Lady Augustus as she was driven back to Orchard Street and as she remained alone during the rest of that day and the next in London, became a little afraid of what she had done. She began to think how she should communicate her tidings to her daughter, and thinking of it grew to be nervous and ill at ease. How would it be with her should Arabella still cling to the hope of marrying the lord? That any such hope would be altogether illusory Lady Augustus was now sure. She had been quite certain that there was no ground for such hope when she had spoken to the man of her own poverty. She was almost certain that there had never been an offer of marriage made. In the first place Lord Rufford’s word went further with her than Arabella’s — and then his story had been consistent and probable, whereas hers had been inconsistent and improbable. At any rate ropes and horses would not bring Lord Rufford to the hymeneal altar. That being so was it not natural that she should then have considered what result would be next best to a marriage? She was very poor, having saved only some few hundreds a year from the wreck of her own fortune. Independently of her daughter had nothing. And in spite of this poverty Arabella was very extravagant, running up bills for finery without remorse wherever credit could be found, and excusing herself by saying that on this or that occasion such expenditure was justified by the matrimonial prospects which it opened out to her. And now, of late, Arabella had been talking of living separately from her mother. Lady Augustus, who was thoroughly tired of her daughter’s company, was not at all averse to such a scheme; but any such scheme was impracticable without money. By a happy accident the money would now be forthcoming. There would be 400 pounds a year for ever and nobody would know whence it came. She was confident that they might trust to the lord’s honour for secrecy. As far as her own opinion went the result of the transaction would be most happy. But still she feared Arabella. She felt that she would not know how to tell her story when she got back to Marygold Place. “My dear, he won’t marry you; but he is to give you 8,000 pounds.” That was what she would have to say, but she doubted her own courage to put her story into words so curt and explanatory. Even at thirty 400 pounds a year has not the charms which accompany it to eyes which have seen sixty years. She remained in town that night and the next day, and went down by train to Basingstoke on the following morning with her heart not altogether free from trepidation.
Lord Rufford, the very moment that the interview was over, started off to his lawyer. Considering how very little had been given to him the sum he was to pay was prodigious. In his desire to get rid of the bore of these appeals, he had allowed himself to be foolishly generous. He certainly never would kiss a young lady in a carriage again — nor even lend a horse to a young lady till he was better acquainted with her ambition and character. But the word had gone from him and he must be as good as his word. The girl must have her 8,000 pounds and must have it instantly. He would put the matter into such a position that if any more interviews were suggested, he might with perfect safety refer the suggester back to Miss Trefoil. There was to be secrecy, and he would be secret as the grave. But in such matters one’s lawyer is the grave. He had proposed that two lawyers should arrange it. Objection had been made to this, because Lady Augustus had no lawyer ready; — but on his side some one must be employed. So he went to his own solicitor and begged that the thing might be done quite at once. He was very definite in his instructions, and would listen to no doubts. Would the lawyer write to Miss Trefoil on that very day; — or rather not on that very day but the next. As he suggested this he thought it well that Lady Augustus should have an opportunity of explaining the transaction to her daughter before the lawyer’s letter should be received. He had, he said, his own reason for such haste. Consequently the lawyer did prepare the letter to Miss Trefoil at once, drafting it in his noble client’s presence. In what way should the money be disposed so as best to suit her convenience? The letter was very short with an intimation that Lady Augustus would no doubt have explained the details of the arrangement.
When Lady Augustus reached Marygold the family were at lunch, and as strangers were present nothing was said as to the great mission. The mother had already bethought herself how she must tell this and that lie to the Connop Greens, explaining that Lord Rufford had confessed his iniquity but had disclosed that, for certain mysterious reasons, he could not marry Arabella — though he loved her better than all the world. Arabella asked some questions about her mother’s shopping and general business in town, and did not leave the room till she could do so without the slightest appearance of anxiety. Mrs. Connop Green marvelled at her coolness knowing how much must depend on the answer which her mother had brought back from London, and knowing nothing of the contents of the letter which Arabella had received that morning from the lawyer. In a moment or two Lady Augustus followed her daughter upstairs, and on going into her own room found the damsel standing in the middle of it with an open paper in her hand. “Mamma,” she said, “shut the door.” Then the door was closed. “What is the meaning of this?” and she held out the lawyer’s letter.
