The Duke's Injustice
No advantage whatever was obtained by Lady Mary's interview with her father. He persisted that Mrs Finn had been untrue to him when she left Matching without telling him all that she knew of his daughter's engagement with Mr Tregear. No doubt by degrees that idea which he at first entertained was expelled from his heat,--the idea that she had been cognizant of the whole thing before she came to Matching; but even this was done so slowly that there was no moment at which he became aware of any lessened feeling of indignation. To his thinking she had betrayed her trust, and he could not be got by his daughter to say that he would forgive her. He certainly could not be got to say that he would apologise for the accusation he had made. It was nothing less that his daughter asked; and he could hardly refrain himself from anger when she asked it. 'There should not have been a moment,' he said, 'before she came and told me and told me all.' Poor Lady Mary's position was certainly uncomfortable enough. The great sin,--the sin which was so great that to have known it for a day without revealing it was in itself a damning sin on the part of Mrs Finn,--was Lady Mary's sin. And she differed so entirely from her father as to think that the sin of her own was a virtue, and that to have spoken of it to him would have been, on the part of Mrs Finn, a treachery so deep that no woman ought to have forgive it! When he spoke of a matter which deeply affected his honour,--she could hardly refrain from asserting that his honour was quite safe in his daughter's hands. And when in his heart he declared that it should have been Mrs Finn's first care to save him from disgrace, Lady Mary did break out, 'Papa there could be no disgrace.' 'That for a moment shall be laid aside,' he said, with that manner by which even his peers in council had never been able not to be awed, 'but if you communicate with Mrs Finn at all you must be made to understand that I regard her conduct as inexcusable.'
Nothing had been gained, and poor Lady Mary was compelled to write a few lines which were to her most painful in writing.
'My Dear Mrs. Finn,
'I have seen papa, and he thinks that you ought to have told him when I told you. It occurs to me that it would have been a cruel thing to do, and most unfair to Mr Tregear, who was quite willing to go to papa, and had only put off doing so because of poor mamma's death. As I had told mamma, of course it was right that he should tell papa. Then I told you, because you were so kind to me! I am so sorry that I have got you into this trouble; but what can I do?
'I told him I must write to you. I suppose it is better that I should, although what I have to say is so unpleasant. I hope it will all blow over in time, because I love you dearly. You may be quite sure of one thing,--that I shall never change.' (In this assurance the writer was alluding not to her friendship for her friend but her love for her lover,--and so the friend understood her) I hope things will be settled some day, and then we may be able to meet.
'Your very affectionate Friend,
Mrs Finn, when she received this, was alone in her house in Park Lane. Her husband was down in the North of England. On this subject she had not spoken to him, fearing that he would feel himself bound to take some steps to support his wife under the treatment she had received. Even though she must quarrel with the Duke, she was most anxious that her husband should not be compelled to do so. Their connection had been political rather than personal. There were many reasons why there should be no open cause of disruption between them. But her husband was hot-headed, and, were al this to be told to him and that letter shown to him which the Duke had written, there would be words between him and the Duke which would probably make impossible any further connection between them.
It troubled her very much. She was by no means not alive to the honour of the Duke's friendship. Throughout her intimacy with the Duchess she had abstained from pressing herself on him, not because she had been indifferent about him, but that she had perceived that she might make her way with him better by standing aloof than by thrusting herself forward. And she had known that she had been successful. She could tell herself with pride that her conduct towards him had been always such as would become a lady of high spirit and fine feeling. She knew that she had deserved well of him, that in all her intercourse with him, with his uncle, and with his wife, she had given much and had taken little. She was the last woman in the world to let a word on such a matter pass her lips; but not the less was she conscious of her merit towards him. And she had been led to act as she had done by sincere admiration for the man. In all their political troubles, she had understood him better than the Duchess had done. Looking on from a distance she had understood the man's character as it had come to her both from his wife and from her own husband.
That he was unjust to her,--cruelly unjust, she was quite sure. He accused her of intentional privity as to a secret which it behooved him to know, and of being a party to that secrecy. Whereas from the moment in which she had heard the secret she had determined that it must be made known to him. She felt that she had deserved his good opinion in all things, but in nothing more than in the way in which she had acted in this matter. And yet he had treated her with an imperious harshness which amounted to insolence. What a letter it was that he had written to her! The very tips of her ears tingled with heat as she read again to herself. None of the ordinary courtesies of epistle-craft had been preserved either in the beginning or in the end. It was worse even than if he had called her, Madam without an epithet. 'The Duke understands--' 'The Duke thinks--' 'The Duke feels--' feels that he should not be troubled with either letters or conversation; the upshot of it all being that the Duke declared her to have shown herself unworthy of being treated like a lady! And this is after all she had done!
She would not bear it. That at present was all that she could say to herself. She was not angry with Lady Mary. She did not doubt but that the girl had done the best in her power to bring her father to reason. But because Lady Mary had failed, she, Mrs Finn, was not going to put up with so grievous an injury. And she was forced to bear all this alone! There was none with whom she could communicate;--no one from whom she could ask advice. She would not bring her husband into a quarrel which might be prejudicial to his position as a member of his political party. There was no one else to whom she would tell the secret of Lady Mary's love. And yet she could not bear this injustice done to her.
Then she wrote as follows to the Duke:
'Mrs Finn presents her compliments to the Duke of Omnium. Mrs Finn finds it to be essential to her that she should see the Duke in reference to his letter to her. If his Grace will let her know on what day and at what hour he will be kind enough to call on her, Mrs Finn will be at home to receive him. 'Park Lane. Thursday 12th May, 18-'
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