E-text prepared by Delphine Lettau and Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.
Author of "Framley Parsonage," "Orley Farm," "The Way We Live Now," etc., etc.
In Three Volumes.
London: Chapman & Hall, Limited, 11, Henrietta St. 1882 [All Rights reserved.]
Bungay: Clay and Taylor, Printers.
CONTENTS OF VOLUME I.
I. THE MARQUIS OF KINGSBURY. II. LORD HAMPSTEAD. III. THE MARCHIONESS. IV. LADY FRANCES. V. MRS. RODEN. VI. PARADISE ROW. VII. THE POST OFFICE. VIII. MR. GREENWOOD. IX. AT KOENIGSGRAAF. X. "NOBLESSE OBLIGE." XI. LADY PERSIFLAGE. XII. CASTLE HAUTBOY. XIII. THE BRAESIDE HARRIERS. XIV. COMING HOME FROM HUNTING. XV. MARION FAY AND HER FATHER. XVI. THE WALK BACK TO HENDON. XVII. LORD HAMPSTEAD'S SCHEME. XVIII. HOW THEY LIVED AT TRAFFORD PARK. XIX. LADY AMALDINA'S LOVER. XX. THE SCHEME IS SUCCESSFUL. XXI. WHAT THEY ALL THOUGHT AS THEY WENT HOME. XXII. AGAIN AT TRAFFORD.
THE MARQUIS OF KINGSBURY.
When Mr. Lionel Trafford went into Parliament for the Borough of Wednesbury as an advanced Radical, it nearly broke the heart of his uncle, the old Marquis of Kingsbury. Among Tories of his day the Marquis had been hyper-Tory,—as were his friends, the Duke of Newcastle, who thought that a man should be allowed to do what he liked with his own, and the Marquis of Londonderry, who, when some such falling-off in the family politics came near him, spoke with indignation of the family treasure which had been expended in defending the family seat. Wednesbury had never been the Marquis's own; but his nephew was so in a peculiar sense. His nephew was necessarily his heir,—the future Marquis,—and the old Marquis never again, politically, held up his head. He was an old man when this occurred, and luckily for him he did not live to see the worse things which came afterwards.
The Member for Wednesbury became Marquis and owner of the large family property, but still he kept his politics. He was a Radical Marquis, wedded to all popular measures, not ashamed of his Charter days, and still clamorous for further Parliamentary reform, although it was regularly noted in Dod that the Marquis of Kingsbury was supposed to have strong influence in the Borough of Edgeware. It was so strong that both he and his uncle had put in whom they pleased. His uncle had declined to put him in because of his renegade theories, but he revenged himself by giving the seat to a glib-mouthed tailor, who, to tell the truth, had not done much credit to his choice.
But it came to pass that the shade of his uncle was avenged, if it can be supposed that such feelings will affect the eternal rest of a dead Marquis. There grew up a young Lord Hampstead, the son and heir of the Radical Marquis, promising in intelligence and satisfactory in externals, but very difficult to deal with as to the use of his thoughts. They could not keep him at Harrow or at Oxford, because he not only rejected, but would talk openly against, Christian doctrines; a religious boy, but determined not to believe in revealed mysteries. And at twenty-one he declared himself a Republican,—explaining thereby that he disapproved altogether of hereditary honours. He was quite as bad to this Marquis as had been this Marquis to the other. The tailor kept his seat because Lord Hampstead would not even condescend to sit for the family borough. He explained to his father that he had doubts about a Parliament of which one section was hereditary, but was sure that at present he was too young for it. There must surely have been gratification in this to the shade of the departed Marquis.
But there was worse than this,—infinitely worse. Lord Hampstead formed a close friendship with a young man, five years older than himself, who was but a clerk in the Post Office. In George Roden, as a man and a companion, there was no special fault to be found. There may be those who think that a Marquis's heir should look for his most intimate friend in a somewhat higher scale of social rank, and that he would more probably serve the purposes of his future life by associating with his equals;—that like to like in friendship is advantageous. The Marquis, his father, certainly thought so in spite of his Radicalism. But he might have been pardoned on the score of Roden's general good gifts,—might have been pardoned even though it were true, as supposed, that to Roden's strong convictions Lord Hampstead owed much of the ultra virus of his political convictions,—might have been pardoned had not there been worse again. At Hendon Hall, the Marquis's lovely suburban seat, the Post Office clerk was made acquainted with Lady Frances Trafford, and they became lovers.
The radicalism of a Marquis is apt to be tainted by special considerations in regard to his own family. This Marquis, though he had his exoteric politics, had his esoteric feelings. With him, Liberal as he was, his own blood possessed a peculiar ichor. Though it might be well that men in the mass should be as nearly equal as possible, yet, looking at the state of possibilities and realities as existent, it was clear to him that a Marquis of Kingsbury had been placed on a pedestal. It might be that the state of things was matter for regret. In his grander moments he was certain that it was so. Why should there be a ploughboy unable to open his mouth because of his infirmity, and a Marquis with his own voice very resonant in the House of Lords, and a deputy voice dependent on him in the House of Commons? He had said so very frequently before his son, not knowing then what might be the effect of his own teaching. There had been a certain pride in his heart as he taught these lessons, wrong though it might be that there should be a Marquis and a ploughboy so far reversed by the injustice of Fate. There had been a comfort to him in feeling that Fate had made him the Marquis, and had made some one else the ploughboy. He knew what it was to be a Marquis down to the last inch of aristocratic admeasurement. He would fain that his children should have understood this also. But his lesson had gone deeper than he had intended, and great grief had come of it.
The Marquis had been first married to a lady altogether unconnected with noble blood, but whose father had held a position of remarkable ascendancy in the House of Commons. He had never been a Cabinet Minister, because he had persisted in thinking that he could better serve his country by independence. He had been possessed of wealth, and had filled a great place in the social world. In marrying the only daughter of this gentleman the Marquis of Kingsbury had indulged his peculiar taste in regard to Liberalism, and was at the same time held not to have derogated from his rank. She had been a woman of great beauty and of many intellectual gifts,—thoroughly imbued with her father's views, but altogether free from feminine pedantry and that ambition which begrudges to men the rewards of male labour. Had she lived, Lady Frances might probably not have fallen in with the Post Office clerk; nevertheless, had she lived, she would have known the Post Office clerk to be a worthy gentleman.
But she had died when her son was about sixteen and her daughter no more than fifteen. Two years afterwards our Marquis had gone among the dukes, and had found for himself another wife. Perhaps the freshness and edge of his political convictions had been blunted by that gradual sinking down among the great peers in general which was natural to his advanced years. A man who has spouted at twenty-five becomes tired of spouting at fifty, if nothing special has come from his spouting. He had been glad when he married Lady Clara Mountressor to think that circumstances as they had occurred at the last election would not make it necessary for him to deliver up the borough to the tailor on any further occasion. The tailor had been drunk at the hustings, and he ventured to hope that before six months were over Lord Hampstead would have so far rectified his frontiers as to be able to take a seat in the House of Commons.
Then very quickly there were born three little flaxen-haired boys,—who became at least flaxen-haired as they emerged from their cradles,—Lord Frederic, Lord Augustus, and Lord Gregory. That they must be brought up with ideas becoming the scions of a noble House there could be no doubt. Their mother was every inch a duke's daughter. But, alas, not one of them was likely to become Marquis of Kingsbury. Though born so absolutely in the purple they were but younger sons. This was a silent sorrow;—but when their half sister Lady Frances told their mother openly that she had plighted her troth to the Post Office clerk, that was a sorrow which did not admit of silence.
When Lord Hampstead had asked permission to bring his friend to the house there seemed to be no valid reason for refusing him. Low as he had descended amidst the depths of disreputable opinion, it was not supposed that even he would countenance anything so horrible as this. And was there not ground for security in the reticence and dignity of Lady Frances herself? The idea never presented itself to the Marchioness. When she heard that the Post Office clerk was coming she was naturally disgusted. All Lord Hampstead's ideas, doings, and ways were disgusting to her. She was a woman full of high-bred courtesy, and had always been gracious to her son-in-law's friends,—but it had been with a cold grace. Her heart rejected them thoroughly,—as she did him, and, to tell the truth, Lady Frances also. Lady Frances had all her mother's dignity, all her mother's tranquil manner, but something more than her mother's advanced opinions. She, too, had her ideas that the world should gradually be taught to dispense with the distances which separate the dukes and the ploughboys,—gradually, but still with a progressive motion, always tending in that direction. This to her stepmother was disgusting.
The Post Office clerk had never before been received at Hendon Hall, though he had been introduced in London by Lord Hampstead to his sister. The Post Office clerk had indeed abstained from coming, having urged his own feelings with his friend as to certain unfitnesses. "A Marquis is as absurd to me as to you," he had said to Lord Hampstead, "but while there are Marquises they should be indulged,—particularly Marchionesses. An over-delicate skin is a nuisance; but if skins have been so trained as not to bear the free air, veils must be allowed for their protection. The object should be to train the skin, not to punish it abruptly. An unfortunate Sybarite Marchioness ought to have her rose leaves. Now I am not a rose leaf." And so he had stayed away.
