Lord Rufford had been quite right about the Duchess. Arabella had only taken off her hat and was drinking her tea when the Duchess came up to her. “Lord Rufford says that you were too tired to come in,” said the Duchess.
“I am tired, aunt; — very tired. But there is nothing the matter with me. We had to ride ever so far coming home and it was that knocked up.
“It was very bad, your in a post chaise, Arabella.”
“Why was it bad, aunt? I thought it very nice.”
“My dear, it shouldn’t have been done. You ought to have known that. I certainly wouldn’t have had you here had I thought that there would be anything of the kind.”
“It is going to be all right,” said Arabella laughing.
According to her Grace’s view of things it was not and could not be made “all right.” It would not have been all right were the girl to become Lady Rufford to-morrow. The scandal, or loud reproach due to evil doings, may be silenced by subsequent conduct. The merited punishment may not come visibly. But nothing happening after could make it right that a young lady should come home from hunting in a post chaise alone with a young unmarried man. When the Duchess first heard it she thought what would have been her feelings if such a thing had been suggested in reference to one of her own daughters! Lord Rufford had come to her in the drawing-room and had told her the story in a quiet pleasant manner — merely saying that Miss Trefoil was too much fatigued to show herself at the present moment. She had thought from his manner that her niece’s story had been true. There was a cordiality and apparent earnestness as to the girl’s comfort which seemed to be compatible with the story. But still she could hardly understand that Lord Rufford should wish to have it known that he travelled about the country in such a fashion with the girl he intended to marry. But if it were true, then she must look after her niece. And even if it were not true — in which case she would never have the girl at Mistletoe again — yet she could not ignore her presence in the house. It was now the 18th of January. Lord Rufford was to go on the following day, and Arabella on the 20th. The invitation had not been given so as to stretch beyond that. If it could be at once decided — declared by Lord Rufford to the Duke — that the match was to be a match, then the invitation should be renewed, Arabella should be advised to put off her other friends, and Lord Rufford should be invited to come back early in the next month and spend a week or two in the proper fashion with his future bride. All that had been settled between the Duke and the Duchess. So much should be done for the sake of the family. But the Duke had not seen his way to asking Lord Rufford any question.
The Duchess must now find out the truth if she could — so that if the story were false she might get rid of the girl and altogether shake her off from the Mistletoe roof tree. Arabella’s manner was certainly free from any appearance of hesitation or fear. “I don’t know about being all right,” said the Duchess. “It cannot be right that you should have come home with him alone in a hired carriage.”
“Is a hired carriage wickeder than a private one?”
“If a carriage had been sent from here for you, it would have been different; — but even then he should not have come with you.”
“But he would I’m sure; — and I should have asked him. What; — the man I’m engaged to marry! Mayn’t he sit in a carriage with me?”
The Duchess could not explain herself, and thought that she had better drop that topic. “What does he mean to do now, Arabella?”
“What does who mean, aunt?”
“He means to marry me. And he means to go from here to Mr. Surbiton’s to-morrow. I don’t quite understand the question.”
“And what do you mean to do?”
“I mean to marry him. And I mean to join mamma in London on Wednesday. I believe we are to go to the Connop Green’s the next day. Mr. Connop Green is a sort of cousin of mamma; — but they are odious people.”
“Who is to see Lord Rufford? However, my dear, if you are very tired, I will leave you now.”
“No, aunt. Stay a moment if you will be so very kind. I am tired; but if I were twice as tired I would find strength to talk about this. If my uncle would speak to Lord Rufford at once I should take it as the very kindest thing he could do. I could not send him to my uncle; for, after all, one’s uncle and one’s father are not the same. I could only refer him to papa. But if the Duke would speak to him!”
“Did he renew his offer to-day?”
“He has done nothing else but renew it ever since he has been in the carriage with me. That’s the plain truth. He made his offer at Rufford. He renewed it in the wood yesterday; — and he repeated it over and over again as we came home to-day. It may have been very wrong, but so it was.” Miss Trefoil must have thought that kissing and proposing were the same thing. Other young ladies have, perhaps, before now made such a mistake. But this young lady had had much experience and should have known better.
