When Arabella Trefoil got back to Portugal Street after her visit to Rufford, she was ill. The effort she had made, the unaccustomed labour, and the necessity of holding herself aloft before the man who had rejected her, were together more than her strength could bear, and she was taken up to bed in a fainting condition. It was not till the next morning that she was able even to open the letter which contained the news of John Morton’s legacy. When she had read the letter and realized the contents, she took to weeping in a fashion very unlike her usual habits. She was still in bed, and there she remained for two or three days, during which she had time to think of her past life — and to think also a little of the future. Old Mrs. Green came to her once or twice a day, but she was necessarily left to the nursing of her own maid. Every evening Mounser Green called and sent up tender enquiries; but in all this there was very little to comfort her. There she lay with the letter in her hand, thinking that the only man who had endeavoured to be of service to her was he whom she had treated with unexampled perfidy. Other men had petted her, had amused themselves with her, and then thrown her over, had lied to her and laughed at her, till she had been taught to think that a man was a heartless, cruel, slippery animal, made indeed to be caught occasionally, but in the catching of which infinite skill was wanted, and in which infinite skill might be thrown away. But this man had been true to her to the last in spite of her treachery!
She knew that she was heartless herself, and that she belonged to a heartless world; — but she knew also that there was a world of women who were not heartless. Such women had looked down upon her as from a great height, but she in return had been able to ridicule them. They had chosen their part, and she had chosen hers — and had thought that she might climb to the glory of wealth and rank, while they would have to marry hard-working clergymen and briefless barristers. She had often been called upon to vindicate to herself the part she had chosen, and had always done so by magnifying in her own mind the sin of the men with whom she had to deal. At this moment she thought that Lord Rufford had treated her villainously, whereas her conduct to him had been only that which the necessity of the case required. To Lord Rufford she had simply behaved after the manner of her class, heartless of course, but only in the way which the “custom of the trade” justified. Each had tried to circumvent the other, and she as the weaker had gone to the wall. But John Morton had believed in her and loved her. Oh, how she wished that she had deserted her class, and clung to him — even though she should now have been his widow. The legacy was a burden to her. Even she had conscience enough to be sorry for a day or two that he had named her in his will.
And what would she do with herself for the future? Her quarrel with her mother had been very serious, each swearing that under no circumstances would she again consent to live with the other. The daughter of course knew that the mother would receive her again should she ask to be received. But in such case she must go back with shortened pinions and blunted beak. Her sojourn with Mrs. Green was to last for one month, and at the end of that time she must seek for a home. If she put John Morton’s legacy out to interest, she would now be mistress of a small income; — but she understood money well enough to know to what obduracy of poverty she would thus be subjected. As she looked the matter closer in the face the horrors became more startling and more manifest. Who would have her in their houses? Where should she find society — where the possibility of lovers? What would be her life, and what her prospects? Must she give up for ever the game for which she had lived, and own that she had been conquered in the fight and beaten even to death? Then she thought over the long list of her past lovers, trying to see whether there might be one of the least desirable at whom she might again cast her javelins. But there was not one.
The tender messages from Mounser Green came to her day by day. Mounser Green, as the nephew of her hostess, had been very kind to her; but hitherto he had never appeared to her in the light of a possible lover. He was a clerk in the Foreign Office, waiting for his aunt’s money; — a man whom she had met in society and whom she knew to be well thought of by those above him in wealth and rank; but she had never regarded him as prey — or as a man whom any girl would want to marry. He was one of those of the other sex who would most probably look out for prey, who, if he married at all, would marry an heiress. She, in her time, had been on good terms with many such a one — had counted them among her intimate friends, had made use of them and been useful to them — but she had never dreamed of marrying any one of them. They were there in society for altogether a different purpose. She had not hesitated to talk to Mounser Green about Lord Rufford — and though she had pretended to make a secret of the place to which she was going when he had taken her to the railway, she had not at all objected to his understanding her purpose. Up to that moment there had certainly been no thought on her part of transferring what she was wont to call her affections to Mounser Green as a suitor.
But as she lay in bed, thinking of her future life, tidings were brought to her by Mrs. Green that Mounser had accepted the mission to Patagonia. Could it be that her destiny intended her to go out to Patagonia as the wife, if not of one minister, then of another? There would be a career — a way of living, if not exactly that which she would have chosen. Of Patagonia, as a place of residence, she had already formed ideas. In some of those moments in which she had foreseen that Lord Rufford would be lost to her, she had told herself that it would be better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. Among Patagonian women she would probably be the first. Among English ladies it did not seem that at present she had prospect of a high place. It would be long before Lord Rufford would be for= gotten — and she had not space enough before her for forgettings which would require time for their accomplishment. Mounser Green had declared with energy that Lord Rufford had behaved very badly. There are men who feel it to be their mission to come in for the relief of ladies who have been badly treated. If Mounser Green wished to be one of them on her behalf, and to take her out with him to his very far-away employment, might not this be the best possible solution of her present difficulties?
On the evening of the third day after her return she was able to come down-stairs and the line of thought which has been suggested for her induced her to undertake some trouble with the white and pink robe, or dressing-gown in which she had appeared. “Well, my dear, you are smart,” the old lady said.
“‘Odious in woollen; —‘twould a saint provoke,
Were the last words which poor Narcissa spoke.’”
said Arabella, who had long since provided herself with this quotation for such occasions. “I hope I am not exactly dying, Mrs. Green; but I don’t see why I should not object to be ‘frightful,’— as well as the young lady who was.”
“I suppose it’s all done for Mounser’s benefit?”