But the argument had been carried on between the friends, and the noble heir had at last prevailed. George Roden was not a rose leaf, but he was found at Hendon to have flowers of beautiful hues and with a sweet scent. Had he not been known to be a Post Office clerk,—could the Marchioness have been allowed to judge of him simply from his personal appearance,—he might have been taken to be as fine a rose leaf as any. He was a tall, fair, strongly-built young man, with short light hair, pleasant grey eyes, an aquiline nose, and small mouth. In his gait and form and face nothing was discernibly more appropriate to Post Office clerks than to the nobility at large. But he was a clerk, and he himself, as he himself declared, knew nothing of his own family,—remembered no relation but his mother.
It had come to pass that the house at Hendon had become specially the residence of Lord Hampstead, who would neither have lodgings of his own in London or make part of the family when it occupied Kingsbury House in Park Lane. He would sometimes go abroad, would sometimes appear for a week or two at Trafford Park, the grand seat in Yorkshire. But he preferred the place, half town half country, in the neighbourhood of London, and here George Roden came frequently backwards and forwards after the ice had been broken by a first visit. Sometimes the Marquis would be there, and with him his daughter,—rarely the Marchioness. Then came the time when Lady Frances declared boldly to her stepmother that she had pledged her troth to the Post Office clerk. That happened in June, when Parliament was sitting, and when the flowers at Hendon were at their best. The Marchioness came there for a day or two, and the Post Office clerk on that morning had left the house for his office work, not purposing to come back. Some words had been said which had caused annoyance, and he did not intend to return. When he had been gone about an hour Lady Frances revealed the truth.
Her brother at that time was two-and-twenty. She was a year younger. The clerk might perhaps be six years older than the young lady. Had he only been the eldest son of a Marquis, or Earl, or Viscount; had he been but an embryo Baron, he might have done very well. He was a well-spoken youth, yet with a certain modesty, such a one as might easily take the eye of a wished-for though ever so noble a mother-in-law. The little lords had learned to play with him, and it had come about that he was at his ease in the house. The very servants had seemed to forget that he was no more than a clerk, and that he went off by railway into town every morning that he might earn ten shillings by sitting for six hours at his desk. Even the Marchioness had almost trained herself to like him,—as one of those excrescences which are sometimes to be found in noble families, some governess, some chaplain or private secretary, whom chance or merit has elevated in the house, and who thus becomes a trusted friend. Then by chance she heard the name "Frances" without the prefix "Lady," and said a word in haughty anger. The Post Office clerk packed up his portmanteau, and Lady Frances told her story.
Lord Hampstead's name was John. He was the Honourable John Trafford, called by courtesy Earl of Hampstead. To the world at large he was Lord Hampstead,—to his friends in general he was Hampstead; to his stepmother he was especially Hampstead,—as would have been her own eldest son the moment he was born had he been born to such good luck. To his father he had become Hampstead lately. In early days there had been some secret family agreement that in spite of conventionalities he should be John among them. The Marquis had latterly suggested that increasing years made this foolish; but the son himself attributed the change to step-maternal influences. But still he was John to his sister, and John to some half-dozen sympathising friends,—and among others to the Post Office clerk.
"He has not said a word to me," the sister replied when she was taxed by her brother with seeming partiality for their young visitor.
"But he will?"
"No girl will ever admit as much as that, John."
"But if he should?"
"No girl will have an answer ready for such a suggestion."
"I know he will."
"If so, and if you have wishes to express, you should speak to him."
All this made the matter quite clear to her brother. A girl such as was his sister would not so receive a brother's notice as to a proposed overture of love from a Post Office clerk, unless she had brought herself to look at the possibility without abhorrence.
"Would it go against the grain with you, John?" This was what the clerk said when he was interrogated by his friend.
"There would be difficulties."
"Very great difficulties,—difficulties even with you."
"I did not say so."
"They would come naturally. The last thing that a man can abandon of his social idolatries is the sanctity of the women belonging to him."
"God forbid that I should give up anything of the sanctity of my sister."
"No; but the idolatry attached to it! It is as well that even a nobleman's daughter should be married if she can find a nobleman or such like to her taste. There is no breach of sanctity in the love,—but so great a wound to the idolatry in the man! Things have not changed so quickly that even you should be free from the feeling. Three hundred years ago, if the man could not be despatched out of the country or to the other world, the girl at least would be locked up. Three hundred years hence the girl and the man will stand together on their own merits. Just in this period of transition it is very hard for such a one as you to free himself altogether from the old trammels."
"I make the endeavour."
"Most bravely. But, my dear fellow, let this individual thing stand separately, away from politics and abstract ideas. I mean to ask your sister whether I can have her heart, and, as far as her will goes, her hand. If you are displeased I suppose we shall have to part,—for a time. Let theories run ever so high, Love will be stronger than them all." Lord Hampstead at this moment gave no assurance of his good will; but when it came to pass that his sister had given her assurance, then he ranged himself on the side of his friend the clerk.
So it came to pass that there was great trouble in the household of the Marquis of Kingsbury. The family went abroad before the end of July, on account of the health of the children. So said the Morning Post. Anxious friends inquired in vain what could have befallen those flaxen-haired young Herculeses. Why was it necessary that they should be taken to the Saxon Alps when the beauties and comforts of Trafford Park were so much nearer and so superior? Lady Frances was taken with them, and there were one or two noble intimates among the world of fashion who heard some passing whispers of the truth. When passing whispers creep into the world of fashion they are heard far and wide.
Lord Hampstead, though he would not go into Parliament or belong to any London Club, or walk about the streets with a chimney-pot hat, or perform any of his public functions as a young nobleman should do, had, nevertheless, his own amusements and his own extravagances. In the matter of money he was placed outside his father's liberality,—who was himself inclined to be liberal enough,—by the fact that he had inherited a considerable portion of his maternal grandfather's fortune. It might almost be said truly of him that money was no object to him. It was not that he did not often talk about money and think about money. He was very prone to do so, saying that money was the most important factor in the world's justices and injustices. But he was so fortunately circumstanced as to be able to leave money out of his own personal consideration, never being driven by the want of it to deny himself anything, or tempted by a superabundance to expenditure which did not otherwise approve itself to him. To give 10s. or 20s. a bottle for wine because somebody pretended that it was very fine, or L300 for a horse when one at a L100 would do his work for him, was altogether below his philosophy. By his father's lodge gate there ran an omnibus up to town which he would often use, saying that an omnibus with company was better than a private carriage with none. He was wont to be angry with himself in that he employed a fashionable tailor, declaring that he incurred unnecessary expense merely to save himself the trouble of going elsewhere. In this, however, it may be thought that there was something of pretence, as he was no doubt conscious of good looks, and aware probably that a skilful tailor might add a grace.
In his amusements he affected two which are especially expensive. He kept a yacht, in which he was accustomed to absent himself in the summer and autumn, and he had a small hunting establishment in Northamptonshire. Of the former little need be said here, as he spent his time on board much alone, or with friends with whom we need not follow him; but it may be said that everything about the Free Trader was done well,—for such was the name of the vessel. Though he did not pay 10s. a bottle for his wine, he paid the best price for sails and cordage, and hired a competent skipper to look after himself and his boat. His hunting was done very much in the same way,—unless it be that in his yachting he was given to be tranquil, and in his hunting he was very fond of hard riding. At Gorse Hall, as his cottage was called, he had all comforts, we may perhaps say much of luxury, around him. It was indeed hardly more than a cottage, having been an old farm-house, and lately converted to its present purpose. There were no noble surroundings, no stately hall, no marble staircases, no costly salon. You entered by a passage which deserved no auguster name, on the right of which was the dining-room; on the left a larger chamber, always called the drawing-room because of the fashion of the name. Beyond that was a smaller retreat in which the owner kept his books. Leading up from the end of the passage there was a steep staircase, a remnant of the old farm-house, and above them five bed-rooms, so that his lordship was limited to the number of four guests. Behind this was the kitchen and the servants' rooms—sufficient, but not more than sufficient, for such a house. Here our young democrat kept half-a-dozen horses, all of them—as men around were used to declare—fit to go, although they were said to have been bought at not more than L100 each. It was supposed to be a crotchet on the part of Lord Hampstead to assert that cheap things were as good as dear, and there were some who believed that he did in truth care as much for his horses as other people. It was certainly a fact that he never would have but one out in a day, and he was wont to declare that Smith took out his second horse chiefly that Jones might know that he did so. Down here, at Gorse Hall, the Post Office clerk had often been received as a visitor,—but not at Gorse Hall had he ever seen Lady Frances.
This lord had peculiar ideas about hunting, in reference to sport in general. It was supposed of him, and supposed truly, that no young man in England was more devotedly attached to fox-hunting than he,—and that in want of a fox he would ride after a stag, and in want of a stag after a drag. If everything else failed he would go home across the country, any friend accompanying him, or else alone. Nevertheless, he entertained a vehement hostility against all other sports.
Of racing he declared that it had become simply a way of making money, and of all ways the least profitable to the world and the most disreputable. He was never seen on a racecourse. But his enemies declared of him, that though he loved riding he was no judge of an animal's pace, and that he was afraid to bet lest he should lose his money.
Against shooting he was still louder. If there was in his country any tradition, any custom, any law hateful to him, it was such as had reference to the preservation of game. The preservation of a fox, he said, stood on a perfectly different basis. The fox was not preserved by law, and when preserved was used for the advantage of all who chose to be present at the amusement. One man in one day would shoot fifty pheasants which had eaten up the food of half-a-dozen human beings. One fox afforded in one day amusement to two hundred sportsmen, and was—or more generally was not—killed during the performance. And the fox during his beneficial life had eaten no corn, nor for the most part geese,—but chiefly rats and such like. What infinitesimal sum had the fox cost the country for every man who rushed after him? Then, what had been the cost of all those pheasants which one shooting cormorant crammed into his huge bag during one day's greedy sport?
