It may be a question whether Lord Augustus Trefoil or Lord Rufford looked forward to the interview which was to take place at the Duke’s mansion with the greater dismay. The unfortunate father whose only principle in life had been that of avoiding trouble would have rather that his daughter should have been jilted a score of times than that he should have been called upon to interfere once. There was in this demand upon him a breach of a silent but well-understood compact. His wife and daughter had been allowed to do just what they pleased and to be free of his authority, upon an understanding that they were never to give him any trouble. She might have married Lord Rufford, or Mr. Morton, or any other man she might have succeeded in catching, and he would not have troubled her either before or after her marriage. But it was not fair that he should be called upon to interfere in her failures. And what was he to say to this young lord? Being fat and old and plethoric he could not be expected to use a stick and thrash the young lord. Pistols were gone — a remembrance of which fact perhaps afforded some consolation. Nobody now need be afraid of anybody, and the young lord would not be afraid of him. Arabella declared that there had been an engagement. The young lord would of course declare that there had been none. Upon the whole he was inclined to believe it most probable that his daughter was lying. He did not think it likely that Lord Rufford should have been such a fool. As for taking Lord Rufford by the back of his neck and shaking him into matrimony, he knew that that would be altogether out of his power. And then the hour was so wretchedly early. It was that little fool Mistletoe who had named ten o’clock — a fellow who took Parliamentary papers to bed with him, and had a blue book brought to him every morning at half-past seven with a cup of tea. By ten o’clock Lord Augustus would not have had time to take his first glass of soda and brandy preparatory to the labour of getting into his clothes. But he was afraid of his wife and daughter, and absolutely did get into a cab at the door of his lodgings in Duke Street, St. James’, precisely at a quarter past ten. As the Duke’s house was close to the corner of Clarges Street the journey he had to make was not long.
Lord Rufford would not have agreed to the interview but that it was forced upon him by his brother-in-law. “What good can it do?” Lord Rufford had asked. But his brother-in-law had held that that was a question to be answered by the other side. In such a position Sir George thought that he was bound to concede as much as this — in fact to concede almost anything short of marriage. “He can’t do the girl any good by talking,” Lord Rufford had said. Sir George assented to this, but nevertheless thought that any friend deputed by her should be allowed to talk, at any rate once. “I don’t know what he’ll say. Do you think he’ll bring a big stick?” Sir George who knew Lord Augustus did not imagine that a stick would be brought. “I couldn’t hit him, you know. He’s so fat that a blow would kill him.” Lord Rufford wanted his brother-in-law to go with him; but Sir George assured him that this was impossible. It was a great bore. He had to go up to London all alone — in February, when the weather was quite open and hunting was nearly coming to an end. And for what? Was it likely that such a man as Lord Augustus should succeed in talking him into marrying any girl? Nevertheless he went, prepared to be very civil, full of sorrow at the misunderstanding, but strong in his determination not to yield an inch. He arrived at the mansion precisely at ten o’clock and was at once shown into a back room on the ground floor. He saw no one but a very demure old servant who seemed to look upon him as one who was sinning against the Trefoil family in general, and who shut the door upon him, leaving him as it were in prison. He was so accustomed to be the absolute master of his own minutes and hours that he chafed greatly as he walked up and down the room for what seemed to him the greater part of a day. He looked repeatedly at his watch, and at half-past ten declared to himself that if that fat old fool did not come within two minutes he would make his escape.
“The fat old fool” when he reached the house asked for his nephew and endeavoured to persuade Lord Mistletoe to go with him to the interview. But Lord Mistletoe was as firm in refusing as had been Sir George Penwether. “You are quite wrong,” said the young man with well-informed sententious gravity. “I could do nothing to help you. You are Arabella’s father and no one can plead her cause but yourself.” Lord Augustus dropped his eyebrows over his eyes as this was said. They who knew him well and had seen the same thing done when his partner would not answer his call at whist or had led up to his discard were aware that the motion was tantamount to a very strong expression of disgust. He did not, however, argue the matter any further, but allowed himself to be led away slowly by the same solemn servant. Lord Rufford had taken up his hat preparatory to his departure when Lord Augustus was announced just five minutes after the half hour.
