Arabella again at Bragton
Arabella Trefoil had adhered without flinching to the purpose she had expressed of going down to Bragton to see the sick man. And yet at that very time she was in the midst of her contest with Lord Rufford. She was aware that a correspondence was going on between her father and the young lord and that her father had demanded an interview. She was aware also that the matter had been discussed at the family mansion in Piccadilly, the Duke having come to London for the purpose, and that the Duke and his brother, who hardly ever spoke to each other, had absolutely had a conference. And this conference had had results. The Duke had not himself consented to interfere, but he had agreed to a compromise proposed by his son. Lord Augustus should be authorised to ask Lord Rufford to meet him in the library of the Piccadilly mansion,--so that there should be some savour of the dukedom in what might be done and said there. Lord Rufford would by the surroundings be made to feel that in rejecting Arabella he was rejecting the Duke and all the Mayfair belongings, and that in accepting her he would be entitled to regard himself as accepting them all. But by allowing thus much the Duke would not compromise himself,--nor the Duchess, nor Lord Mistletoe. Lord Mistletoe, with that prudence which will certainly in future years make him a useful assistant to some minister of the day, had seen all this, and so it had been arranged.
But, in spite of these doings, Arabella had insisted on complying with John Morton's wish that she go down and visit him in his bed at Bragton. Her mother, who in these days was driven almost to desperation by her daughter's conduct, tried her best to prevent the useless journey, but tried in vain. "Then," she said in wrath to Arabella, "I will tell your father, and I will tell the Duke, and I will tell Lord Rufford that they need not trouble themselves any further." "You know, mamma, that you will do nothing of the kind," said Arabella. And the poor woman did do nothing of the kind. "What is it to them whether I see the man or not?" the girl said. "They are not such fools as to suppose that because Lord Rufford has engaged himself to me now I was never engaged to any one before. There isn't one of them doesn't know that you had made up an engagement between us and had afterwards tried to break it off." When she heard this the unfortunate mother raved, but she raved in vain. She told her daughter that she would not supply her with money for the expenses of her journey, but her daughter replied that she would have no difficulty in finding her way to a pawn shop. "What is to be got by it?" asked the unfortunate mother. In reply to this Arabella would say, "Mamma, you have no heart;-- absolutely none. You ought to manoeuvre better, than you do, for your feelings never stand in your way for a moment" All this had to be borne, and the old woman was forced at last not only to yield but to promise that she would accompany her daughter to Bragton. "I know how all this will end," she said to Arabella. "You will have to go your way and I must go mine." "Just so," replied the daughter. "I do not often agree with you, mamma; but I do there altogether."
Lady Augustus was absolutely at a loss to understand what were the motives and what the ideas which induced her daughter to take the journey. If the man were to die no good could come of it. If he were to live then surely that love which had induced him to make so foolish a petition would suffice to ensure the marriage, if the marriage should then be thought desirable. But, at the present moment, Arabella was still hot in pursuit of Lord Rufford; to whom this journey, as soon as it should be known to him, would give the easiest mode of escape! How would it be possible that they two should get out at the Dillsborough Station and be taken to Bragton without all Rufford knowing it. Of course there would be hymns sung in praise of Arabella's love and constancy, but such hymns would be absolutely ruinous to her. It was growing clear to Lady Augustus that her daughter was giving up the game and becoming frantic as she thought of her age, her failure, and her future. If so it would be well that they should separate.
On the day fixed a close carriage awaited them at the Dillsborough Station. They arrived both dressed in black and both veiled,--and with but one maid between them, This arrangement had been made with some vague idea of escaping scrutiny rather than from economy. They had never hitherto been known to go anywhere without one apiece. There were no airs on the station now as on that former occasion,-- no loud talking; not even a word spoken. Lady Augustus was asking herself why,--why she should have been put into so lamentable a position, and Arabella was endeavouring to think what she would say to the dying man.