But it was the public nature of the one amusement and the thoroughly private nature of the other which chiefly affected him. In the hunting-field the farmer's son, if he had a pony, or the butcher-boy out of the town, could come and take his part; and if the butcher-boy could go ahead and keep his place while the man with a red coat and pink boots and with two horses fell behind, the butcher-boy would have the best of it, and incur the displeasure of no one. And the laws, too, by which hunting is governed, if there be laws, are thoroughly democratic in their nature. They are not, he said, made by any Parliament, but are simply assented to on behalf of the common need. It was simply in compliance with opinion that the lands of all men are open to be ridden over by the men of the hunt. In compliance with opinion foxes are preserved. In compliance with opinion coverts are drawn by this or the other pack of hounds. The Legislature had not stepped in to defile the statute book by bye-laws made in favour of the amusements of the rich. If injury were done, the ordinary laws of the country were open to the injured party. Anything in hunting that had grown to be beyond the reach of the law had become so by the force of popular opinion.
All of this was reversed in shooting, from any participation in which the poor were debarred by enactments made solely on behalf of the rich. Four or five men in a couple of days would offer up hecatombs of slaughtered animals, in doing which they could only justify themselves by the fact that they were acting as poultry-butchers for the supply of the markets of the country. There was no excitement in it,—simply the firing off of many guns with a rapidity which altogether prevents that competition which is essential to the enjoyment of sport. Then our noble Republican would quote Teufelsdroeckh and the memorable epitaph of the partridge-slayer. But it was on the popular and unpopular elements of the two sports that he would most strongly dilate, and on the iniquity of the game-laws as applying to the more aristocratic of the two. It was, however, asserted by the sporting world at large that Hampstead could not hit a haystack.
As to fishing, he was almost equally violent, grounding his objection on the tedium and cruelty incident to the pursuit. The first was only a matter of taste, he would allow. If a man could content himself and be happy with an average of one fish to every three days' fishing, that was the man's affair. He could only think that in such case the man himself must be as cold-blooded as the fish which he so seldom succeeded in catching. As to the cruelty, he thought there could be no doubt. When he heard that bishops and ladies delighted themselves in hauling an unfortunate animal about by the gills for more than an hour at a stretch, he was inclined to regret the past piety of the Church and the past tenderness of the sex. When he spoke in this way the cruelty of fox-hunting was of course thrown in his teeth. Did not the poor hunted quadrupeds, when followed hither and thither by a pack of fox-hounds, endure torments as sharp and as prolonged as those inflicted on the fish? In answer to this Lord Hampstead was eloquent and argumentative. As far as we could judge from Nature the condition of the two animals during the process was very different. The salmon with the hook in its throat was in a position certainly not intended by Nature. The fox, using all its gifts to avoid an enemy, was employed exactly as Nature had enjoined. It would be as just to compare a human being impaled alive on a stake with another overburdened with his world's task. The overburdened man might stumble and fall, and so perish. Things would have been hard to him. But not, therefore, could you compare his sufferings with the excruciating agonies of the poor wretch who had been left to linger and starve with an iron rod through his vitals. This argument was thought to be crafty rather than cunning by those who were fond of fishing. But he had another on which, when he had blown off the steam of his eloquence by his sensational description of a salmon impaled by a bishop, he could depend with greater confidence. He would grant,—for the moment, though he was by no means sure of the fact,—but for the moment he would grant that the fox did not enjoy the hunt. Let it be acknowledged—for the sake of the argument—that he was tortured by the hounds rather than elated by the triumphant success of his own manoeuvres. Lord Hampstead "ventured to say,"—this he would put forward in the rationalistic tone with which he was wont to prove the absurdity of hereditary honours,—"that in the infliction of all pain the question as to cruelty or no cruelty was one of relative value." Was it "tanti?" Who can doubt that for a certain maximum of good a certain minimum of suffering may be inflicted without slur to humanity? In hunting, one fox was made to finish his triumphant career, perhaps prematurely, for the advantage of two hundred sportsmen. "Ah, but only for their amusement!" would interpose some humanitarian averse equally to fishing and to hunting. Then his lordship would arise indignantly and would ask his opponent, whether what he called amusement was not as beneficial, as essential, as necessary to the world as even such material good things as bread and meat. Was poetry less valuable than the multiplication table? Man could exist no doubt without fox-hunting. So he could without butter, without wine, or other so-called necessaries;—without ermine tippets, for instance, the original God-invested wearer of which had been doomed to lingering starvation and death when trapped amidst the snow, in order that one lady might be made fine by the agonies of a dozen little furry sufferers. It was all a case of "tanti," he said, and he said that the fox who had saved himself half-a-dozen times and then died nobly on behalf of those who had been instrumental in preserving an existence for him, ought not to complain of the lot which Fate had provided for him among the animals of the earth. It was said, however, in reference to this comparison between fishing and fox-hunting, that Lord Hampstead was altogether deficient in that skill and patience which is necessary for the landing of a salmon.
But men, though they laughed at him, still they liked him. He was good-humoured and kindly-hearted. He was liberal in more than his politics. He had, too, a knack of laughing at himself, and his own peculiarities, which went far to redeem them. That a young Earl, an embryo Marquis, the heir of such a house as that of Trafford, should preach a political doctrine which those who heard ignorantly called Communistic, was very dreadful; but the horror of it was mitigated when he declared that no doubt as he got old he should turn Tory like any other Radical. In this there seemed to be a covert allusion to his father. And then they could perceive that his "Communistic" principles did not prevent him from having a good eye to the value of land. He knew what he was about, as an owner of property should do, and certainly rode to hounds as well as any one of the boys of the period.
When the idea first presented itself to him that his sister was on the way to fall in love with George Roden, it has to be acknowledged that he was displeased. It had not occurred to him that this peculiar breach would be made on the protected sanctity of his own family. When Roden had spoken to him of this sanctity as one of the "social idolatries," he had not quite been able to contradict him. He had wished to do so both in defence of his own consistency, and also, if it were possible, so as to maintain the sanctity. The "divinity" which "does hedge a king," had been to him no more than a social idolatry. The special respect in which dukes and such like were held was the same. The judge's ermine and the bishop's apron were idolatries. Any outward honour, not earned by the deeds or words of him so honoured, but coming from birth, wealth, or from the doings of another, was an idolatry. Carrying on his arguments, he could not admit the same thing in reference to his sister;—or rather, he would have to admit it if he could not make another plea in defence of the sanctity. His sister was very holy to him;—but that should be because of her nearness to him, because of her sweetness, because of her own gifts, because as her brother he was bound to be her especial knight till she should have chosen some other special knight for herself. But it should not be because she was the daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of dukes and marquises. It should not be because she was Lady Frances Trafford. Had he himself been a Post Office clerk, then would not this chosen friend have been fit to love her? There were unfitnesses, no doubt, very common in this world, which should make the very idea of love impossible to a woman,—unfitness of character, of habits, of feelings, of education, unfitnesses as to inward personal nobility. He could not say that there were any such which ought to separate his sister and his friend. If it was to be that this sweet sister should some day give her heart to a lover, why not to George Roden as well as to another? There were no such unfitnesses as those of which he would have thought in dealing with the lives of some other girl and some other young man.
And yet he was, if not displeased, at any rate dissatisfied. There was something which grated against either his taste, or his judgment,—or perhaps his prejudices. He endeavoured to inquire into himself fairly on this matter, and feared that he was yet the victim of the prejudices of his order. He was wounded in his pride to think that his sister should make herself equal to a clerk in the Post Office. Though he had often endeavoured, only too successfully, to make her understand how little she had in truth received from her high birth, yet he felt that she had received something which should have made the proposal of such a marriage distasteful to her. A man cannot rid himself of a prejudice because he knows or believes it to be a prejudice. That the two, if they continued to wish it, must become man and wife he acknowledged to himself;—but he could not bring himself not to be sorry that it should be so.
There were some words on the subject between himself and his father before the Marquis went abroad with his family, which, though they did not reconcile him to the match, lessened the dissatisfaction. His father was angry with him, throwing the blame of this untoward affair on his head, and he was always prone to resent censure thrown by any of his family on his own peculiar tenets. Thus it came to pass that in defending himself he was driven to defend his sister also. The Marquis had not been at Hendon when the revelation was first made, but had heard it in the course of the day from his wife. His Radical tendencies had done very little towards reconciling him to such a proposal. He had never brought his theories home into his own personalities. To be a Radical peer in the House of Lords, and to have sent a Radical tailor to the House of Commons, had been enough, if not too much, to satisfy his own political ideas. To himself and to his valet, to all those immediately touching himself, he had always been the Marquis of Kingsbury. And so also, in his inner heart, the Marchioness was the Marchioness, and Lady Frances Lady Frances. He had never gone through any process of realizing his convictions as his son had done. "Hampstead," he said, "can this possibly be true what your mother has told me?" This took place at the house in Park Lane, to which the Marquis had summoned his son.
"Do you mean about Frances and George Roden?"
"Of course I mean that."
"I supposed you did, sir. I imagined that when you sent for me it was in regard to them. No doubt it is true."
"What is true? You speak as though you absolutely approved it."
"Then my voice has belied me, for I disapprove of it."
"You feel, I hope, how utterly impossible it is."