“The meaning of what?” said Lady Augustus, trembling.
“I have no doubt you know, but you had better read it”
Lady Augustus read the letter and attempted to smile. “He has been very quick,” she said. “I thought I should have been the first to tell you.”
“What is the meaning of it? Why is the man to give me all that money?”
“Is it not a good escape from so great a trouble? Think what 8,000 pounds will do. It will enable you to live in comfort wherever you may please to go.”
“I am to understand then you have sold me — sold all my hopes and my very name and character, for 8,000 pounds!”
“Your name and character will not be touched, my dear. As for his marrying you I soon found that that was absolutely out of the question.”
“This is what has come of sending you to see him! Of course I shall tell my uncle everything.”
“You will do no such thing. Arabella, do not make a fool of yourself. Do you know what 8,000 pounds will do for you? It is to be your own — absolutely beyond my reach or your father’s.”
“I would sooner go into the Thames off Waterloo Bridge than touch a farthing of his money,” said Arabella with a spirit which the other woman did not at all understand. Hitherto in all these little dirty ways they had run with equal steps. The pretences, the subterfuges, the lies of the one had always been open to the other. Arabella, earnest in supplying herself with gloves from the pockets of her male acquaintances, had endured her mother’s tricks with complacency. She had condescended when living in humble lodgings to date her letters from a well-known hotel, and had not feared to declare that she had done so in their family conversations. Together they had fished in turbid waters for marital nibbles and had told mutual falsehoods to unbelieving tradesmen. And yet the younger woman, when tempted with a bribe worth lies and tricks as deep and as black as Acheron, now stood on her dignity and her purity and stamped her foot with honest indignation!
“I don’t think you can understand it,” said Lady Augustus.
“I can understand this — that you have betrayed me; and that I shall tell him so in the plainest words that I can use. To get his lawyer to write and offer me money!”
“He should not have gone to his lawyer. I do think he was wrong there.”
“But you settled it with him; you, my mother; — a price at which he should buy himself off! Would he have offered me money if he did not know that he had bound himself to me?”
“Nothing on earth would make him marry you. I would not for a moment have allowed him to allude to money if that had not been quite certain.”
“Who proposed the money first?”
Lady Augustus considered a moment before she answered. “Upon my word, my dear, I can’t say. He wrote the figures on a bit of paper; that was the way.” Then she produced the scrap. “He wrote the figures first — and then I altered them, just as you see. The proposition came first from him, of course.”
“And you did not spit at him!” She tore the scrap into fragments.
“Arabella,” said the mother, “it is clear that you do not look into the future. How do you mean to live? You are getting old.”
“Yes, my love — old. Of course I am willing to do everything for you, as I always have done — for so many years, but there isn’t a man in London who does not know how long you have been about it.”
“Hold your tongue, mamma” said Arabella jumping up.
“That is all very well, but the truth has to be spoken. You and I cannot go on as we have been doing.”
“Certainly not. I would sooner be in a work-house.”
“And here there is provided for you an income on which you can live. Not a soul will know anything about it. Even your own father need not be told. As for the lawyer, that is nothing. They never talk of things. It would make a man comparatively poor quite a fit match. Or, if you do not marry, it would enable you to live where you pleased independently of me. You had better think twice of it before you refuse it.”
“I will not think of it at all. As sure as I am living here I will write to Rufford this very evening and tell him in what light I regard both him and you.”
“And what will you do then?”
“That is all very well, Arabella, but hanging yourself and jumping off Waterloo Bridge do not mean anything. You must live, and you must pay your debts” I can’t pay them for you. You go into your own room, and think of it all, and be thankful for what Providence has sent you.”
“You may as well understand that I am in earnest,” the daughter said as she left the room. “I shall write to Lord Rufford to-day and tell him what I think of him and his money. You need not trouble yourself as to what shall be done with it; for I certainly shall not take it.”
