Arabella Trefoil left her uncle’s mansion on the day after her lover’s departure, certainly not in triumph, but with somewhat recovered spirits. When she first heard that Lord Rufford was gone — that he had fled away as it were in the middle of the night without saying a word to her, without a syllable to make good the slight assurances of his love that had been given to her in the post carriage, she felt that she was deserted and betrayed. And when she found herself altogether neglected on the following day, and that the slightly valuable impression which she had made on her aunt was apparently gone, she did for half an hour think in earnest of the Paragon and Patagonia. But after a while she called to mind all that she knew of great efforts successfully made in opposition to almost overwhelming difficulties. She had heard of forlorn hopes, and perhaps in her young days had read something of Caesar still clinging to his Commentaries as he struggled in the waves. This was her forlorn hope, and she would be as brave as any soldier of them all. Lord Rufford’s embraces were her Commentaries, and let the winds blow and the waves roll as they might she would still cling to them. After lunch she spoke to her aunt with great courage — as the Duchess thought with great effrontery. “My uncle wouldn’t speak to Lord Rufford before he went?”
“How could he speak to a man who ran away from his house in that way?”
“The running away, as you call it, aunt, did not take place till two days after I had told you all about it. I thought he would have done as much as that for his brother’s daughter.”
“I don’t believe in it at all,” said the Duchess sternly.
“Don’t believe in what, aunt? You don’t mean to say that you don’t believe that Lord Rufford has asked me to be his wife!” Then she paused, but the Duchess absolutely lacked the courage to express her conviction again. “I don’t suppose it signifies much,” continued Arabella, “but of course it would have been something to me that Lord Rufford should have known that the Duke was anxious for my welfare. He was quite prepared to have assured my uncle of his intentions.”
“Then why didn’t he speak himself?”
“Because the Duke is not my father. Really, aunt, when I hear you talk of his running away I do feel it to be unkind. As if we didn’t all know that a man like that goes and comes as he pleases. It was just before dinner that he got the message, and was he to run round and wish everybody good-bye like a schoolgirl going to bed?”
The Duchess was almost certain that no message had come, and from various little things which she had observed and from tidings which had reached her, very much doubted whether Arabella had known anything of his intended going. She too had a maid of her own who on occasions could bring information. But she had nothing further to say on the subject. If Arabella should ever become Lady Rufford she would of course among other visitors be occasionally received at Mistletoe. She could never be a favourite, but things would to a certain degree have rectified themselves. But if, as the Duchess expected, no such marriage took place, then this ill-conducted niece should never be admitted within the house again.
Later on in the afternoon, some hours after it became dusk, Arabella contrived to meet her aunt in the hall with a letter in her hand, and asked where the letter-box was. She knew where to deposit her letters as well as did the Duchess herself; but she desired an opportunity of proclaiming what she had done. “I am writing to Lord Rufford. Perhaps as I am in your house I ought to tell you what I have done.”
“The letter-box is in the billiard-room, close to the door,” said the Duchess passing on. Then she added as she went, “The post for to-day has gone already.”
“His Lordship will have to wait a day for his letter. I dare say it won’t break his heart,” said Arabella, as she turned away to the billiard-room.
All this had been planned; and, moreover, she had so written her letter that if her magnificent aunt should condescend to tamper with it all that was in it should seem to corroborate her own story. The Duchess would have considered herself disgraced if ever she had done such a thing; — but the niece of the Duchess did not quite understand that this would be so. The letter was as follows:
Mistletoe, 19th Jany. 1875.
Your going off like that was, after all, very horrid. My aunt thinks that you were running away from me. I think that you were running away from her. Which was true? In real earnest I don’t for a moment think that either I or the Duchess had anything to do with it, and that you did go because some horrid man wrote and asked you. I know you don’t like being bound by any of the conventionalities. I hope there is such a word, and that if not, you’ll understand it just the same.
