained to him the power of spending some five or six hundred a year, and upon this practice had taught him to live with a very considerable amount of self-indulgence. He dined out a great deal, and was known everywhere as Mr Maule of Maule Abbey.
He was a slight, bright-eyed, grey-haired, good-looking man, who had once been very handsome. He had married, let us say for love — probably very much by chance. He had ill-used his wife, and had continued a long-continued liaison with a complaisant friend. This had lasted some twenty years of his life, and had been to him an intolerable burden. He had come to see the necessity of employing his good looks, his conversational powers, and his excellent manners on a second marriage which might be lucrative; but the complaisant lady had stood in his way. Perhaps there had been a little cowardice on his part; but at any rate he had hitherto failed. The season for such a mode of relief was not, however, as yet clean gone with him, and he was still on the look out. There are women always in the market ready to buy for themselves the right to hang on the arm of a real gentleman. That Mr Maurice Maule was a real gentleman no judge in such matters had ever doubted.
On a certain morning just at the end of February Mr Maule was sitting in his library — so-called — eating his breakfast, at about twelve o’clock; and at his side there lay a note from his son Gerard. Gerard had written to say that he would call on that morning, and the promised visit somewhat disturbed the father’s comfort. He was in his dressing-gown and slippers, and had his newspaper in his hand. When his newspaper and breakfast should be finished — as they would be certainly at the same moment — there were in store for him two cigarettes, and perhaps some new French novel which had just reached him. They would last him till two o’clock. Then he would dress and saunter out in his great coat, made luxurious with furs. He would see a picture, or perhaps some china-vase, of which news had reached him, and would talk of them as though he might be a possible buyer. Everybody knew that he never bought anything — but he was a man whose opinion on such matters was worth having. Then he would call on some lady whose acquaintance at the moment might be of service to him — for that idea of blazing once more out into the world on a wife’s fortune was always present to him. At about five he would saunter into his club, and play a rubber in a gentle unexcited manner till seven. He never played for high points, and would never be enticed into any bet beyond the limits of his club stakes. Were he to lose oe10 or oe20 at a sitting his arrangements would be greatly disturbed, and his comfort seriously affected. But he played well, taking pains with his game, and some who knew him well declared that his whist was worth a hundred a year to him. Then he would dress and generally dine in society. He was known as a good diner out, though in what his excellence consisted they who entertained him might find it difficult to say. He was not witty, nor did he deal in anecdotes. He spoke with a low voice, never addressing himself to any but his neighbour, and even to his neighbour saying but little. But he looked like a gentleman, was well dressed, and never awkward. After dinner he would occasionally play another rubber; but twelve o’clock always saw him back into his own rooms. No one knew better than Mr Maule that the continual bloom of lasting summer which he affected requires great accuracy in living. Late hours, nocturnal cigars, and midnight drinkings, pleasurable though they may be, consume too quickly the free-flowing lamps of youth, and are fatal at once to the husbanded candle-ends of age.
But such as his days were, every minute of them was precious to him. He possessed the rare merit of making a property of his time and not a burden. He had so shuffled off his duties that he had now rarely anything to do that was positively disagreeable. He had been a spendthrift; but his creditors, though perhaps never satisfied, had been quieted. He did not now deal with reluctant and hard-tasked tenants, but with punctual, though inimical, trustees, who paid to him with charming regularity that portion of his income which he was allowed to spend. But that he was still tormented with the ambition of a splendid marriage it might be said of him that he was completely at his ease. Now, as he lit his cigarette, he would have been thoroughly comfortable, were it not that he was threatened with disturbance by his son. Why should his son wish to see him, and thus break in upon him at the most charming hour of the day? Of course his son would not come to him without having some business in hand which must be disagreeable. He had not the least desire to see his son — and yet, as they were on amicable terms, he could not deny himself after the receipt of his son’s note. Just at one, as he finished his first cigarette, Gerard was announced.
“Well, father — how are you? You are looking as fresh as paint, sir.”
“Thanks for the compliment, if you mean one. I am pretty well. I thought you were hunting somewhere.”
“So I am; but I have just come up to town to see you. I find you have been smoking — may I light a cigar?”
“I never do smoke cigars here, Gerard. I’ll offer you a cigarette.” The cigarette was reluctantly offered, and accepted with a shrug. “But you didn’t come here merely to smoke, I daresay.”
“Certainly not, sir. We do not often trouble each other, father; but there are things about which I suppose we had better speak. I’m going to be married!”
“To be married!” The tone in which Mr Maule, senior, repeated the words was much the same as might be used by any ordinary father if his son expressed an intention of going into the shoe-black business.
“Yes, sir. It’s a kind of thing men do sometimes.”
“No doubt — and it’s a kind of thing that they sometimes repent of having done.”
“Let us hope for the best. It is too late at any rate to think about that, and as it is to be done, I have come to tell you.”