And she did write to Lord Rufford as follows:
I have been much astonished by a letter I have received from a gentleman in London, Mr. Shaw, who I presume is your lawyer. When I received it I had not as yet seen mamma. I now understand that you and she between you have determined that I should be compensated by a sum of money for the injury you have done me! I scorn your money. I cannot think where you found the audacity to make such a proposal, or how you have taught yourself to imagine that I should listen to it. As to mamma, she was not commissioned to act for me, and I have nothing to do with anything she may have said. I can hardly believe that she should have agreed to such a proposal. It was very little like a gentleman in you to offer it.
Why did you offer it? You would not have proposed to give me a large sum of money like that without some reason. I have been shocked to hear that you have denied that you ever engaged yourself to me. You know that you were engaged to me. It would have been more honest and more manly if you had declared at once that you repented of your engagement. But the truth is that till I see you myself and hear what you have to say out of your own mouth I cannot believe what other people tell me. I must ask you to name some place where we can meet. As for this offer of money, it goes for nothing. You must have known that I would not take it.
It was now just the end of February, and the visit of the Trefoil ladies to the Connop Greens had to come to an end. They had already overstaid the time at first arranged, and Lady Augustus, when she hinted that another week at Marygold — “just till this painful affair was finally settled,”— would be beneficial to her, was informed that the Connop Greens themselves were about to leave home. Lady Augustus had reported to Mrs. Connop Green that Lord Rufford was behaving very badly, but that the matter was still in a “transition state.” Mrs. Connop Green was very sorry, but —. So Lady Augustus and Arabella betook themselves to Orchard Street, being at that moment unable to enter in upon better quarters.
What a home it was — and what a journey up to town! Arabella had told her mother that the letter to Lord Rufford had been written and posted, and since that hardly a word had passed between them. When they left Marygold in the Connop Green carriage they smiled, and shook hands, and kissed their friends in unison, and then sank back into silence. At the station they walked up and down the platform together for the sake of appearance, but did not speak. In the train there were others with them and they both feigned to be asleep. Then they were driven to their lodgings in a cab, still speechless. It was the mother who first saw that the horror of this if continued would be too great to be endured. “Arabella,” she said in a hoarse voice, “why don’t you speak?”
“Because I’ve got nothing to say.”
“That’s nonsense. There is always something to say.”
“You have ruined me, mamma; just ruined me.”
“I did for you the very best I could. If you would have been advised by me, instead of being ruined, you would have had a handsome fortune. I have slaved for you for the last twelve years. No mother ever sacrificed herself for her child more than I have done for you, and now see the return I get. I sometimes think that it will kill me.”
“Everything I say is nonsense — while you tell me one day that you are going to hang yourself, and another day that you will drown yourself.”
“So I would if I dared. What is it that you have brought me to? Who will have me in their houses when they hear that you consented to take Lord Rufford’s money?”
“Nobody will hear it unless you tell them.”
“I shall tell my uncle and my aunt and Mistletoe, in order that they may know how it is that Lord Rufford has been allowed to escape. I say that you have ruined me. If it had not been for your vulgar bargain with him, he must have been brought to keep his word at last. Oh, that he should have ever thought it was possible that I was to be bought off for a sum of money!”
Later on in the evening the mother again implored her daughter to speak to her. “What’s the use, mamma, when you know what we think of each other. What’s the good of pretending? There is nobody here to hear us.” Later on still she herself began. “I don’t know how much you’ve got, mamma; but whatever it is, we’d better divide it. After what you did in Piccadilly we shall never get on together again.”
“There is not enough to divide,” said Lady Augustus.
“If I had not you to go about with me I could get taken in pretty nearly all the year round.”
“Who’d take you?”
“Leave that to me. I would manage it, and you could join with some other old person.”
“We shall kill each other if we stay like this,” said Arabella as she took up her candle.
“You have pretty nearly killed me as it is,” said the old woman as the other shut the door.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01