“Lord Rufford had better perhaps speak to your uncle.”
“Will you tell him so, aunt?”
The Duchess thought about it for a moment. She certainly could not tell Lord Rufford to speak to the Duke without getting the Duke’s leave to tell him so. And then, if all this were done, and Lord Rufford were to assure the Duke that the young lady had made a mistake, how derogatory would all that be to the exalted quiescence of the house of Mayfair! She thoroughly wished that her niece were out of the house; for though she did believe the story, her belief was not thorough. “I will speak to your uncle,” she said. “And now you had better go to sleep.”
“And, dear aunt, pray excuse me at dinner. I have been so excited, so flurried, and so fatigued, that I fear I should make a fool of myself if I attempted to come down. I should get into a swoon, which would be dreadful. My maid shall bring me a bit of something and a glass of sherry, and you shall find me in the drawing-room when you come out” Then the Duchess went, and Arabella was left alone to take another view of the circumstances of the campaign.
Though there were still infinite dangers, yet she could hardly wish that anything should be altered. Should Lord Rufford disown her, which she knew to be quite possible, there would be a general collapse and the world would crash over her head. But she had known, when she took this business in hand, that as success would open Elysium to her, so would failure involve her in absolute ruin. She was determined that she would mar nothing now by cowardice, and having so resolved, and having fortified herself with perhaps two glasses of sherry, she went down to the drawing-room a little before nine, and laid herself out upon a sofa till the ladies should come in.
Lord Rufford had gone to bed, as was his wont on such occasions, with orders that he should be called to dress for dinner at half-past seven. But as he laid himself down he made up his mind that, instead of sleeping, he would give himself up to thinking about Arabella Trefoil. The matter was going beyond a joke, and would require some thinking. He liked her well enough, but was certainly not in love with her. I doubt whether men ever are in love with girls who throw themselves into their arms. A man’s love, till it has been chastened and fastened by the feeling of duty which marriage brings with it, is instigated mainly by the difficulty of pursuit. “It is hardly possible that anything so sweet as that should ever be mine; and yet, because I am a man, and because it is so heavenly sweet, I will try.” That is what men say to themselves, but Lord Rufford had had no opportunity of saying that to himself in regard to Miss Trefoil. The thing had been sweet, but not heavenly sweet; and he had never for a moment doubted the possibility. Now at any rate he would make up his mind. But, instead of doing so, he went to sleep, and when he got up he was ten minutes late, and was forced, as he dressed himself, to think of the Duke’s dinner instead of Arabella Trefoil.
The Duchess before dinner submitted herself and all her troubles at great length to the Duke, but the Duke could give her no substantial comfort. Of course it had all been wrong. He supposed that they ought not to have been found walking together in the dark on Sunday afternoon. The hunting should not have been arranged without sanction; and the return home in the hired carriage had no doubt been highly improper. But what could he do? If the marriage came off it would be all well. If not, this niece must not be invited to Mistletoe again. As to speaking to Lord Rufford, he did not quite see how he was to set about it. His own girls had been married in so very different a fashion! He could imagine nothing so disagreeable as to have to ask a gentleman his intentions. Parental duty might make it necessary when a daughter had not known how to keep her own position intact; but here there was no parental duty. If Lord Rufford would speak to him, then indeed there would be no difficulty. At last he told his wife that, if she could find an opportunity of suggesting to the young Lord that, he might perhaps say a word to the young lady’s uncle without impropriety, if she could do this in a light easy way, so as to run no peril of a scene — she might do so.
When the two duchesses and all the other ladies came out into the drawing-room, Arabella was found upon the sofa. Of course she became the centre of a little interest for a few minutes, and the more so, as her aunt went up to her and made some inquiries. Had she had any dinner? Was she less fatigued? The fact of the improper return home in the post chaise had become generally known, and there were some there who would have turned a very cold shoulder to Arabella had not her aunt noticed her. Perhaps there were some who had envied her Jack, and Lord Rufford’s admiration, and even the post chaise. But as long as her aunt countenanced her it was not likely that any one at Mistletoe would be unkind to her. The Duchess of Omnium did indeed remark to Lady Chiltern that she remembered something of the same kind happening to the same girl soon after her own marriage. As the Duchess had now been married a great many years this was unkind — but it was known that when the Duchess of Omnium did dislike any one, she never scrupled to show it. “Lord Rufford is about the silliest man of his day,” she said afterwards to the same lady; “but there is one thing which I do not think even he is silly enough to do.”