Oh, Peltry — and oh, Jack — and oh, that road back to Stamford! I am so stiff that I can’t sit upright, and everybody is cross to me, and everything is uncomfortable. What horrible things women are! There isn’t one here, not even old Lady Rumpus, who hasn’t an unmarried daughter left in the world, who isn’t jealous of me, because — because —. I must leave you to guess why they all hate me so! And I’m sure if you had given Jack to any other woman I should hate her, though you may give every horse you have to any man that you please. I wonder whether I shall have another day’s hunting before it is all over. I suppose not. It was almost by a miracle that we managed yesterday — only fancy — yesterday! It seems to be an age ago!
Pray, pray, pray write to me at once — to the Connop Greens, so that I may get a nice, soft, pleasant word directly I get among those nasty, hard, unpleasant people. They have lots of money, and plenty of furniture, and I dare say the best things to eat and drink in the world — but nothing else. There will be no Jack; and if there were, alas, alas, no one to show me the way to ride him.
I start to-morrow, and as far as I understand, shall have to make my way into Hampshire all by myself, with only such security as my maid can give me. I shall make her go in the same carriage and shall have the gratification of looking at her all the way. I suppose I ought not to say that I will shut my eyes and try to think that somebody else is there.
Good-bye dear, dear, dear R. I shall be dying for a letter from you. Yours ever with all my heart. A.
P.S. I shall write you such a serious epistle when I get to the Greens.
This was not such a letter as she thought that her aunt would approve; but it was, she fancied, such as the Duchess would believe that she would write to her lover. And if it were allowed to go on its way it would make Lord Rufford feel that she was neither alarmed nor displeased by the suddenness of his departure. But it was not expected to do much good. It might produce some short, joking, half-affectionate reply, but would not draw from him that serious word which was so necessary for the success of her scheme. Therefore she had told him that she intended to prepare a serious missile. Should this pleasant little message of love miscarry, the serious missile would still be sent, and the miscarriage would occasion no harm.
But then further plans were necessary. It might be that Lord Rufford would take no notice of the serious missile — which she thought very probable. Or it might be that he would send back a serious reply, in which he would calmly explain to her that she had unfortunately mistaken his sentiments; — which she believed would be a stretch of manhood beyond his reach. But in either case she would be prepared with the course which she would follow. In the first she would begin by forcing her father to write to him a letter which she herself would dictate. In the second she would set the whole family at him as far as the family were within her reach. With her cousin Lord Mistletoe, who was only two years older than herself, she had always held pleasant relations. They had been children together, and as they had grown up the young Lord had liked his pretty cousin. Latterly they had seen each other but rarely, and therefore the feeling still remained. She would tell Lord Mistletoe her whole story — that is the story as she would please to tell it — and implore his aid. Her father should be driven to demand from Lord Rufford an execution of his alleged promises. She herself would write such a letter to the Duke as an uncle should be unable not to notice. She would move heaven and earth as to her wrongs. She thought that if her friends would stick to her, Lord Rufford would be weak as water in their hands. But it must be all done immediately — so that if everything failed she might be ready to start to Patagonia some time in April. When she looked back and remembered that it was hardly more than two months since she had been taken to Rufford Hall by Mr. Morton she could not accuse herself of having lost any time.
In London she met her mother — as to which meeting there had been some doubt — and underwent the tortures of a close examination. She had thought it prudent on this occasion to tell her mother something, but not to tell anything quite truly. “He has proposed to me,” she said.
“He has!” said Lady Augustus, holding up her hands almost in awe.
“Is there anything so wonderful in that?”
“Then it is all arranged. Does the Duke know it?”
“It is not all arranged by any means, and the Duke does know it. Now, mamma, after that I must decline to answer any more questions. I have done this all myself, and I mean to continue it in the same way.”
“Did he speak to the Duke? You will tell me that.”
“I will tell you nothing.”
“You will drive me mad, Arabella.”
“That will be better than your driving me mad just at present. You ought to feel that I have a great deal to think of.”
