The Success of Lady Augustus
Lady Augustus was still staying with the Connop Greens in Hampshire when she received the Duke's letter and Arabella was with her. The story of Lord Rufford's infidelity had been told to Mrs. Connop Green,--and of course through her to Mr. Connop Green. Both the mother and daughter affected to despise the Connop Greens;--but it is so hard to restrain oneself from confidences when difficulties arise! Arabella had by this time quite persuaded herself that there had been an absolute engagement, and did in truth believe that she had been most cruelly ill-used. She was headstrong, fickle, and beyond measure insolent to her mother. She had, as we know, at one time gone down to the house of her former lover, thereby indicating that she had abandoned all hope of catching Lord Rufford. But still the Connop Greens either felt or pretended to feel great sympathy with her, and she would still declare from time to time that Lord Rufford had not heard the last of her. It was now more than a month since she had seen that perjured lord at Mistletoe, and more than a week since her father had brought him so uselessly up to London. Though determined that Lord Rufford should hear more of her, she hardly knew how to go to work, and on these days spent most of her time in idle denunciations of her false lover. Then came her uncle's letter, which was of course shown to her.
She was quite of opinion that they must do as the Duke directed. It was so great a thing to have the Duke interesting himself in the matter, that she would have assented to anything proposed by him. The suggestion even inspired some temporary respect, or at any rate observance, towards her mother. Hitherto her mother had been nobody to her in the matter, a person belonging to her whom she had to regard simply as a burden. She could not at all understand how the Duke had been guided in making such a choice of a new emissary;-- but there it was under his own hand, and she must now in some measure submit herself to her mother unless she were prepared to repudiate altogether the Duke's assistance. As to Lady Augustus herself, the suggestion gave to her quite a new life. She had no clear conception what she should say to Lord Rufford if the meeting were arranged, but it was gratifying to her to find herself brought back into authority over her daughter. She read the Duke's letter to Mrs. Connop Green, with certain very slight additions,--or innuendos as to additions,--and was pleased to find that the letter was taken by Mrs. Connop Green as positive proof of the existence of the engagement. She wrote begging the Duke to allow her to have the meeting at the family house in Piccadilly, and to this prayer the Duke was obliged to assent. "It would," she said, "give her so much assistance in speaking to Lord Rufford!" She named a day also, and then spent her time in preparing herself for the interview by counsel with Mrs. Green and by exacting explanations from her daughter.
This was a very bad time for Arabella,--so bad, that had she known to what she would be driven, she would probably have repudiated the Duke and her mother altogether. "Now, my dear," she began, "you must tell me everything that occurred first at Rufford and then at Mistletoe."
"You know very well what occurred, mamma."
"I know nothing about it, and unless everything is told me I will not undertake this mission. Your uncle evidently thinks that by my interference the thing may be arranged. I have had the same idea all through myself, but as you have been so obstinate I have not liked to say so. Now, Arabella, begin from the beginning. When was it that he first suggested to you the idea of marriage?"
"Good heavens, mamma!"
"I must have it from the beginning to the end. Did he speak of marriage at Rufford? I suppose he did because you told me that you were engaged to him when you went to Mistletoe."
"So I was."
"What had he said?"
"What nonsense! How am I to remember what he said? As if a girl ever knows what a man says to her."
"Did he kiss you?"
"I cannot stand this, mamma. If you like to go you may go. My uncle seems to think it is the best thing, and so I suppose it ought to be done. But I won't answer such questions as you are asking for Lord Rufford and all that he possesses."
"What am I to say then? How am I to call back to his recollection the fact that he committed himself, unless you will tell me how and when he did so?"
"Ask him if he did not assure me of his love when we were in the carriage together."
"Coming home from hunting."
"Was that at Mistletoe or Rufford?"
"At Mistletoe, mamma," replied Arabella, stamping her foot.
"But you must let me know how it was that you became engaged to him at Rufford."
"Mamma, you mean to drive me mad," exclaimed Arabella as she bounced out of the room.
There was very much more of this, till at last Arabella found herself compelled to invent facts. Lord Rufford, she said, had assured her of his ever lasting affection in the little room at Rufford, and had absolutely asked her to be his wife coming home in the carriage with her to Stamford. She told herself that though this was not strictly true, it was as good as true,--as that which was actually done and said by Lord Rufford on those occasions could have had no other meaning. But before her mother had completed her investigation, Arabella had become so sick of the matter that she shut herself up in her room and declared that nothing on earth should induce her to open her mouth on the subject again.
When Lord Rufford received the letter he was aghast with new disgust. He had begun to flatter himself that his interview with Lord Augustus would be the end of the affair. Looking at it by degrees with coolness he had allowed himself to think that nothing very terrible could be done to him. Some few people, particularly interested in the Mistletoe family, might give him a cold shoulder, or perhaps cut him directly; but such people would not belong to his own peculiar circle, and the annoyance would not be great. But if all the family, one after another, were to demand interviews with him up in London, he did not see when the end of it would be. There would be the Duke himself, and the Duchess, and Mistletoe. And the affair would in this way become gossip for the whole town. He was almost minded to write to the Duke saying that such an interview could do no good; but at last he thought it best to submit the matter to his mentor, Sir George Penwether. Sir George was clearly of opinion that it was Lord Rufford's duty to see Lady Augustus. "Yes, you must have interviews with all of them, if they ask it," said Sir George. "You must show that you are not afraid to hear what her friends have got to say. When a man gets wrong he can't put himself right without some little annoyance."
