The reader will have been aware that Arabella Trefoil was not a favourite at Mistletoe. She was so much disliked by the Duchess that there had almost been words about her between her Grace and the Duke since her departure. The Duchess always submitted, and it was the rule of her life to submit with so good a grace that her husband, never fearing rebellion, should never be driven to assume the tyrant. But on this occasion the Duke had objected to the term “thoroughly bad girl” which had been applied by his wife to his niece. He had said that “thoroughly bad girl” was strong language, and when the Duchess defended the phrase he had expressed his opinion that Arabella was only a bad girl and not a thoroughly bad girl. The Duchess had said that it was the same thing. “Then,” said the Duke, “why use a redundant expletive against your own relative?” The Duchess, when she was accused of strong language, had not minded it much; but her feelings were hurt when a redundant expletive was attributed to her. The effect of all this had been that the Duke in a mild way had taken up Arabella’s part, and that the Duchess, following her husband at last, had been brought round to own that Arabella, though bad, had been badly treated. She had disbelieved, and then believed, and had again disbelieved Arabella’s own statement as to the offer of marriage. But the girl had certainly been in earnest when she had begged her aunt to ask her uncle to speak to Lord Rufford. Surely when she did she must have thought that an offer had been made to her. Such offer, if made, had no doubt been produced by very hard pressure; but still an offer of marriage is an offer, and a girl, if she can obtain it, has a right to use such an offer as so much property. Then came Lord Mistletoe’s report after his meeting with Arabella up in London. He had been unable to give his cousin any satisfaction, but he was clearly of opinion that she had been ill-used. He did not venture to suggest any steps, but did think that Lord Rufford was bound as a gentleman to marry the young lady. After that Lord Augustus saw her mother up in town and said that it was a d — shame. He in truth had believed nothing and would have been delighted to allow the matter to drop. But as this was not permitted, he thought easier to take his daughter’s part than to encounter family enmity by entering the lists against her. So it came to pass that down at Mistletoe there grew an opinion that Lord Rufford ought to marry Arabella Trefoil.
But what should be done? The Duke was alive to the feeling that as the girl was certainly his niece and as she was not to be regarded as a thoroughly bad girl, some assistance was due to her from the family. Lord Mistletoe volunteered to write to Lord Rufford; Lord Augustus thought that his brother should have a personal interview with his young brother peer and bring his strawberry leaves to bear. The Duke himself suggested that the Duchess should see Lady Penwether — a scheme to which her Grace objected strongly, knowing something of Lady Penwether and being sure that her strawberry leaves would have no effect whatever on the baronet’s wife. At last it was decided that a family meeting should be held, and Lord Augustus was absolutely summoned to meet Lord Mistletoe at the paternal mansion.
It was now some years since Lord Augustus had been at Mistletoe. As he had never been separated — that is formally separated — from his wife he and she had been always invited there together. Year after year she had accepted the invitation — and it had been declined on his behalf, because it did not suit him and his wife to meet each other. But now he was obliged to go there, just at the time of the year when whist at his club was most attractive. To meet the convenience of Lord Mistletoe — and the House of Commons — a Saturday afternoon was named for the conference, which made it worse for Lord Augustus as he was one of a little party which had private gatherings for whist on Sunday afternoons. But he went to the conference, travelling down by the same train with his nephew; but not in the same compartment, as he solaced with tobacco the time which Lord Mistletoe devoted to parliamentary erudition.
The four met in her Grace’s boudoir, and the Duke began by declaring that all this was very sad. Lord Augustus shook his head and put his hands in his trousers pockets — which was as much as to say that his feelings as a British parent were almost too strong for him. “Your mother and I think, that something ought to be done,” said the Duke turning to his son.
“Something ought to be done,” said Lord Mistletoe.
“They won’t let a fellow go out with a fellow now,” said Lord Augustus.
“Heaven forbid!” said the Duchess, raising both her hands.
“I was thinking, Mistletoe, that your mother might have met Lady Penwether.”
“What could I do with Lady Penwether, Duke? Or what could she do with him? A man won’t care for what his sister says to him. And I don’t suppose she’d undertake to speak to Lord Rufford on the subject”
“Lady Penwether is an honourable and an accomplished woman.”
“I dare say; — though she gives herself abominable airs.”
“Of course, if you don’t like it, my dear, it shan’t be pressed.”
“I thought, perhaps, you’d see him yourself,” said Lord Augustus, turning to his brother. “You’d carry more weight than anybody.”