“And have not I?”
“You can’t help me; — not at present.”
“But he did propose — in absolute words?”
“Mamma, what a goose you are! Do you suppose that men do it all now just as it is done in books? ‘Miss Arabella Trefoil, will you do me the honour to become my wife?’ Do you think that Lord Rufford would ask the question in that way?”
“It is a very good way.”
“Any way is a good way that answers the purpose. He has proposed, and I mean to make him stick to it”
“You doubt then?”
“Mamma, you are so silly! Do you not know what such a man is well enough to be sure that he’ll change his mind half-a-dozen times if he can? I don’t mean to let him; and now, after that, I won’t say another word.”
“I have got a letter here from Mr. Short saying that something must be fixed about Mr. Morton.” Mr. Short was the lawyer who had been instructed to prepare the settlements.
“Mr. Short may do whatever he likes,” said Arabella. There were very hot words between them that night in London, but the mother could obtain no further information from her daughter.
That serious epistle had been commenced even before Arabella had left Mistletoe; but the composition was one which required great care, and it was not completed and copied and recopied till she had been two days in Hampshire. Not even when it was finished did she say a word to her mother about it. She had doubted much as to the phrases which in such an emergency she ought to use, but she thought it safer to trust to herself than to her mother. In writing such a letter as that posted at Mistletoe she believed herself to be happy. She could write it quickly, and understood that she could convey to her correspondent some sense of her assumed mood. But her serious letter would, she feared, be stiff and repulsive. Whether her fears were right the reader shall judge — for the letter when written was as follows:
Marygold Place, Basingstoke, Saturday.
My Dear Lord Rufford,
You will I suppose have got the letter that I wrote before I left Mistletoe, and which I directed to Mr. Surbiton’s. There was not much in it — except a word or two as to your going and as to my desolation, and just a reminiscence of the hunting. There was no reproach that you should have left me without any farewell, or that you should have gone so suddenly, after saying so much, without saying more. I wanted you to feel that you had made me very happy, and not to feel that your departure in such a way had robbed me of part of the happiness.
It was a little bad of you, because it did of course leave me to the hardness of my aunt; and because all the other women there would of course follow her. She had inquired about our journey home, that dear journey home, and I had of course told her — well I had better say it out at once; I told her that we were engaged. You, I am sure, will think that the truth was best. She wanted to know why you did not go to the Duke. I told her that the Duke was not my father; but that as far as I was concerned the Duke might speak to you or not as he pleased. I had nothing to conceal. I am very glad he did not, because he is pompous, and you would have been bored. If there is one thing I desire more than another it is that nothing belonging to me shall ever be a bore to you. I hope I may never stand in the way of anything that will gratify you — as I said when you lit that cigar. You will have forgotten, I dare say. But, dear Rufford — dearest; I may say that, mayn’t I? — say something, or do something to make me satisfied. You know what I mean; — don’t you? It isn’t that I am a bit afraid myself. I don’t think so little of myself, or so badly of you. But I don’t like other women to look at me as though I ought not to be proud of anything. I am proud of everything; particularly proud of you — and of Jack.
Now there is my serious epistle, and I am sure that you will answer it like a dear, good, kind-hearted, loving-lover. I won’t be afraid of writing the word, nor of saying that I love you with all my heart, and that I am always your own
She kept the letter till the Sunday, thinking that she might have an answer to that written from Mistletoe, and that his reply might alter its tone, or induce her to put it aside altogether; but when on Sunday morning none came, her own was sent. The word in it which frightened herself was the word “engaged.” She tried various other phrases, but declared to herself at last that it was useless to “beat about the bush.” He must know the light in which she was pleased to regard those passages of love which she had permitted so that there might be no mistake. Whether the letter would be to his liking or not, it must be of such a nature that it would certainly draw from him an answer on which she could act. She herself did not like the letter; but, considering her difficulties, we may own that it was not much amiss.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01