“Very well. I suppose you are right to tell me. Of course you know that I can do nothing for you; and I don’t suppose that you can do anything for me. As far as your own welfare goes, if she has a large fortune — ”
“She has no fortune.”
“Two or three thousand pounds perhaps.”
“Then I look upon it as an act of simple madness, and can only say that as such I shall treat it. I have nothing in my power, and therefore I can neither do you good or harm; but I will not hear any particulars, and I can only advise you to break it off, let the trouble be what it may.”
“I certainly shall not do that, sir.”
“Then I have nothing more to say. Don’t ask me to be present, and don’t ask me to see her.”
“You haven’t heard her name yet.”
“I do not care one straw what her name is.”
“It is Adelaide Palliser.”
“Adelaide Muggins would be exactly the same thing to me. My dear Gerard, I have lived too long in the world to believe that men can coin into money the noble blood of well-born wives. Twenty thousand pounds is worth more than all the blood of all the Howards, and a wife even with twenty thousand pounds would make you a poor, embarrassed, and half-famished man.”
“Then I suppose I shall be whole famished, as she certainly has not got a quarter of that sum.”
“No doubt you will.”
“Yet, sir, married men with families have lived on my income.”
“And on less than a quarter of it. The very respectable man who brushes my clothes no doubt does so. But then you see he has been brought up in that way. I suppose that you as a bachelor put by every year at least half your income?”
“I never put by a shilling, sir. Indeed, I owe a few hundred pounds.”
“And yet you expect to keep a house over your head, and an expensive wife and family, with lady’s maid, nurses, cook, footman, and grooms, on a sum which has been hitherto insufficient for your own wants! I didn’t think you were such an idiot, my boy.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“What will her dress cost?”
“I have not the slightest idea.”
“I daresay not. Probably she is a horsewoman. As far as I know anything of your life that is the sphere in which you will have made the lady’s acquaintance.”
“She does ride.”
“No doubt, and so do you; and it will be very easy to say whither you will ride together if you are fools enough to get married. I can only advise you to do nothing of the kind. Is there anything else?”
There was much more to be said if Gerard could succeed in forcing his father to hear him. Mr Maule, who had hitherto been standing, seated himself as he asked that last question, and took up the book which had been prepared for his morning’s delectation. It was evidently his intention that his son should leave him. The news had been communicated to him, and he had said all that he could say on the subject. He had at once determined to confine himself to a general view of the matter, and to avoid details — which might be personal to himself. But Gerard had been specially required to force his father into details. Had he been left to himself he would certainly have thought that the conversation had gone far enough. He was inclined, almost as well as his father, to avoid present discomfort. But when Miss Palliser had suddenly — almost suddenly — accepted him; and when he had found himself describing the prospects of his life in her presence and in that of Lady Chiltern, the question of the Maule Abbey inheritance had of necessity been discussed. At Maule Abbey there might be found a home for the married couple, and — so thought Lady Chiltern — the only fitting home. Mr Maule, the father, certainly did not desire to live there. Probably arrangements might be made for repairing the house and furnishing it with Adelaide’s money. Then, if Gerard Maule would be prudent, and give up hunting, and farm a little himself — and if Adelaide would do her own housekeeping and dress upon forty pounds a year, and if they would both live an exemplary, model, energetic, and strictly economical life, both ends might be made to meet. Adelaide had been quite enthusiastic as to the forty pounds, and had suggested that she would do it for thirty. The housekeeping was a matter of course, and the more so as a leg of mutton roast or boiled would be the beginning and the end of it. To Adelaide the discussion had been exciting and pleasurable, and she had been quite in earnest when looking forward to a new life at Maule Abbey. After all there could be no such great difficulty for a young married couple to live on oe800 a year, with a house and garden of their own. There would be no carriage and no man servant till — till old Mr Maule was dead. The suggestion as to the ultimate and desirable haven was wrapped up in ambiguous words. “The property must be yours some day,” suggested Lady Chiltern. “If I outlive my father.” “We take that for granted; and then, you know — “ So Lady Chiltern went on, dilating upon a future state of squirearchal bliss and rural independence. Adelaide was enthusiastic; but Gerard Maule — after he had assented to the abandonment of his hunting, much as a man assents to being hung when the antecedents of his life have put any option in the matter out of his power — had sat silent and almost moody while the joys of his coming life were described to him. Lady Chiltern, however, had been urgent in pointing out to him that the scheme of living at Maule Abbey could not be carried on without his father’s assistance. They all knew that Mr Maule himself could not be affected by the matter, and they also knew that he had but very little power in reference to the property. But the plan could not be matured without some sanction from him. Therefore there was still much more to be said when the father had completed the exposition of his views on marriage in general. “I wanted to speak to you about the property,” said Gerard. He had been specially enjoined to be staunch in bringing his father to the point.
“And what about the property?”
“Of course my marriage will not affect your interests.”
“I should say not. It would be very odd if it did. As it is, your income is much larger than mine.”