"I cannot say that I think it to be impossible,—or even improbable. Knowing the two, as I do, I feel the probability to be on their side."
"That they—should be married?"
"That is what they intend. I never knew either of them to mean anything which did not sooner or later get itself accomplished."
"You'll have to learn it on this occasion. How on earth can it have been brought about?" Lord Hampstead shrugged his shoulders. "Somebody has been very much to blame."
"You mean me, sir?"
"Somebody has been very much to blame."
"Of course, you mean me. I cannot take any blame in the matter. In introducing George Roden to you, and to my mother, and to Frances, I brought you to the knowledge of a highly-educated and extremely well-mannered young man."
"I did to my friend what every young man, I suppose, does to his. I should be ashamed of myself to associate with any one who was not a proper guest for my father's table. One does not calculate before that a young man and a young woman shall fall in love with each other."
"You see what has happened."
"It was extremely natural, no doubt,—though I had not anticipated it. As I told you, I am very sorry. It will cause many heartburns, and some unhappiness."
"Unhappiness! I should think so. I must go away,—in the middle of the Session."
"It will be worse for her, poor girl."
"It will be very bad for her," said the Marquis, speaking as though his mind were quite made up on that matter.
"But nobody, as far as I can see, has done anything wrong," continued Lord Hampstead. "When two young people get together whose tastes are similar, and opinions,—whose educations and habits of thought have been the same—"
"Habits the same!"
"Habits of thought, I said, sir."
"You would talk the hind legs off a dog," said the Marquis, bouncing out of the room. It was not unusual with him, in the absolute privacy of his own circle, to revert to language which he would have felt to be unbecoming to him as Marquis of Kingsbury among ordinary people.
Though the departure of the Marquis was much hurried, there were other meetings between Hampstead and the family before the flitting was actually made.
"No doubt I will. I am quite with you there," the son said to the father, who had desired him to explain to the young man the impossibility of such a marriage. "I think it would be a misfortune to them both, which should be avoided,—if they can get over their present feelings."
"I suppose there are such feelings, sir?"
"Of course he is looking for position—and money."
"Not in the least. That might probably be the idea with some young nobleman who would wish to marry into his own class, and to improve his fortune at the same time. With such a one that would be fair enough. He would give and take. With George that would not be honest;—nor would such accusation be true. The position, as you call it, he would feel to be burdensome. As to money, he does not know whether Frances has a shilling or not."
"Not a shilling,—unless I give it to her."
"He would not think of such a matter."
"Then he must be a very imprudent young man, and unfit to have a wife at all."
"I cannot admit that,—but suppose he is?"
"And yet you think—?"
"I think, sir, that it is unfortunate. I have said so ever since I first heard it. I shall tell him exactly what I think. You will have Frances with you, and will of course express your own opinion."
The Marquis was far from satisfied with his son, but did not dare to go on further with the argument. In all such discussions he was wont to feel that his son was "talking the hind legs off a dog." His own ideas on concrete points were clear enough to him,—as this present idea that his daughter, Lady Frances Trafford, would outrage all propriety, all fitness, all decency, if she were to give herself in marriage to George Roden, the Post Office clerk. But words were not plenty with him,—or, when plenty, not efficacious,—and he was prone to feel, when beaten in argument, that his opponent was taking an unfair advantage. Thus it was that he often thought, and sometimes said, that those who oppressed him with words would "talk the hind legs off a dog."
The Marchioness also expressed her opinion to Hampstead. She was a lady stronger than her husband;—stronger in this, that she never allowed herself to be worsted in any encounter. If words would not serve her occasion at the moment, her countenance would do so,—and if not that, her absence. She could be very eloquent with silence, and strike an adversary dumb by the way in which she would leave a room. She was a tall, handsome woman, with a sublime gait.—"Vera incessu patuit Dea." She had heard, if not the words, then some translation of the words, and had taken them to heart, and borne them with her as her secret motto. To be every inch an aristocrat, in look as in thought, was the object of her life. That such was her highest duty was quite fixed in her mind. It had pleased God to make her a Marchioness,—and should she derogate from God's wish? It had been her one misfortune that God should not also have made her the mother of a future Marquis. Her face, though handsome, was quite impassive, showing nothing of her sorrows or her joys; and her voice was equally under control. No one had ever imagined, not even her husband, that she felt acutely that one blow of fortune. Though Hampstead's politics had been to her abominable, treasonable, blasphemous, she treated him with an extreme courtesy. If there were anything that he wished about the house she would have it done for him. She would endeavour to interest herself about his hunting. And she would pay him a great respect,—to him most onerous,—as being second in all things to the Marquis. Though a Republican blasphemous rebel,—so she thought of him,—he was second to the Marquis. She would fain have taught her little boys to respect him,—as the future head of the family,—had he not been so accustomed to romp with them, to pull them out of their little beds, and toss them about in their night-shirts, that they loved him much too well for respect. It was in vain that their mother strove to teach them to call him Hampstead.
Lady Frances had never been specially in her way, but to Lady Frances the stepmother had been perhaps harder than to the stepson, of whose presence as an absolute block to her ambition she was well aware. Lady Frances had no claim to a respect higher than that which was due to her own children. Primogeniture had done nothing for her. She was a Marquis's daughter, but her mother had been only the offspring of a commoner. There was perhaps something of conscience in her feelings towards the two. As Lord Hampstead was undoubtedly in her way, it occurred to her to think that she should not on that account be inimical to him. Lady Frances was not in her way,—and therefore was open to depreciation and dislike without wounds to her conscience; and then, though Hampstead was abominable because of his Republicanism, his implied treason, and blasphemy, yet he was entitled to some excuse as being a man. These things were abominable no doubt in him, but more pardonably abominable than they would be in a woman. Lady Frances had never declared herself to be a Republican or a disbeliever, much less a rebel,—as, indeed, had neither Lord Hampstead. In the presence of her stepmother she was generally silent on matters of political or religious interest. But she was supposed to sympathise with her brother, and was known to be far from properly alive to aristocratic interests. There was never quarrelling between the two, but there was a lack of that friendship which may subsist between a stepmother of thirty-eight and a stepdaughter of twenty-one. Lady Frances was tall and slender, with quiet speaking features, dark in colour, with blue eyes, and hair nearly black. In appearance she was the very opposite of her stepmother, moving quickly and achieving grace as she did so, without a thought, by the natural beauty of her motions. The dignity was there, but without a thought given to it. Not even did the little lords, her brothers, chuck their books and toys about with less idea of demeanour. But the Marchioness never arranged a scarf or buttoned a glove without feeling that it was her duty to button her glove and arrange her scarf as became the Marchioness of Kingsbury.
The stepmother wished no evil to Lady Frances,—only that she should be married properly and taken out of the way. Any stupid Earl or mercurial Viscount would have done, so long as the blood and the money had been there. Lady Frances had been felt to be dangerous, and the hope was that the danger might be got rid of by a proper marriage. But not by such a marriage as this!
When that accidental calling of the name was first heard and the following avowal made, the Marchioness declared her immediate feelings by a look. It was so that Arthur may have looked when he first heard that his Queen was sinful,—so that Caesar must have felt when even Brutus struck him. For though Lady Frances had been known to be blind to her own greatness, still this,—this at any rate was not suspected. "You cannot mean it!" the Marchioness had at last said.
"I certainly mean it, mamma." Then the Marchioness, with one hand guarding her raiment, and with the other raised high above her shoulder, in an agony of supplication to those deities who arrange the fates of ducal houses, passed slowly out of the room. It was necessary that she should bethink herself before another word was spoken.
For some time after that very few words passed between her and the sinner. A dead silence best befitted the occasion;—as, when a child soils her best frock, we put her in the corner with a scolding; but when she tells a fib we quell her little soul within her by a terrible quiescence. To be eloquently indignant without a word is within the compass of the thoughtfully stolid. It was thus that Lady Frances was at first treated by her stepmother. She was, however, at once taken up to London, subjected to the louder anger of her father, and made to prepare for the Saxon Alps. At first, indeed, her immediate destiny was not communicated to her. She was to be taken abroad;—and, in so taking her, it was felt to be well to treat her as the policeman does his prisoner, whom he thinks to be the last person who need be informed as to the whereabouts of the prison. It did leak out quickly, because the Marquis had a castle or chateau of his own in Saxony;—but that was only an accident.
The Marchioness still said little on the matter,—unless in what she might say to her husband in the secret recesses of marital discussion; but before she departed she found it expedient to express herself on one occasion to Lord Hampstead. "Hampstead," she said, "this is a terrible blow that has fallen upon us."
"I was surprised myself. I do not know that I should call it exactly a blow."
"Not a blow! But of course you mean that it will come to nothing."
"What I meant was, that though I regard the proposition as inexpedient—"
"Yes;—I think it inexpedient certainly; but there is nothing in it that shocks me."
"Nothing that shocks you!"
"Marriage in itself is a good thing."
"Hampstead, do not talk to me in that way."
"But I think it is. If it be good for a young man to marry it must be good for a young woman also. The one makes the other necessary."
"But not for such as your sister,—and him—together. You are speaking in that way simply to torment me."
"I can only speak as I think. I do agree that it would be inexpedient. She would to a certain extent lose the countenance of her friends—"
"Not altogether,—but to some extent. A certain class of people,—not the best worth knowing,—might be inclined to drop her. However foolish her own friends may be we owe something—even to their folly."
"Her friends are not foolish,—her proper friends."