It was nearly ten o’clock when the gentlemen came into the room and then it was that the Duchess — Arabella’s aunt — must find the opportunity of giving Lord Rufford the hint of which the Duke had spoken. He was to leave Mistletoe on the morrow and might not improbably do so early. Of all women she was the steadiest, the most tranquil, the least abrupt in her movements. She could not pounce upon a man, and nail him down, and say what she had to say, let him be as unwilling as he might to hear it. At last, however, seeing Lord Rufford standing alone — he had then just left the sofa on which Arabella was still lying — without any apparent effort she made her way up to his side. “You had rather a long day,” she said.
“Not particularly, Duchess.”
“You had to come home so far!”
“About the average distance. Did you think it a hard day, Maurice?” Then he called to his aid a certain Lord Maurice St. John, a hard-riding and hard-talking old friend of the Trefoil family who gave the Duchess a very clear account of all the performance, during which Lord Rufford fell into an interesting conversation with Mrs. Mulready, the wife of the neighbouring bishop.
After that the Duchess made another attempt. “Lord Rufford,” she said, “we should be so glad if you would come back to us the first week in February. The Prices will be here and the Mackenzies, and —.”
“I am pledged to stay with my sister till the fifth, and on the sixth Surbiton and all his lot come to me. Battersby, is it not the sixth that you and Surbiton come to Rufford?”
“I rather think it is,” said Battersby.
“I wish it were possible. I like Mistletoe so much. It’s so central.”
“Very well for hunting; — is it not, Lord Rufford?” But that horrid Captain Battersby did not go out of the way.
“I wonder whether Lady Chiltern would do me a favour,” said Lord Rufford stepping across the room in search of that lady. He might be foolish, but when the Duchess of Omnium declared him to be the silliest man of the day I think she used a wrong epithet. The Duchess was very patient and intended to try again, but on that evening she got no opportunity.
Captain Battersby was Lord Rufford’s particular friend on this occasion and had come over with him from Mr. Surbiton’s house. “Bat,” he said as they were sitting close to each other in the smoking-room that night, “I mean to make an early start tomorrow.”
“What; — to get to Surbiton’s?”
“I’ve got something to do on the way. I want to look at a horse at Stamford.”
“I’ll be off with you.”
“No; — don’t do that. I’ll go in my own cart. I’ll make my man get hold of my groom and manage it somehow. I can leave my things and you can bring them. Only say to-morrow that I was obliged to go.”
“Heard something, you know, and all that kind of thing. Make my apologies to the Duchess. In point of fact I must be in Stamford at ten.”
“I’ll manage it all,” said Captain Battersby, who made a very shrewd guess at the cause which drew his friend to such an uncomfortable proceeding. After that Lord Rufford went to his room and gave a good deal of trouble that night to some of the servants in reference to the steps which would be necessary to take him out of harm’s way before the Duchess would be up on the morrow.
Arabella when she heard of the man’s departure on the following morning, which she luckily did from her own maid, was for some time overwhelmed by it. Of course the man was running away from her. There could be no doubt of it. She had watched him narrowly on the previous evening, and had seen that her aunt had tried in vain to speak to him. But she did not on that account give up the game. At any rate they had not found her out at Mistletoe. That was something. Of course it would have been infinitely better for her could he have been absolutely caught and nailed down before he left the house; but that was perhaps more than she had a right to expect. She could still pursue him; still write to him; — and at last, if necessary, force her father to do so. But she must trust now chiefly to her own correspondence.
“He told me, aunt, the last thing last night that he was going,” she said.
“Why did you not mention it?”
“I thought he would have told you. I saw him speaking to you. He had received some telegram about a horse. He’s the most flighty man in the world about such things. I am to write to him before I leave this to-morrow.” Then the Duchess did not believe a word of the engagement. She felt at any rate certain that if there was an engagement, Lord Rufford did not mean to keep it.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01