She did think that he was dying. It was not the purport of her present visit to strengthen her position by making certain of the man's hand should he live. When she said that she was not as yet quite so hard-hearted as her mother, she spoke the truth. Something of regret, something of penitence had at times crept over her in reference to her conduct to this man. He had been very unlike others on whom she had played her arts. None of her lovers, or mock lovers, had been serious and stern and uncomfortable as he. There had been no other who had ever attempted to earn his bread. To her the butterflies of the world had been all in all, and the working bees had been a tribe apart with which she was no more called upon to mix than is my lady's spaniel with the kennel hounds. But the chance had come. She had consented to exhibit her allurements before a man of business and the man of business had at once sat at her feet. She had soon repented,--as the reader has seen. The alliance had been distasteful to her. She had found that the man's ways were in no wise like her ways,--and she had found also that were she to become his wife, he certainly would not change. She had looked about for a means of escape,--but as she did so she had recognized the man's truth. No doubt he had been different from the others, less gay in his attire, less jocund in his words, less given to flattery and sport and gems and all the little wickednesses which she had loved. But they, those others had, one and all, struggled to escape from her. Through all the gems and mirth and flattery there had been the same purpose. They liked the softness of her hand, they liked the flutter of her silk, they liked to have whispered in their ears the bold words of her practised raillery. Each liked for a month or two to be her special friend. But then, after that, each had deserted her as had done the one before; till in each new alliance she felt that such was to be her destiny, and that she was rolling a stone which would never settle itself, straining for waters which would never come lip high. But John Morton, after once saying that he loved her, had never tired, had never wished to escape. He had been so true to his love, so true to his word, that he had borne from her usage which would have fully justified escape had escape been to his taste. But to the last he had really loved her, and now, on his death bed, he had sent for her to come to him. She would not be coward enough to refuse his request. "Should he say anything to you about his will don't refuse to hear him, because it may be of the greatest importance," Lady Augustus whispered to her daughter as the carriage was driven up to the front door.
It was then four o'clock, and it was understood that the two ladies were to stay that one night at Bragton, a letter having been received by Lady Ushant that morning informing her that the mother as well as the daughter was coming. Poor Lady Ushant was almost beside herself,--not knowing what she would do with the two women, and having no one in the house to help her. Something she had heard of Lady Augustus, but chiefly from Mrs. Hopkins who certainly had not admired her master's future mother-in-law. Nor had Arabella been popular; but of her Mrs. Hopkins had only dared to say that she was very handsome and "a little upstartish." How she was to spend the evening with them Lady Ushant could not conceive,--it having been decided, in accordance with the doctor's orders, that the interview should not take place till the next morning. When they were shown in Lady Ushant stood just within the drawing-room door and muttered a few words as she gave her hand to each. "How is he?" asked Arabella, throwing up her veil boldly, as soon as the door was closed. Lady Ushant only shook her head. "I knew it would be so. It is always so with anything I care for."
"She is so distressed, Lady Ushant," said the mother, "that she hardly knows what she does." Arabella shook her head. "It is so, Lady Ushant"
"Am I to go to him now?" said Arabella. Then the old lady explained the doctor's orders, and offered to take them to their rooms. "Perhaps I might say a word to you alone? I will stay here if you will go with mamma." And she did stay till Lady Ushant came down to her. "Do you mean to say it is certain," she asked,--certain that he must--die?"
"No;--I do not say that"
"It is possible that he may recover?"
"Certainly it is possible. What is not possible with God?"
"Ah;--that means that he will die." Then she sat herself down and almost unconsciously took off her bonnet and laid it aside. Lady Ushant, then looking into her face for the first time, was at a loss to understand what she had heard of her beauty. Could it be the same girl of whom Mrs. Hopkins had spoken and of whose brilliant beauty Reginald had repeated what he had heard? She was haggard, almost old, with black lines round her eyes. There was nothing soft or gracious in the tresses of her hair. When Lady Ushant had been young men had liked hair such as was that of Mary Masters. Arabella's yellow locks,--whencesoever they might have come,--were rough and uncombed. But it was the look of age, and the almost masculine strength of the lower face which astonished Lady Ushant the most. "Has he spoken to you about me?" she said.