"I quite agree with that; but then so many of them are improper."
"I am afraid that I don't make myself quite clear. But never mind. It would be inexpedient. It would go against the grain with my father, who ought to be consulted."
"I should think so."
"I quite agree with you. A father ought to be consulted, even though a daughter be of age, so as to be enabled by law to do as she likes with herself. And then there would be money discomforts."
"She would not have a shilling."
"Not but what I should think it my duty to put that right if there were any real distress." Here spoke the heir, who was already in possession of much, and upon whom the whole property of the family was entailed. "Nevertheless if I can prevent it,—without quarrelling either with one or the other, without saying a hard word,—I shall do so."
"It will be your bounden duty."
"It is always a man's bounden duty to do what is right. The difficulty is in seeing the way." After this the Marchioness was silent. What she had gained by speaking was very little,—little or nothing. The nature of the opposition he proposed was almost as bad as a sanction, and the reasons he gave for agreeing with her were as hurtful to her feelings as though they had been advanced on the other side. Even the Marquis was not sufficiently struck with horror at the idea that a daughter of his should have condescended to listen to love from a Post Office clerk!
On the day before they started Hampstead was enabled to be alone with his sister for a few minutes. "What an absurdity it is," she said, laughing,—"this running away."
"It is what you must have expected."
"But not the less absurd. Of course I shall go. Just at the moment I have no alternative; as I should have none if they threatened to lock me up, till I got somebody to take my case in hand. But I am as free to do what I please with myself as is papa."
"He has got money."
"But he is not, therefore, to be a tyrant."
"Yes he is;—over an unmarried daughter who has got none. We cannot but obey those on whom we are dependent."
"What I mean is, that carrying me away can do no good. You don't suppose, John, that I shall give him up after having once brought myself to say the word! It was very difficult to say;—but ten times harder to be unsaid. I am quite determined,—and quite satisfied."
"But they are not."
"As regards my father, I am very sorry. As to mamma, she and I are so different in all our thinking that I know beforehand that whatever I might do would displease her. It cannot be helped. Whether it be good or bad I cannot be made such as she is. She came too late. You will not turn against me, John?"
"I rather think I shall."
"I may rather say that I have. I do not think your engagement to be wise."
"But it has been made," said she.
"And may be unmade."
"No;—unless by him."
"I shall tell him that it ought to be unmade,—for the happiness of both of you."
"He will not believe you."
Then Lord Hampstead shrugged his shoulders, and thus the conversation was finished.
It was now about the end of June, and the Marquis felt it to be a grievance that he should be carried away from the charm of political life in London. In the horror of the first revelation he had yielded, but had since begun to feel that too much was being done in withdrawing him from Parliament. The Conservatives were now in; but during the last Liberal Government he had consented so far to trammel himself with the bonds of office as to become Privy Seal for the concluding six months of its existence, and therefore felt his own importance in a party point of view. But having acceded to his wife he could not now go back, and was sulky. On the evening before their departure he was going to dine out with some of the party. His wife's heart was too deep in the great family question for any gaiety, and she intended to remain at home,—and to look after the final packings-up for the little lords.
"I really do not see why you should not have gone without me," the Marquis said, poking his head out of his dressing-room.
"Impossible," said the Marchioness.
"I don't see it at all."
"If he should appear on the scene ready to carry her off, what should I have done?"
Then the Marquis drew his head in again, and went on with his dressing. What, indeed, could he do himself if the man were to appear on the scene, and if his daughter should declare herself willing to go off with him?
When the Marquis went to his dinner party the Marchioness dined with Lady Frances. There was no one else present but the two servants who waited on them, and hardly a word was spoken. The Marchioness felt that an awful silence was becoming in the situation. Lady Frances merely determined more strongly than ever that the situation should not last very long. She would go abroad now, but would let her father understand that the kind of life planned out for her was one that she could not endure. If she was supposed to have disgraced her position, let her be sent away.
As soon as the melancholy meal was over the two ladies separated, the Marchioness going up-stairs among her own children. A more careful, more affectionate, perhaps, I may say, a more idolatrous mother never lived. Every little want belonging to them,—for even little lords have wants,—was a care to her. To see them washed and put in and out of their duds was perhaps the greatest pleasure of her life. To her eyes they were pearls of aristocratic loveliness; and, indeed, they were fine healthy bairns, clean-limbed, bright-eyed, with grand appetites, and never cross as long as they were allowed either to romp and make a noise, or else to sleep. Lord Frederic, the eldest, was already in words of two syllables, and sometimes had a bad time with them. Lord Augustus was the owner of great ivory letters of which he contrived to make playthings. Lord Gregory had not as yet been introduced to any of the torments of education. There was an old English clergyman attached to the family who was supposed to be their tutor, but whose chief duty consisted in finding conversation for the Marquis when there was no one else to talk to him. There was also a French governess and a Swiss maid. But as they both learned English quicker than the children learned French, they were not serviceable for the purpose at first intended. The Marchioness had resolved that her children should talk three or four languages as fluently as their own, and that they should learn them without any of the agonies generally incident to tuition. In that she had not as yet succeeded.
She seated herself for a few minutes among the boxes and portmanteaus in the midst of which the children were disporting themselves prior to their final withdrawal to bed. No mother was ever so blessed,—if only, if only! "Mamma," said Lord Frederic, "where's Jack?" "Jack" absolutely was intended to signify Lord Hampstead.
"Fred, did not I say that you should not call him Jack?"
"He say he is Jack," declared Lord Augustus, rolling up in between his mother's knees with an impetus which would have upset her had she not been a strong woman and accustomed to these attacks.
"That is only because he is good-natured, and likes to play with you. You should call him Hampstead."
"Mamma, wasn't he christianed?" asked the eldest.
"Yes, of course he was christened, my dear," said the mother, sadly,—thinking how very much of the ceremony had been thrown away upon the unbelieving, godless young man. Then she superintended the putting to bed, thinking what a terrible bar to her happiness had been created by that first unfortunate marriage of her husband's. Oh, that she should be stepmother to a daughter who desired to fling herself into the arms of a clerk in the Post Office! And then that an "unchristianed," that an infidel, republican, un-English, heir should stand in the way of her darling boy! She had told herself a thousand times that the Devil was speaking to her when she had dared to wish that,—that Lord Hampstead was not there! She had put down the wish in her heart very often, telling herself that it came from the Devil. She had made a faint struggle to love the young man,—which had resulted in constrained civility. It would have been unnatural to her to love any but her own. Now she thought how glorious her Frederic would have been as Lord Hampstead,—and how infinitely better it would have been, how infinitely better it would be, for all the Traffords, for all the nobles of England, and for the country at large! But in thinking this she knew that she was a sinner, and she endeavoured to crush the sin. Was it not tantamount to wishing that her husband's son was—dead?
There is something so sad in the condition of a girl who is known to be in love, and has to undergo the process of being made ashamed of it by her friends, that one wonders that any young woman can bear it. Most young women cannot bear it, and either give up their love or say that they do. A young man who has got into debt, or been plucked,—or even when he has declared himself to be engaged to a penniless young lady, which is worse,—is supposed merely to have gone after his kind, and done what was to be expected of him. The mother never looks at him with that enduring anger by which she intends to wear out the daughter's constancy. The father frets and fumes, pays the debts, prepares the way for a new campaign, and merely shrugs his shoulders about the proposed marriage, which he regards simply as an impossibility. But the girl is held to have disgraced herself. Though it is expected of her, or at any rate hoped, that she will get married in due time, yet the falling in love with a man,—which is, we must suppose, a preliminary step to marriage,—is a wickedness. Even among the ordinary Joneses and Browns of the world we see that it is so. When we are intimate enough with the Browns to be aware of Jane Brown's passion, we understand the father's manner and the mother's look. The very servants about the house are aware that she has given way to her feelings, and treat her accordingly. Her brothers are ashamed of her. Whereas she, if her brother be in love with Jemima Jones, applauds him, sympathizes with him, and encourages him.
There are heroines who live through it all, and are true to the end. There are many pseudo-heroines who intend to do so, but break down. The pseudo-heroine generally breaks down when young Smith,—not so very young,—has been taken in as a partner by Messrs. Smith and Walker, and comes in her way, in want of a wife. The persecution is, at any rate, so often efficacious as to make fathers and mothers feel it to be their duty to use it. It need not be said here how high above the ways of the Browns soared the ideas of the Marchioness of Kingsbury. But she felt that it would be her duty to resort to the measures which they would have adopted, and she was determined that the Marquis should do the same. A terrible evil, an incurable evil, had already been inflicted. Many people, alas, would know that Lady Frances had disgraced herself. She, the Marchioness, had been unable to keep the secret from her own sister, Lady Persiflage, and Lady Persiflage would undoubtedly tell it to others. Her own lady's maid knew it. The Marquis himself was the most indiscreet of men. Hampstead would see no cause for secrecy. Roden would, of course, boast of it all through the Post Office. The letter-carriers who attended upon Park Lane would have talked the matter over with the footmen at the area gate. There could be no hope of secrecy. All the young marquises and unmarried earls would know that Lady Frances Trafford was in love with the "postman." But time, and care, and strict precaution might prevent the final misery of a marriage. Then, if the Marquis would be generous, some young Earl, or at least a Baron, might be induced to forget the "postman," and to take the noble lily, soiled, indeed, but made gracious by gilding. Her darlings must suffer. Any excess of money given would be at their cost. But anything would be better than a Post Office clerk for a brother-in-law.