When the elder man entered the room the younger one put down his hat and bowed. Lord Augustus also bowed and then stood for a few moments silent with his fat hands extended on the round table in the middle of the room. “This is a very disagreeable kind of thing, my Lord,” he said.
“Very disagreeable, and one that I lament above all things,” answered Lord Rufford:
“That’s all very well; — very well indeed; — but, damme, what’s the meaning of it all? That’s what I want to ask. What’s the meaning of it all?” Then he paused as though he had completed the first part of his business — and might now wait awhile till the necessary explanation had been given. But Lord Rufford did not seem disposed to give any immediate answer. He shrugged his shoulders, and, taking up his hat, passed his hand once or twice round the nap. Lord Augustus opened his eyes very wide as he waited and looked at the other man; but it seemed that the other man had nothing to say for himself. “You don’t mean to tell me, I suppose, that what my daughter says isn’t true.”
“Some unfortunate mistake, Lord Augustus; — most unfortunate.”
“Mistake be —.” He stopped himself before the sentence was completed, remembering that such an interview should be conducted on the part of him, as father, with something of dignity. “I don’t understand anything about mistakes. Ladies don’t make mistakes of that kind. I won’t hear of mistakes.” Lord Rufford again shrugged his shoulders. “You have engaged my daughter’s affections.”
“I have the greatest regard for Miss Trefoil.”
“Regard be —.” Then again he remembered himself. “Lord Rufford, you’ve got to marry her. That’s the long and the short of it”
“I’m sure I ought to be proud.”
“So you ought”
“I don’t know the meaning of but, my Lord. I want to know what you mean to do.”
“Marriage isn’t in my line at all”
“Then what the d — business have you to go about and talk to a girl like that? Marriage not in your line? Who cares for your line? I never heard such impudence in all my life. You get yourself engaged to a young lady of high rank and position and then you say that — marriage isn’t in your line.” Upon that he opened his eyes still wider, and glared upon the offender wrathfully.
“I can’t admit that I was ever engaged to Miss Trefoil.”
“Didn’t you make love to her?”
The poor victim paused a moment before he answered this question, thereby confessing his guilt before he denied it. “No, my Lord; I don’t think I ever did.”
“You don’t think! You don’t know whether you asked my daughter to marry you or not! You don’t think you made love to her!”
“I am sure I didn’t ask her to marry me.”
“I am sure you did. And now what have you got to say?” Here there was another shrug of the shoulders. “I suppose you think because you are a rich man that you may do whatever you please. But you’ll have to learn the difference. You must be exposed, Sir.”
“I hope for the lady’s sake that as little as possible may be said of it.”
“D— the —!” Lord Augustus in his assumed wrath was about to be very severe on his daughter, but he checked himself again. “I’m not going to stop here talking all day,” he said. “I want to hear your explanation and then I shall know how to act.” Up to this time he had been standing, which was unusual with him. Now he flung himself into an armchair.
“Really, Lord Augustus, I don’t know what I’ve got to say. I admire your daughter exceedingly. I was very much honoured when she and her mother came to my house at Rufford. I was delighted to be able to show her a little sport. It gave me the greatest satisfaction when I met her again at your brother’s house. Coming home from hunting we happened to be thrown together. It’s a kind of thing that will occur, you know. The Duchess seemed to think a great deal of it; but what can one do? We could have had two post chaises, of course — only one doesn’t generally send a young lady alone. She was very tired and fainted with the fatigue. That I think is about all.”
“But — damme, Sir, what did you say to her?” Lord Rufford again rubbed the nap of his hat. “What did you say to her first of all, at your own house?”
“A poor fellow was killed out hunting and everybody was talking about that. Your daughter saw it herself.”
“Excuse me, Lord Rufford, if I say that that’s what we used to call shuffling, at school. Because a man broke his neck out hunting —”
“It was a kick on the head, Lord Augustus.”
“I don’t care where he was kicked. What has that to do with your asking my daughter to be your wife?”