"Since the world began," said Lord Rufford, "I don't think that there was ever a man born so well adapted for preaching sermons as you are." Nevertheless he did as he was bid, and consented to meet Lady Augustus in Piccadilly on the day named by her. On that very day the hounds met at Impington and Lord Rufford began to feel his punishment. He assented to the proposal made and went up to London, leaving the members of the U.R.U. to have the run of the season from the Impington coverts.
When Lady Augustus was sitting in the back room of the mansion waiting for Lord Rufford she was very much puzzled to think what she would say to him when he came. With all her investigation she had received no clear idea of the circumstances as they occurred. That her daughter had told her a fib in saying that she was engaged when she went to Mistletoe, she was all but certain. That something had occurred in the carriage which might be taken for an offer she thought possible. She therefore determined to harp upon the carriage as much as possible and to say as little as might be as to the doings at Rufford. Then as she was trying to arrange her countenance and her dress and her voice, so that they might tell on his feelings, Lord Rufford was announced. "Lady Augustus," said he at once, beginning the lesson which he had taught himself, "I hope I see you quite well. I have come here because you have asked me, but I really don't know that I have anything to say."
"Lord Rufford, you must hear me."
"Oh yes; I will hear you certainly, only this kind of thing is so painful to all parties, and I don't see the use of it."
"Are you aware that you have plunged me and my daughter into a state of misery too deep to be fathomed?"
"I should be sorry to think that"
"How can it be otherwise? When you assure a girl in her position in life that you love her--a lady whose rank is quite as high as your own--"
"Quite so,--quite so."
"And when in return for that assurance you have received vows of love from her,--what is she to think, and what are her friends to think?" Lord Rufford had always kept in his mind a clear remembrance of the transaction in the carriage, and was well aware that the young lady's mother had inverted the circumstances, or, as he expressed it to himself, had put the cart before the horse. He had assured the young lady that he loved her, and he had also been assured of her love; but her assurance had come first. He felt that this made all the difference in the world; so much difference that no one cognisant in such matters would hold that his assurance, obtained after such a fashion, meant anything at all. But how was he to explain this to the lady's mother? "You will admit that such assurances were given?" continued Lady Augustus.
"Upon my word I don't know. There was a little foolish talk, but it meant nothing."
"What am I to say? I don't want to give offence, and I am heartily sorry that you and your daughter should be under any misapprehension. But as I sit here there was no engagement between us;--nor, if I must speak out, Lady Augustus, could your daughter have thought that there was an engagement."
"Did you not--embrace her?"
"I did. That's the truth."
"And after that you mean to say--"
"After that I mean to say that nothing more was intended." There was a certain meanness of appearance about the mother which emboldened him.
"What a declaration to make to the mother of a young lady, and that young lady the niece of the Duke of Mayfair!"
"It's not the first time such a thing has been done, Lady Augustus."
"I know nothing about that,--nothing. I don't know whom you may have lived with. It never was done to her before."
"If I understand right she was engaged to marry Mr. Morton when she came to Rufford."
"It was all at an end before that."
"At any rate you both came from his house."
"Where he had been staying with Mrs. Morton."
"And where she has been since,--without Mrs. Morton."
"Lady Ushant was there, Lord Rufford."
"But she has been staying at the house of this gentleman to whom you admit that she was engaged a short time before she came to us."
"He is on his death-bed, and he thought that he had behaved badly to her. She did go to Bragton the other day, at his request,-- merely that she might say that she forgave him."
"I only hope that she will forgive me too. There is really nothing else to be said. If there were anything I could do to atone to her for this--trouble."
"If you only could know the brightness of the hopes you have shattered,--and the purity of that girl's affection for yourself!"
It was then that an idea--a low-minded idea occurred to Lord Rufford. While all this was going on he had of course made various inquiries about this branch of the Trefoil family and had learned that Arabella was altogether portionless. He was told too that Lady Augustus was much harassed by impecuniosity. Might it be possible to offer a recompense? "If I could do anything else, Lady Augustus; but really I am not a marrying man." Then Lady Augustus wept bitterly; but while she was weeping, a low-minded idea occurred to her also. It was clear to her that there could be no marriage. She had never expected that there would be a marriage. But if this man who was rolling in wealth should offer some sum of money to her daughter,--something so considerable as to divest the transaction of the meanness which would be attached to a small bribe,-- something which might be really useful throughout life, would it not be her duty, on behalf of her dear child, to accept such an offer? But the beginnings of such dealings are always difficult. "Couldn't my lawyer see yours, Lady Augustus?" said Lord Rufford.
"I don't want the family lawyer to know anything about it," said Lady Augustus. Then there was silence between them for a few moments. "You don't know what we have to bear, Lord Rufford. My husband has spent all my fortune,--which was considerable; and the Duke does nothing for us." Then he took a bit of paper and, writing on it the figures "6,000l." pushed it across the table. She gazed at the scrap for a minute, and then, borrowing his pencil without a word, scratched out his Lordship's figures and wrote "8,000l." beneath them; and then added, "No one to know it." After that he held the scrap for two or three minutes in his hands, and then wrote beneath the figures, "Very well. To be settled on your daughter. No one shall know it." She bowed her head, but kept the scrap of paper in her possession. "Shall I ring for your carriage?" he asked. The bell was rung, and Lady Augustus was taken back to the lodgings in Orchard Street in the hired brougham. As she went she told herself that if everything else failed, 400 pounds a year would support her daughter, or that in the event of any further matrimonial attempt such a fortune would be a great assistance. She had been sure that there could be no marriage, and was disposed to think that she had done a good morning's work on behalf of her unnatural child.
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