Such were the views as to their future life with which the Marchioness intended to accompany her stepdaughter to their Saxon residence. The Marquis, with less of a fixed purpose, was inclined in the same way. "I quite agree that they should be separated;—quite," he said. "It mustn't be heard of;—certainly not; certainly not. Not a shilling,—unless she behaves herself properly. Of course she will have her fortune, but not to bestow it in such a manner as that."
His own idea was to see them all settled in the chateau, and then, if possible, to hurry back to London before the season was quite at an end. His wife laid strong injunctions on him as to absolute secrecy, having forgotten, probably, that she herself had told the whole story to Lady Persiflage. The Marquis quite agreed. Secrecy was indispensable. As for him, was it likely that he should speak of a matter so painful and so near to his heart! Nevertheless he told it all to Mr. Greenwood, the gentleman who acted as tutor, private secretary, and chaplain in the house.
Lady Frances had her own ideas, as to this going away and living abroad, very strongly developed in her mind. They intended to persecute her till she should change her purpose. She intended to persecute them till they should change theirs. She knew herself too well, she thought, to have any fear as to her own persistency. That the Marchioness should persuade, or even persecute, her out of an engagement to which she had assented, she felt to be quite out of the question. In her heart she despised the Marchioness,—bearing with her till the time should come in which she would be delivered from the nuisance of surveillance under such a woman. In her father she trusted much, knowing him to be affectionate, believing him to be still opposed to those aristocratic dogmas which were a religion to the Marchioness,—feeling probably that in his very weakness she would find her best strength. If her stepmother should in truth become cruel, then her father would take her part against his wife. There must be a period of discomfort,—say, six months; and then would come the time in which she would be able to say, "I have tried myself, and know my own mind, and I intend to go home and get myself married." She would take care that her declaration to this effect should not come as a sudden blow. The six months should be employed in preparing for it. The Marchioness might be persistent in preaching her views during the six months, but so would Lady Frances be persistent in preaching hers.
She had not accepted the man's love when he had offered it, without thinking much about it. The lesson which she had heard in her earlier years from her mother had sunk deep into her very soul,—much more deeply than the teacher of those lessons had supposed. That teacher had never intended to inculcate as a doctrine that rank is a mistake. No one had thought more than she of the incentives provided by rank to high duty. "Noblesse oblige." The lesson had been engraved on her heart, and might have been read in all the doings of her life. But she had endeavoured to make it understood by her children that they should not be over-quick to claim the privileges of rank. Too many such would be showered on them,—too many for their own welfare. Let them never be greedy to take with outstretched hands those good things of which Chance had provided for them so much more than their fair share. Let them remember that after all there was no virtue in having been born a child to a Marquis. Let them remember how much more it was to be a useful man, or a kind woman. So the lessons had been given,—and had gone for more than had been intended. Then all the renown of their father's old politics assisted,—the re-election of the drunken tailor,—the jeerings of friends who were high enough and near enough to dare to jeer,—the convictions of childhood that it was a fine thing, because peculiar for a Marquis and his belongings, to be Radical;—and, added to this, there was contempt for the specially noble graces of their stepmother. Thus it was that Lord Hampstead was brought to his present condition of thinking,—and Lady Frances.
Her convictions were quite as strong as his, though they did not assume the same form. With a girl, at an early age, all her outlookings into the world have something to do with love and its consequences. When a young man takes his leaning either towards Liberalism or Conservatism he is not at all actuated by any feeling as to how some possible future young woman may think on the subject. But the girl, if she entertains such ideas at all, dreams of them as befitting the man whom she may some day hope to love. Should she, a Protestant, become a Roman Catholic and then a nun, she feels that in giving up her hope for a man's love she is making the greatest sacrifice in her power for the Saviour she is taking to her heart. If she devotes herself to music, or the pencil, or to languages, the effect which her accomplishments may have on some beau ideal of manhood is present to her mind. From the very first she is dressing herself unconsciously in the mirror of a man's eyes. Quite unconsciously, all this had been present to Lady Frances as month after month and year after year she had formed her strong opinions. She had thought of no man's love,—had thought but little of loving any man,—but in her meditations as to the weaknesses and vanity of rank there had always been present that idea,—how would it be with her if such a one should ask for her hand, such a one as she might find among those of whom she dreamed as being more noble than Dukes, even though they were numbered among the world's proletaries? Then she had told herself that if any such a one should come,—if at any time any should be allowed by herself to come,—he should be estimated by his merits, whether Duke or proletary. With her mind in such a state she had of course been prone to receive kindly the overtures of her brother's friend.
What was there missing in him that a girl should require? It was so that she had asked herself the question. As far as manners were concerned, this man was a gentleman. She was quite sure of that. Whether proletary or not, there was nothing about him to offend the taste of the best-born of ladies. That he was better educated than any of the highly-bred young men she saw around her, she was quite sure. He had more to talk about than others. Of his birth and family she knew nothing, but rather prided herself in knowing nothing, because of that doctrine of hers that a man is to be estimated only by what he is himself, and not at all by what he may derive from others. Of his personal appearance, which went far with her, she was very proud. He was certainly a handsome young man, and endowed with all outward gifts of manliness: easy in his gait, but not mindful of it, with motions of his body naturally graceful but never studied, with his head erect, with a laugh in his eye, well-made as to his hands and feet. Neither his intellect nor his political convictions would have recommended a man to her heart, unless there had been something in the outside to please her eye, and from the first moment in which she had met him he had never been afraid of her,—had ventured when he disagreed from her to laugh at her, and even to scold her. There is no barrier in a girl's heart so strong against love as the feeling that the man in question stands in awe of her.
She had taken some time before she had given him her answer, and had thought much of the perils before her. She had known that she could not divest herself of her rank. She had acknowledged to herself that, whether it was for good or bad, a Marquis's daughter could not be like another girl. She owed much to her father, much to her brothers, something even to her stepmother. But was the thing she proposed to do of such a nature as to be regarded as an evil to her family? She could see that there had been changes in the ways of the world during the last century,—changes continued from year to year. Rank was not so high as it used to be,—and in consequence those without rank not so low. The Queen's daughter had married a subject. Lords John and Lords Thomas were every day going into this and the other business. There were instances enough of ladies of title doing the very thing which she proposed to herself. Why should a Post Office clerk be lower than another?
Then came the great question, whether it behoved her to ask her father. Girls in general ask their mother, and send the lover to the father. She had no mother. She was quite sure that she would not leave her happiness in the hands of the present Marchioness. Were she to ask her father she knew that the matter would be at once settled against her. Her father was too much under the dominion of his wife to be allowed to have an opinion of his own on such a matter. So she declared to herself, and then determined that she would act on her own responsibility. She would accept the man, and then take the first opportunity of telling her stepmother what she had done. And so it was. It was only early on that morning that she had given her answer to George Roden,—and early on that morning she had summoned up her courage, and told her whole story.
The station to which she was taken was a large German schloss, very comfortably arranged, with the mountain as a background and the River Elbe running close beneath its terraces, on which the Marquis had spent some money, and made it a residence to be envied by the eyes of all passers-by. It had been bought for its beauty in a freak, but had never been occupied for more than a week at a time till this occasion. Under other circumstances Lady Frances would have been as happy here as the day was long, and had often expressed a desire to be allowed to stay for a while at Koenigsgraaf. But now, though she made an attempt to regard their sojourn in the place as one of the natural events of their life, she could not shake off the idea of a prison. The Marchioness was determined that the idea of a prison should not be shaken off. In the first few days she said not a word about the objectionable lover, nor did the Marquis. That had been settled between them. But neither was anything said on any other subject. There was a sternness in every motion, and a grim silence seemed to preside in the chateau, except when the boys were present,—and an attempt was made to separate her from her brothers as much as possible, which she was more inclined to resent than any other ill usage which was adopted towards her. After about a fortnight it was announced that the Marquis was to return to London. He had received letters from "the party" which made it quite necessary that he should be there. When this was told to Lady Frances not a word was said as to the probable duration of their own stay at the chateau.
"Papa," she said, "you are going back to London?"
"Yes, my dear. My presence in town is imperatively necessary."
"How long are we to stay here?"
"Yes, papa. I like Koenigsgraaf very much. I always thought it the prettiest place I know. But I do not like looking forward to staying here without knowing when I am to go away."
"You had better ask your mamma, my dear."
"Mamma never says anything to me. It would be no good my asking her. Papa, you ought to tell me something before you go away."
"Tell you what?"
"Or let me tell you something."
"What do you want to tell me, Frances?" In saying this he assumed his most angry tone and sternest countenance,—which, however, were not very angry or very stern, and had no effect in frightening his daughter. He did not, in truth, wish to say a word about the Post Office clerk before he made his escape, and would have been very glad to frighten her enough to make her silent had that been possible.
"Papa, I want you to know that it will do no good shutting me up there."
"Nobody shuts you up."
"I mean here in Saxony. Of course I shall stay for some time, but you cannot expect that I shall remain here always."
"Who has talked about always?"
"I understand that I am brought here to be—out of Mr. Roden's way."
"I would rather not speak of that young man."
"But, papa,—if he is to be my husband—"
"He is not to be your husband."
"It will be so, papa, though I should be kept here ever so long. That is what I want you to understand. Having given my word,—and so much more than my word,—I certainly shall not go back from it. I can understand that you should carry me off here so as to try and wean me from it—"
"It is quite out of the question; impossible!"