"Not to me." Then Lady Ushant went on to explain that though she was there now as the female representative of the family she had never been so intimate with John Morton as to admit of such confidence as that suggested.
"I wonder whether he can love me," said the girl.
"Assuredly he does, Miss Trefoil. Why else should he send for you?"
"Because he is an honest man. I hardly think that he can love me much. He was to have been my husband, but he will escape that. If I thought that he would live I would tell him that he was free."
"He would not want to be free."
"He ought to want it. I am not fit for him. I have come here, Lady Ushant, because I want to tell him the truth."
"But you love him?" Arabella made no answer, but sat looking steadily into Lady Ushant's face. "Surely you do love him."
"I do not know. I don't think I did love him,--though now I may. It is so horrible that he should die, and die while all this is going on. That softens one you know. Have you ever heard of Lord Rufford?"
"Lord Rufford;--the young man?"
"Yes;--the young man."
"Never particularly. I knew his father."
"But not this man? Mr. Morton never spoke you of him."
"Not a word."
"I have been engaged to him since I became engaged to your nephew."
"Engaged to Lord Rufford,--to marry him?"
"And will you marry him?"
"I cannot say. I tell you this, Lady Ushant, because I must tell somebody in this house. I have behaved very badly to Mr. Morton, and Lord Rufford is behaving as badly to me."
"Did John know of this?"
"No;--but I meant to tell him. I determined that I would tell him had he lived. When he sent for me I swore that I would tell him. If he is dying,--how can I say it?" Lady Ushant sat bewildered, thinking over it, understanding nothing of the world in which this girl had lived, and not knowing now how things could have been as she described them. It was not as yet three months since, to her knowledge, this young woman had been staying at Bragton as the affianced bride of the owner of the house,--staying there with her own mother and his grandmother,--and now she declared that since that time she had become engaged to another man and that that other man had already jilted her! And yet she was here that she might make a deathbed parting with the man who regarded himself as her affianced husband. "If I were sure that he were dying, why should I trouble him?" she said again.
Lady Ushant found herself utterly unable to give any counsel to such a condition of circumstances. Why should she be asked? This young woman had her mother with her. Did her mother know all this, and nevertheless bring her daughter to the house of a man who had been so treated! "I really do not know what to say," she replied at last.
"But I was determined that I would tell some one. I thought that Mrs. Morton would have been here." Lady Ushant shook her head. "I am glad she is not, because she was not civil to me when I was here before. She would have said hard things to me,--though not perhaps harder than I have deserved. I suppose I may still see him to-morrow."
"Oh yes; he expects it"
"I shall not tell him now. I could not tell him if I thought he were dying. If he gets better you must tell him all."
"I don't think I could do that, Miss Trefoil."
"Pray do;--pray do. I call upon you to tell him everything."
"Tell him that you will be married to Lord Rufford?"
"No;--not that. If Mr. Morton were well to-morrow I would have him,--if he chose after what I have told you."
"You do love him then?"
"At any rate I like no one better."
"Not the young lord?"
"No! why should I like him? He does not love me. I hate him. I would marry Mr. Morton tomorrow, and go with him to Patagonia, or anywhere else,--if he would have me after hearing what I have done." Then she rose from her chair; but before she left the room she said a word further. "Do not speak a word to my mother about this. Mamma knows nothing of my purpose. Mamma only wants me to marry Lord Rufford, and to throw Mr. Morton over. Do not tell anyone else, Lady Ushant; but if he is ever well enough then you must tell him." After that she went, leaving Lady Ushant in the room astounded by the story she had heard.
THE END of VOLUME II
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