“I don’t know how that is, sir; but I suppose you will not refuse to give me a helping hand if you can do so without disturbance to your own comfort.”
“In what sort of way? Don’t you think anything of that kind can be managed better by the lawyer? If there is a thing I hate, it is business.”
Gerard remembering his promise to Lady Chiltern did persevere, though the perseverance went much against the grain with him. “We thought, sir, that if you would consent we might live at Maule Abbey.”
“Oh — you did; did you?”
“Is there any objection?”
“Simply the fact that it is my house, and not yours.”
“It belongs, I suppose, to the property; and as — ”
“As what?” asked the father, turning upon the son with sharp angry eyes, and with something of real animation in his face.
Gerard was very awkward in conveying his meaning to his father. “And as,” he continued — “as it must come to me, I suppose, some day, and it will be the proper sort of thing that we should live there then, I thought that you would agree that if we went and lived there now it would be a good sort of thing to do.”
“That was your idea?”
“We talked it over with our friend, Lady Chiltern.”
“Indeed! I am so much obliged to your friend, Lady Chiltern, for the interest she takes in my affairs. Pray make my compliments to Lady Chiltern, and tell her at the same time that, though no doubt I have one foot in the grave, I should like to keep my house for the other foot, though too probably I may never be able to drag it so far as Maule Abbey.”
“But you don’t think of living there.”
“My dear boy, if you will inquire among any friends you may happen to know who understand the world better than Lady Chiltern seems to do, they will tell you that a son should not suggest to his father the abandonment of the family property, because the father may — probably — soon — be conveniently got rid of under ground.”
“There was no thought of such a thing,” said Gerard.
“It isn’t decent. I say that with all due deference to Lady Chiltern’s better judgment. It’s not the kind of thing that men do. I care less about it than most men, but even I object to such a proposition when it is made so openly. No doubt I am old.” This assertion Mr Maule made in a weak, quavering voice, which showed that had his intention been that way turned in his youth, he might probably have earned his bread on the stage.
“Nobody thought of your being old, sir.”
“I shan’t last long, of course. I am a poor feeble creature. But while I do live, I should prefer not to be turned out of my own house — if Lady Chiltern could be induced to consent to such an arrangement. My doctor seems to think that I might linger on for a year or two — with great care.”
“Father, you know I was thinking of nothing of the kind.”
“We won’t act the king and the prince any further, if you please. The prince protested very well, and, if I remember right, the father pretended to believe him. In my weak state you have rather upset me. If you have no objection I would choose to be left to recover myself a little.”
“And is that all that you will say to me?”
“Good heavens — what more can you want? I will not — consent — to give up — my house at Maule Abbey for your use — as long as I live. Will that do? And if you choose to marry a wife and starve, I won’t think that any reason why I should starve too. Will that do? And your friend, Lady Chiltern, may — go — and be d — d. Will that do?”
“Good morning, sir.”
“Good morning, Gerard.” So the interview was over, and Gerard Maule left the room. The father, as soon as he was alone, immediately lit another cigarette, took up his French novel, and went to work as though he was determined to be happy and comfortable again without losing a moment. But he found this to be beyond his power. He had been really disturbed, and could not easily compose himself. The cigarette was almost at once chucked into the fire, and the little volume was laid on one side. Mr Maule rose almost impetuously from his chair, and stood with his back to the fire, contemplating the proposition that had been made to him.
It was actually true that he had been offended by the very faint idea of death which had been suggested to him by his son. Though he was a man bearing no palpable signs of decay, in excellent health, with good digestion — who might live to be ninety — he did not like to be warned that his heir would come after him. The claim which had been put forward to Maule Abbey by his son had rested on the fact that when he should die the place must belong to his son — and the fact was unpleasant to him. Lady Chiltern had spoken of him behind his back as being mortal, and in doing so had been guilty of an impertinence. Maule Abbey, no doubt, was a ruined old house, in which he never thought of living — which was not let to a tenant by the creditors of his estate, only because its condition was unfit for tenancy. But now Mr Maule began to think whether he might not possibly give the lie to these people who were compassing his death, by returning to the halls of his ancestors, if not in the bloom of youth, still in the pride of age. Why should he not live at Maule Abbey if this successful marriage could be effected? He almost knew himself well enough to be aware that a month at Maule Abbey would destroy him; but it is the proper thing for a man of fashion to have a place of his own, and he had always been alive to the glory of being Mr Maule of Maule Abbey. In preparing the way for the marriage that was to come he must be so known. To be spoken of as the father of Maule of Maule Abbey would have been fatal to him. To be the father of a married son at all was disagreeable, and therefore when the communication was made to him he had managed to be very unpleasant. As for giving up Maule Abbey —! He fretted and fumed as he thought of the proposition through the hour which should have been to him an hour of enjoyment; and his anger grew hot against his son as he remembered all that he was losing. At last, however, he composed himself sufficiently to put on with becoming care his luxurious furred great coat, and then he sallied forth in quest of the lady.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01