"No, papa. If he choose,—and I choose,—no one can prevent us." As she said this she looked him full in the face.
"Do you mean to say that you owe no obedience to your parents?"
"To you, papa, of course I owe obedience,—to a certain extent. There does come a time, I suppose, in which a daughter may use her own judgment as to her own happiness."
"And disgrace all her family?"
"I do not think that I shall disgrace mine. What I want you to understand, papa, is this,—that you will not ensure my obedience by keeping me here. I think I should be more likely to be submissive at home. There is an idea in enforced control which is hardly compatible with obedience. I don't suppose you will lock me up."
"You have no right to talk to me in that way."
"I want to explain that our being here can do no good. When you are gone mamma and I will only be very unhappy together. She won't talk to me, and will look at me as though I were a poor lost creature. I don't think that I am a lost creature at all, but I shall be just as much lost here as though I were at home in England."
"When you come to talking you are as bad as your brother," said the Marquis as he left her. Only that the expression was considered to be unfit for female ears, he would have accused her of "talking the hind legs off a dog."
When he was gone the life at Koenigsgraaf became very sombre indeed. Mr. George Roden's name was never mentioned by either of the ladies. There was the Post Office, no doubt, and the Post Office was at first left open to her; but there soon came a time in which she was deprived of this consolation. With such a guardian as the Marchioness, it was not likely that free correspondence should be left open to her.
George Roden, the Post Office clerk, lived with his mother at Holloway, about three miles from his office. There they occupied a small house which had been taken when their means were smaller even than at present;—for this had been done before the young man had made his way into the official elysium of St. Martin's-le-Grand. This had been effected about five years since, during which time he had risen to an income of L170. As his mother had means of her own amounting to about double as much, and as her personal expenses were small, they were enabled to live in comfort. She was a lady of whom none around knew anything, but there had gone abroad a rumour among her neighbours that there was something of a mystery attached to her, and there existed a prevailing feeling that she was at any rate a well-born lady. Few people at Holloway knew either her or her son. But there were some who condescended to watch them, and to talk about them. It was ascertained that Mrs. Roden usually went to church on Sunday morning, but that her son never did so. It was known, too, that a female friend called upon her regularly once a week; and it was noted in the annals of Holloway that this female friend came always at three o'clock on a Monday. Intelligent observers had become aware that the return visit was made in the course of the week, but not always made on one certain day;—from which circumstances various surmises arose as to the means, whereabouts, and character of the visitor. Mrs. Roden always went in a cab. The lady, whose name was soon known to be Mrs. Vincent, came in a brougham, which for a time was supposed to be her own peculiar property. The man who drove it was so well arrayed as to hat, cravat, and coat, as to leave an impression that he must be a private servant; but one feminine observer, keener than others, saw the man on an unfortunate day descend from his box at a public-house, and knew at once that the trousers were the trousers of a hired driver from a livery-stable. Nevertheless it was manifest that Mrs. Vincent was better to do in the world than Mrs. Roden, because she could afford to hire a would-be private carriage; and it was imagined also that she was a lady accustomed to remain at home of an afternoon, probably with the object of receiving visitors, because Mrs. Roden made her visits indifferently on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday. It was suggested also that Mrs. Vincent was no friend to the young clerk, because it was well known that he was never there when the lady came, and it was supposed that he never accompanied his mother on the return visits. He had, indeed, on one occasion been seen to get out of the cab with his mother at their own door, but it was strongly surmised that she had then picked him up at the Post Office. His official engagements might, indeed, have accounted for all this naturally; but the ladies of Holloway were well aware that the humanity of the Postmaster-General allowed a Saturday half-holiday to his otherwise overworked officials, and they were sure that so good a son as George Roden would occasionally have accompanied his mother, had there been no especial reason against it. From this further surmises arose. Some glance had fallen from the eye of the visitor lady, or perhaps some chance word had been heard from her lips, which created an opinion that she was religious. She probably objected to George Roden because he was anti-religious, or at any rate anti-church, meeting, or chapel-going. It had become quite decided at Holloway that Mrs. Vincent would not put up with the young clerk's infidelity. And it was believed that there had been "words" between the two ladies themselves on the subject of religion,—as to which probably there was no valid foundation, it being an ascertained fact that the two maids who were employed by Mrs. Roden were never known to tell anything of their mistress.
It was decided at Holloway that Mrs. Roden and Mrs. Vincent were cousins. They were like enough in face and near enough in age to have been sisters; but old Mrs. Demijohn, of No. 10, Paradise Row, had declared that had George been a nephew his aunt would not have wearied in her endeavour to convert him. In such a case there would have been intimacy in spite of disapproval. But a first cousin once removed might be allowed to go to the Mischief in his own way. Mrs. Vincent was supposed to be the elder cousin,—perhaps three or four years the elder,—and to have therefore something of an authority, but not much. She was stouter, too, less careful to hide what grey hairs years might have produced, and showing manifestly by the nature of her bonnets and shawls that she despised the vanities of the world. Not but that she was always handsomely dressed, as Mrs. Demijohn was very well aware. Less than a hundred a year could not have clothed Mrs. Vincent, whereas Mrs. Roden, as all the world perceived, did not spend half the money. But who does not know that a lady may repudiate vanity in rich silks and cultivate the world in woollen stuffs, or even in calico? Nothing was more certain to Mrs. Demijohn than that Mrs. Vincent was severe, and that Mrs. Roden was soft and gentle. It was assumed also that the two ladies were widows, as no husband or sign of a husband had appeared on the scene. Mrs. Vincent showed manifestly from her deportment, as well as from her title, that she had been a married woman. As to Mrs. Roden, of course, there was no doubt.
In regard to all this the reader may take the settled opinions of Mrs. Demijohn and of Holloway as being nearly true. Riddles may be read very accurately by those who will give sufficient attention and ample time to the reading of them. They who will devote twelve hours a day to the unravelling of acrostics, may discover nearly all the enigmas of a weekly newspaper with a separate editor for such difficulties. Mrs. Demijohn had almost arrived at the facts. The two ladies were second cousins. Mrs. Vincent was a widow, was religious, was austere, was fairly well off, and had quarrelled altogether with her distant relative George of the Post Office. Mrs. Roden, though she went to church, was not so well given to religious observances as her cousin would have her. Hence words had come which Mrs. Roden had borne with equanimity, but had received without effect. Nevertheless the two women loved each other dearly, and it was a great part of the life of each of them that these weekly visits should be made. There was one great fact, as to which Mrs. Demijohn and Holloway were in the wrong. Mrs. Roden was not a widow.
It was not till the Kingsburys had left London that George told his mother of his engagement. She was well acquainted with his intimacy with Lord Hampstead, and knew that he had been staying at Hendon Hall with the Kingsbury family. There had been no reticence between the mother and son as to these people, in regard to whom she had frequently cautioned him that there was danger in such associations with people moving altogether in a different sphere. In answer to this the son had always declared that he did not see the danger. He had not run after Lord Hampstead. Circumstances had thrown them together. They had originally met each other in a small political debating society, and gradually friendship had grown. The lord had sought him, and not he the lord. That, according to his own idea, had been right. Difference in rank, difference in wealth, difference in social regard required as much as that. He, when he had discovered who was the young man whom he had met, stood off somewhat, and allowed the friendship to spring from the other side. He had been slow to accept favour,—even at first to accept hospitality. But whenever the ice had, as he said, been thoroughly broken, then he thought that there was no reason why they should not pull each other out of the cold water together. As for danger, what was there to fear? The Marchioness would not like it? Very probably. The Marchioness was not very much to Hampstead, and was nothing at all to him. The Marquis would not really like it. Perhaps not. But in choosing a friend a young man is not supposed to follow altogether his father's likings,—much less need the chosen friend follow them. But the Marquis, as George pointed out to his mother, was hardly more like other marquises than the son was like other marquis's sons. There was a Radical strain in the family, as was made clear by that tailor who was still sitting for the borough of Edgeware. Mrs. Roden, however, though she lived so much alone, seeing hardly anything of the world except as Mrs. Vincent might be supposed to represent the world, had learned that the feelings and political convictions of the Marquis were hardly what they had been before he had married his present wife. "You may be sure, George," she had said, "that like to like is as safe a motto for friendship as it is for love."
"Not a doubt, mother," he replied; "but before you act upon it you must define 'like.' What makes two men like—or a man and a woman?"
"Outside circumstances of the world more than anything else," she answered, boldly.
"I would fancy that the inside circumstances of the mind would have more to do with it." She shook her head at him, pleasantly, softly, and lovingly,—but still with a settled purpose of contradiction. "I have admitted all along," he continued, "that low birth—"
"I have said nothing of low birth!" Here was a point on which there did not exist full confidence between the mother and son, but in regard to which the mother was always attempting to reassure the son, while he would assume something against himself which she would not allow to pass without an attempt of faint denial.
"That birth low by comparison," he continued, going on with his sentence, "should not take upon itself as much as may be allowed to nobility by descent is certain. Though the young prince may be superior in his gifts to the young shoeblack, and would best show his princeliness by cultivating the shoeblack, still the shoeblack should wait to be cultivated. The world has created a state of things in which the shoeblack cannot do otherwise without showing an arrogance and impudence by which he could achieve nothing."
"Which, too, would make him black his shoes very badly."
"No doubt. That will have to come to pass any way, because the nobler employments to which he will be raised by the appreciating prince will cause him to drop his shoes."