“Partly for you, partly for Mounser, and a good deal for myself. What a very odd name. Why did they call him Mounser? I used to think it was because he was in the Foreign Office — a kind of chaff, as being half a Frenchman.”
“My mother’s maiden name was Mounser, and it isn’t French at all. I don’t see why it should not be as good a Christian name as Willoughby or Howard.”
“Quite as good, and much more distinctive. There can’t be another Mounser Green in the world.”
“And very few other young men like him. At my time of life I find it very hard his going away. And what will he do in such a place as that — all alone and without a wife?”
“Why don’t you make him take a wife?”
“There isn’t time now. He’ll have to start in May.”
“Plenty of time. Trousseaus are now got up by steam, and girls are kept ready to marry at the shortest notice. If I were you I should certainly advise him to take out some healthy young woman, capable of bearing the inclemencies of the Patagonian climate.”
“As for that the climate is delicious,” said Mrs. Green, who certainly was not led by her guest’s manner to suspect the nature of her guest’s more recent intentions.
Mounser Green on this afternoon came to Portugal Street before he himself went out to dinner, choosing the hour at which his aunt was wont to adorn herself. “And so you are to be the hero of Patagonia?” said Arabella as she put out her hand to congratulate him on his appointment.
“I don’t know about heroism, but it seems that I am to go there,” said Mounser with much melancholy in his voice.
“I should have thought you were the last man to leave London willingly.”
“Well, yes; I should have said so myself. And I do flatter myself I shall be missed. But what had I before me here? This may lead to something.”
“Indeed you will be missed, Mr. Green.”
“It’s very kind of you to say so.”
“Patagonia! It is such a long way off!” Then she began to consider whether he had ever heard of her engagement with the last Minister-elect to that country. That he should know all about Lord Rufford was a matter of course; but what chance could there be for her if he also knew that other affair?
“We were intimately acquainted with Mr. Morton in Washington and were surprised that he should have accepted it. Poor Morton. He was a friend of mine. We used to call him the Paragon because he never made mistakes. I had heard that you and Lady Augusta were a good deal with him in Washington.”
“We were, indeed. You do not know my good news as yet, I suppose. Your Paragon, as you call him, has left me five thousand pounds.” Of course it would be necessary that he should know it some day if this new plan of hers were to be carried out; — and if the plan should fail, his knowing it could do no harm.
“How very nice for you. Poor Morton!”
“It is well that somebody should behave well, when others treat one so badly, Mr. Green. Yes; he has left me five thousand pounds” Then she showed him the lawyer’s letter. “Perhaps as I am so separated at present from all my own people by this affair with Lord Rufford, you would not mind seeing the man for me.” Of course he promised to see the lawyer and to do everything that was necessary. “The truth is, Mr. Green, Mr. Morton was very warmly attached to me. I was a foolish girl, and could not return it. I thought of it long and was then obliged to tell him that I could not entertain just that sort of feeling for him. You cannot think now how bitter is my regret; — that I should have allowed myself to trust a man so false and treacherous as Lord Rufford, and that I should have perhaps added a pang to the deathbed of one so good as Mr. Morton.” And so she told her little story; — not caring very much whether it were believed or not, but finding it to be absolutely essential that some story should be told.
During the next day or two Mounser Green thought a great deal about it. That the story was not exactly true, he knew very well. But it is not to be expected that a girl before her marriage should be exactly true about her old loves. That she had been engaged to Lord Rufford and had been cruelly jilted by him he did believe. That she had at one time been engaged to the Paragon he was almost sure. The fact that the Paragon had left her money was a strong argument that she had not behaved badly to him. But there was much that was quite certain. The five thousand pounds were quite certain; and the money, though it could not be called a large fortune for a young lady, would pay his debts and send him out a free man to Patagonia. And the family honours were certainly true. She was the undoubted niece of the Duke of Mayfair, and such a connection might in his career be of service to him. Lord Mistletoe was a prig, but would probably be a member of the Government. Mounser Green liked Dukes, and loved a Duchess in his heart of hearts. If he could only be assured that this niece would not be repudiated he thought that the speculation might answer in spite of any ambiguity in the lady’s antecedents.
“Have you heard about Arabella’s good fortune?” young Glossop asked the next morning at the office.
“You forget, my boy,” said Mounser Green, “that the young lady of whom you speak is a friend of mine:’
“Oh lord! So I did. I beg your pardon, old fellow.” There was no one else in the room at the moment, and Glossop in asking the question had in truth forgotten what he had heard of this new intimacy.
“Don’t you learn to be ill-natured, Glossop. And remember that there is no form so bad as that of calling young ladies by their Christian names. I do know that poor Morton has left Miss Trefoil a sum of money which is at any rate evidence that he thought well of her to the last.”
“Of course it is. I didn’t mean to offend you. I wouldn’t do it for worlds — as you are going away.” That afternoon, when Green’s back was turned, Glossop gave it as his opinion that something particular would turn up between Mounser and Miss Trefoil, an opinion which brought down much ridicule upon him from both Hoffmann and Archibald Currie. But before that week was over — in the early days of April — they were forced to retract their opinion and to do honour to young Glossop’s sagacity. Mounser Green was engaged to Miss Trefoil, and for a day or two the Foreign Office could talk of nothing else.
“A very handsome girl,” said Lord Drummond to one of his subordinates. “I met her at Mistletoe. As to that affair with Lord Rufford, he treated her abominably.” And when Mounser showed himself at the office, which he did boldly, immediately after the engagement was made known, they all received him with open arms and congratulated him sincerely on his happy fortune. He himself was quite contented with what he had done and thought that he was taking out for himself the very wife for Patagonia.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01