“But I didn’t”
“I say you did — over and over again.” Here Lord Augustus got out of his chair, and made a little attempt to reach the recreant lover; — but he failed and fell back again into his armchair. “It was first at Rufford, and then you made an appointment to meet her at Mistletoe. How do you explain that?”
“Miss Trefoil is very fond of hunting.”
“I don’t believe she ever went out hunting in her life before she saw you. You mounted her — and gave her a horse — and took her out — and brought her home. Everybody at Mistletoe knew all about it. My brother and the Duchess were told of it. It was one of those things that are plain to everybody as the nose on your face. What did you say to her when you were coming home in that post chaise?”
“She was fainting.”
“What has that to do with it? I don’t care whether she fainted or not. I don’t believe she fainted at all. When she got into that carriage she was engaged to you, and when she got out of it she was engaged ever so much more. The Duchess knew all about it. Now what have you got to say?” Lord Rufford felt that he had nothing to say. “I insist upon having an answer.”
“It’s one of the most unfortunate mistakes that ever were made.”
“By G—!” exclaimed Lord Augustus, turning his eyes up against the wall, and appealing to some dark ancestor who hung there. “I never heard of such a thing in all my life; never!”
“I suppose I might as well go now,” said Lord Rufford after a pause.
“You may go to the D — Sir — for the present” Then Lord Rufford took his departure leaving the injured parent panting with his exertions. As Lord Rufford went away he felt that that difficulty had been overcome with much more ease than he had expected. He hardly knew what it was that he had dreaded, but he had feared something much worse than that. Had an appeal been made to his affections he would hardly have known how to answer. He remembered well that he had assured the lady that he loved her, and had a direct question been asked him on that subject he would not have lied. He must have confessed that such a declaration had been made by him. But he had escaped that. He was quite sure that he had never uttered a hint in regard to marriage, and he came away from the Duke’s house almost with an assurance that he had done nothing that was worthy of much blame.
Lord Augustus looked at his watch, rang the bell, and ordered a cab. He must now go and see his daughter, and then he would have done with the matter — for ever. But as he was passing through the hall his nephew caught hold of him and took him back into the room. “What does he say for himself?” asked Lord Mistletoe.
“I don’t know what he says. Of course he swears that he never spoke a word to her.”
“My mother saw him paying her the closest attention.”
“How can I help that? What can I do? Why didn’t your mother pin him then and there? Women can always do that kind of thing if they choose.”
“It is all over, then?”
“I can’t make a man marry if he won’t. He ought to be thrashed within an inch of his life. But if one does that kind of thing the police are down upon one. All the same, I think the Duchess might have managed it if she had chosen.” After that he went to the lodgings in Orchard Street, and there repeated his story. “I have done all I can,” he said, “and I don’t mean to interfere any further. Arabella should know how to manage her own affairs.”
“And you don’t mean to punish him?” asked the mother.
“Punish him! How am I to punish him? If I were to throw a decanter at his head, what good would that do?”
“And you mean to say that she must put up with it?” Arabella was sitting by as these questions were asked.
“He says that he never said a word to her. Whom am I to believe?”
“You did believe him, papa?”
“Who said so, Miss? But I don’t see why his word isn’t as good as yours. There was nobody to hear it, I suppose. Why didn’t you get it in writing, or make your uncle fix him at once? If you mismanage your own affairs I can’t put them right for you.”
“Thank you, papa. I am so much obliged to you. You come back and tell me that every word he says is to be taken for gospel, and that you don’t believe a word I have spoken. That is so kind of you! I suppose he and you will be the best friends in the world now. But I don’t mean to let him off in that way. As you won’t help me, I must help myself.”
“What did you expect me to do?”
“Never to leave him till you had forced him to keep his word. I should have thought that you would have taken him by the throat in such a cause. Any other father would have done so.”
“You are an impudent, wicked girl, and I don’t believe he was ever engaged to you at all,” said Lord Augustus as he took his leave.
“Now you have made your father your enemy,” said the mother.
“Everybody is my enemy,” said Arabella. “There are no such things as love and friendship. Papa pretends that he does not believe me, just because he wants to shirk the trouble. I suppose you’ll say you don’t believe me next.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14