"Is Lord Hampstead to cause you to drop the Post Office?"
"Not at all. He is not a prince nor am I a shoeblack. Though we are far apart, we are not so far apart as to make such a change essential to our acquaintance. But I was saying— I don't know what I was saying."
"You were defining what 'like' means. But people always get muddled when they attempt definitions," said the mother.
"Though it depends somewhat on externals, it has more to do with internals. That is what I mean. A man and woman might live together with most enduring love, though one had been noble and wealthy and the other poor and a nobody. But a thorough brute and a human being of fine conditions can hardly live together and love each other."
"That is true," she said. "That I fear is true."
"I hope it is true."
"It has often to be tried, generally to the great detriment of the better nature."
All this, however, had been said before George Roden had spoken a word to Lady Frances, and had referred only to the friendship as it was growing between her son and the young lord.
The young lord had come on various occasions to the house at Holloway, and had there made himself thoroughly pleasant to his friend's mother. Lord Hampstead had a way of making himself pleasant in which he never failed when he chose to exercise it. And he did exercise it almost always,—always, indeed, unless he was driven to be courteously disagreeable by opposition to his own peculiar opinion. In shooting, fishing, and other occupations not approved of, he would fall into a line of argument, seemingly and indeed truly good-humoured, which was apt, however, to be aggravating to his opponent. In this way he would make himself thoroughly odious to his stepmother, with whom he had not one sentiment in common. In other respects his manners were invariably sweet, with an assumption of intimacy which was not unbecoming; and thus he had greatly recommended himself to Mrs. Roden. Who does not know the fashion in which the normal young man conducts himself when he is making a morning call? He has come there because he means to be civil. He would not be there unless he wished to make himself popular. He is carrying out some recognized purpose of society. He would fain be agreeable if it were possible. He would enjoy the moment if he could. But it is clearly his conviction that he is bound to get through a certain amount of altogether uninteresting conversation, and then to get himself out of the room with as little awkwardness as may be. Unless there be a pretty girl, and chance favour him with her special companionship, he does not for a moment suppose that any social pleasure is to be enjoyed. That rational amusement can be got out of talking to Mrs. Jones does not enter into his mind. And yet Mrs. Jones is probably a fair specimen of that general society in which every one wishes to mingle. Society is to him generally made up of several parts, each of which is a pain, though the total is deemed to be desirable. The pretty girl episode is no doubt an exception,—though that also has its pains when matter for conversation does not come readily, or when conversation, coming too readily, is rebuked. The morning call may be regarded as a period of unmitigated agony. Now it has to be asserted on Lord Hampstead's behalf that he could talk with almost any Mrs. Jones freely and pleasantly while he remained, and take his departure without that dislocating struggle which is too common. He would make himself at ease, and discourse as though he had known the lady all his life. There is nothing which a woman likes so much as this, and by doing this Lord Hampstead had done much, if not to overcome, at any rate to quiet the sense of danger of which Mrs. Roden had spoken.
But this refers to a time in which nothing was known at Holloway as to Lady Frances. Very little had been said of the family between the mother and son. Of the Marquis George Roden had wished to think well, but had hardly succeeded. Of the stepmother he had never even wished to do so. She had from the first been known to him as a woman thoroughly wedded to aristocratic prejudices,—who regarded herself as endowed with certain privileges which made her altogether superior to other human beings. Hampstead himself could not even pretend to respect her. Of her Roden had said very little to his mother, simply speaking of her as the Marchioness, who was in no way related to Hampstead. Of Lady Frances he had simply said that there was a girl there endowed with such a spirit, that of all girls of her class she must surely be the best and noblest. Then his mother had shuddered inwardly, thinking that here too there might be possible danger; but she had shrunk from speaking of the special danger even to her son.
"How has the visit gone?" Mrs. Roden asked, when her son had already been some hours in the house. This was after that last visit to Hendon Hall, in which Lady Frances had promised to become his wife.
"Pretty well, taking it altogether."
"I know that something has disappointed you."
"No, indeed, nothing. I have been somewhat abashed."
"What have they said to you?" she asked.
"Very little but what was kind,—just one word at the last."
"Something, I know, has hurt you," said the mother.
"Lady Kingsbury has made me aware that she dislikes me thoroughly. It is very odd how one person can do that to another almost without a word spoken."
"I told you, George, that there would be danger in going there."
"There would be no danger in that if there were nothing more."
"What more is there then?"
"There would be no danger in that if Lady Kingsbury was simply Hampstead's stepmother."
"What more is she?"
"She is stepmother also to Lady Frances. Oh, mother!"
"George, what has happened?" she asked.
"I have asked Lady Frances to be my wife."
"And she has promised."
"Yes, indeed, mother. Now you can perceive that she indeed may be a danger. When I think of the power of tormenting her stepdaughter which may rest in her hands I can hardly forgive myself for doing as I have done."
"And the Marquis?" asked the mother.
"I know nothing as yet as to what his feelings may be. I have had no opportunity of speaking to him since the little occurrence took place. A word escaped me, an unthought-of word, which her ladyship overheard, and for which she rebuked me. Then I left the house."
"Just a common word of greeting, a word that would be common among dear friends, but which, coming from me to her, told all the story. I forgot the prefix which was due from such a one as I am to such as she is. I can understand with what horror I must henceforward be regarded by Lady Kingsbury."
"What will the Marquis say?"
"I shall be a horror to him also,—an unutterable horror. The idea of contact so vile will cure him at once of all his little Radical longings."
"Nothing, I think, can cure Hampstead of his convictions;—but even he is not well pleased."
"Has he quarrelled with you?"
"No, not that. He is too noble to quarrel on such offence. He is too noble even to take offence on such a cause. But he refuses to believe that good will come of it. And you, mother?"
"Oh, George, I doubt, I doubt."
"You will not congratulate me?"
"What am I to say? I fear more than I can hope."
"When I tell you that she is noble at all points, noble in heart, noble in beauty, noble in that dignity which a woman should always carry with her, that she is as sweet a creature as God ever created to bless a man with, will you not then congratulate me?"
"I would her birth were other than it is," said the mother.
"I would have her altered in nothing," said the son. "Her birth is the smallest thing about her, but such as she is I would have her altered in nothing."
About a fortnight after George Roden's return to Holloway,—a fortnight passed by the mother in meditation as to her son's glorious but dangerous love,—Lord Hampstead called at No. 11, Paradise Row. Mrs. Roden lived at No. 11, and Mrs. Demijohn lived at No. 10, the house opposite. There had already been some discussion in Holloway about Lord Hampstead, but nothing had as yet been discovered. He might have been at the house on various previous occasions, but had come in so unpretending a manner as hardly to have done more than to cause himself to be regarded as a stranger in Holloway. He was known to be George's friend, because he had been first seen coming with George on a Saturday afternoon. He had also called on a Sunday and walked away, down the Row, with George. Mrs. Demijohn concluded that he was a brother clerk in the Post Office, and had expressed an opinion that "it did not signify," meaning thereby to imply that Holloway need not interest itself about the stranger. A young Government clerk would naturally have another young Government clerk for his friend. Twice Lord Hampstead had come down in an omnibus from Islington; on which occasion it was remarked that as he did not come on Saturday there must be something wrong. A clerk, with Saturday half-holidays, ought not to be away from his work on Mondays and Tuesdays. Mrs. Duffer, who was regarded in Paradise Row as being very inferior to Mrs. Demijohn, suggested that the young man might, perhaps, not be a Post Office clerk. This, however, was ridiculed. Where should a Post Office clerk find his friends except among Post Office clerks? "Perhaps he is coming after the widow," suggested Mrs. Duffer. But this also was received with dissent. Mrs. Demijohn declared that Post Office clerks knew better than to marry widows with no more than two or three hundred a year, and old enough to be their mothers. "But why does he come on a Tuesday?" asked Mrs. Duffer; "and why does he come alone?" "Oh you dear old Mrs. Duffer!" said Clara Demijohn, the old lady's niece, naturally thinking that it might not be unnatural that handsome young men should come to Paradise Row.
All this, however, had been as nothing to what occurred in the Row on the occasion which is now about to be described.
"Aunt Jemima," exclaimed Clara Demijohn, looking out of the window, "there's that young man come again to Number Eleven, riding on horseback, with a groom behind to hold him!"
"Groom to hold him!" exclaimed Mrs. Demijohn, jumping, with all her rheumatism, quickly from her seat, and trotting to the window.
"You look if there aint,—with boots and breeches."
"It must be another," said Mrs. Demijohn, after a pause, during which she had been looking intently at the empty saddle of the horse which the groom was leading slowly up and down the Row.
"It's the same that came with young Roden that Saturday," said Clara; "only he hadn't been walking, and he looked nicer than ever."
"You can hire them all, horses and groom," said Mrs. Demijohn; "but he'd never make his money last till the end of the month if he went on in that way."
"They aint hired. They're his own," said Clara.
"How do you know, Miss?"
"By the colour of his boots, and the way he touched his hat, and because his gloves are clean. He aint a Post Office clerk at all, Aunt Jemima."
"I wonder whether he can be coming after the widow," said Mrs. Demijohn. After this Clara escaped out of the room, leaving her aunt fixed at the window. Such a sight as that groom and those two horses moving up and down together had never been seen in the Row before. Clara put on her hat and ran across hurriedly to Mrs. Duffer, who lived at No. 15, next door but one to Mrs. Roden. But she was altogether too late to communicate the news as news.