“Of course I will if it be necessary; but it would be disagreeable — very disagreeable. The appeal should be made to his feelings, and that I think would better come through female influence. As far as I know the world a man is always more prone to be led in such matters by a woman than by another man.”
“If you mean me,” said the Duchess, “I don’t think I could see him. Of course, Augustus, I don’t wish to say anything hard of Arabella. The fact that we have all met here to take her part will prove that, I think. But I didn’t quite approve of all that was done here.”
Lord Augustus stroked his beard and looked out of the window. “I don’t think, my dear, we need go into that just now,” said the Duke.
“Not at all,” said the Duchess, “and I don’t intend to say a word. Only if I were to meet Lord Rufford he might refer to things which — which — which —. In point of fact I had rather not”
“I might see him,” suggested Lord Mistletoe.
“No doubt that might be done with advantage,” said the Duke.
“Only that, as he is my senior in age, what I might say to him would lack that weight which any observations which might be made on such a matter should carry with them.”
“He didn’t care a straw for me,” said Lord Augustus.
“And then,” continued Lord Mistletoe, “I so completely agree with what my father says as to the advantage of female influence! With a man of Lord Rufford’s temperament female influence is everything. If my aunt were to try it?” Lord Augustus blew the breath out of his mouth and raised his eyebrows.
Knowing what he did of his wife, or thinking that he knew what he did, he did not conceive it possible that a worse messenger should be chosen. He had known himself to be a very bad one, but he did honestly believe her to be even less fitted for the task than he himself. But he said nothing — simply wishing that he had not left his whist for such a purpose as this.
“Perhaps Lady Augustus had better see him,” said the Duke. The Duchess, who did not love hypocrisy, would not actually assent to this, but she said nothing. “I suppose my sister-in-law would not object, Augustus?”
“G— Almighty only knows,” said the younger brother. The Duchess, grievously offended by the impropriety of this language, drew herself up haughtily.
“Perhaps you would not mind suggesting it to her, sir,” said Lord Mistletoe.
“I could do that by letter,” said the Duke.
“And when she has assented, as of course she will, then perhaps you wouldn’t mind writing a line to him to make an appointment. If you were to do so he could not refuse.” To this proposition the Duke returned no immediate answer; but looked at it round and round carefully. At last, however, he acceded to this also, and so the matter was arranged. All these influential members of the ducal family met together at the ducal mansion on Arabella’s behalf, and settled their difficulty by deputing the work of bearding the lion, of tying the bell on the cat, to an absent lady whom they all despised and disliked.
That afternoon the Duke, with the assistance of his son, who was a great writer of letters, prepared an epistle to his sister-in-law and another to Lord Rufford, which was to be sent as soon as Lady Augusta had agreed to the arrangement. In the former letter a good deal was said as to a mother’s solicitude for her daughter. It had been felt, the letter said, that no one could speak for a daughter so well as a mother; — that no other’s words would so surely reach the heart of a man who was not all evil but who was tempted by the surroundings of the world to do evil in this particular case. The letter began “My dear sister-in-law,” and ended “Your affectionate brother-in-law, Mayfair,” and was in fact the first letter that the Duke had ever written to his brother’s wife. The other letter was more difficult, but it was accomplished at last, and confined itself to a request that Lord Rufford would meet Lady Augustus Trefoil at a place and at a time, both of which were for the present left blank.
On the Monday Lord Augustus and Lord Mistletoe were driven to the station in the same carriage, and on this occasion the uncle said a few strong words to his nephew on the subject. Lord Augustus, though perhaps a coward in the presence of his brother, was not so with other members of the family. “It may be very well you know, but it’s all d — nonsense.”
“I’m sorry that you should think so, uncle.”
“What do you suppose her mother can do? — a thoroughly vulgar woman. I never could live with her. As far as I can see wherever she goes everybody hates her.”
“My dear uncle!”
“Rufford will only laugh at her. If Mayfair would have gone himself, it is just possible that he might have done something.”
“My father is so unwilling to mix himself up in these things.”
“Of course he is. Everybody knows that. What the deuce was the good then of our going down here? I couldn’t do anything, and I knew he wouldn’t. The truth is, Mistletoe, a man now-a-days may do just what he pleases. You ain’t in that line and it won’t do you any good knowing it, but since we did away with pistols everybody may do just what he likes.”
“I don’t like brute force,” said Lord Mistletoe. “You may call it what you please:— but I don’t know that it was so brutal after all.” At the station they separated again, as Lord Augustus was panting for tobacco and Lord Mistletoe for parliamentary erudition.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01