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'No; My Lord. I Do Not.'
Between two and three o'clock Lord Silverbridge, in spite of his sorrow, found himself able to eat his lunch at his club. The place was deserted, the Beargarden world having gone to the races. As he sat eating cold lamb and drinking soda-and-brandy he did confirm himself in certain modified resolutions, which might be more probably kept than those sterner laws of absolute renunciation to which he had thought of pledging himself in his half-starved morning condition. His father had spoken in very strong language against racing,--saying that those who went were either fools or rascals. He was sure this was exaggerated. Half the House of Lords and two-thirds of the House of Commons were to be seen at the Derby; but no doubt there were many rascals and fools, and he could not associate with the legislators without finding himself among the fools and rascals. He would,--and as soon as he could,-- separate himself from the Major. And he would not bet. It was on that side of the sport that the rascals and the fools showed themselves. Of what service could betting be to him whom Providence had provided with all things wanted to make life pleasant? As to the drag, his father had in a certain measure approved of that, and he would keep the drag, as he must have some relaxation. But his great effort of all should be made in the House of Commons. He would endeavour to make his father perceive that he had appreciated that letter. He would always be in the House soon after four, and would remain there,--or, if possible, as long as the Speaker sat in the chair. He had already begun to feel that there was a difficulty in keeping his seat upon those benches. The half-hours there would be so much longer than elsewhere! An irresistible desire of sauntering out would come upon him. There were men the very sound of whose voices was already odious to him. There had come upon him a feeling in regard to certain orators, that when once they had begun there was no reason why they should ever stop. Words of some sort were always forthcoming, like spiders' webs. He did not think that he could learn to take a pleasure in sitting in the House; but he hoped that he might be man enough to do it, though it was not pleasant. He would begin today, instead of going to the Oaks.
But before he went to the House he would see Lady Mabel Grex. And here it may be well to state that in making his resolutions as to a better life, he had considered much whether it would not be well for him to take a wife. His father had once told him that when he married, the house in Carlton Terrace should be his own. 'I will be a lodger if you will have me,' said the Duke; 'or if your wife should not like that, I will find a lodging elsewhere.' This had been the sadness and tenderness which had immediately followed the death of the Duchess. Marriage would steady him. Were he a married man, Tifto would of course disappear. Upon the whole he thought it would be good that should marry. And, if so, who could be so nice as Lady Mabel? That his father would be contented with Lady Mab, he was inclined to believe. There was no better blood in England. And Lady Mabel was known to be clever, beautiful, and, in her peculiar circumstances, very wise.
He was aware, however, of a certain drawback. Lady Mabel as his wife would be his superior, and in some degrees his master. Though not older she was wiser than he,--and not only wiser but more powerful also. And he was not quite sure but that she regarded him as a boy. He thought that she did love him,--or would do so if he asked her,--but that her love would be bestowed upon him as on an inferior creature. He was already jealous of his own dignity, and fearful lest he should miss the glory of being loved by this lovely one for his own sake,--for his own manhood, and his own gifts and character.
And yet his attraction to her was so great that now in the day of his sorrow he could think of no solace but what was to be found in her company. 'Not at the Oaks!' she said as soon as he was shown into the drawing-room.
'No,--not at the Oaks. Lord Grex is there, I suppose?'
'Oh yes;--that is a matter of course. Why are you a recreant?'
'The House sits today.'
'How virtuous! Is it coming to that,--that when the House sits you will never be absent?'
'That's the kind of life I'm going to lead. You haven't heard about Gerald?'
'About your brother?'
'Yes;--you haven't heard?'
'Not a word. I hope there is not misfortune.'
'But indeed there is,--a most terrible misfortune.' Then he told the whole story. How Gerald had been kept in London, and how he had gone down to Cambridge,--all in vain; how his father had taken the matter to heart, telling him that he had ruined his brother; and how he, in consequence, had determined not to go to the races. 'Then he said,' continued Silverbridge, 'that his children between them would bring him to his grave.'
'That was terrible.'
'But what did he mean by that?' asked Lady Mabel, anxious to hear something about Lady Mary and Tregear.
'Well; of course what I did at Oxford made him unhappy; and now there is this affair of Gerald's.'
'He did not allude to your sister?'
'Yes he did. You have heard of all that. Tregear told you.'
'He told me something.'
'Of course my father does not like it.'
'Do you approve of it?'
'No,' said he--curtly and sturdily.
'Why not? You like Tregear.'
'Certainly I like Tregear. He is the friend among men, whom I like the best. I have only two real friends.'
'Who are they?' she asked, sinking her voice very low.
'He is one;--and you are the other. You know that.'
'I hoped that I was one,' she said. 'But if you love Tregear so dearly, why do you not approve of him for your sister?'
'I always knew that it would not do.'
'But why not?'
'Mary ought to marry a man of higher standing.'
'Of higher rank you mean. The daughter of Dukes have married commoners before.'
'It is not exactly that. I don't like to talk of it in that way. I knew it would make my father unhappy. In point of fact he can't marry her. What is the good of approving of a thing that is impossible?'
'I wish I knew your sister. Is she--firm?'
'Indeed she is.'
'I am not so sure you are.'
'No,' said he, after considering awhile; 'nor am I. But she is not like Gerald or me. She is more obstinate.'
'Less fickle perhaps.'
'Yes, if you choose to call it fickle. I don't know that I am fickle. If I were in love with a girl I should be true to her.'
'Are you sure of that?'
'Quite sure. If I were really in love with her I certainly should not change. It is possible that I might be bullied out of it.'
'But she will not be bullied out of it?'
'Mary? No. That is just it. She will stick to it if he does.'
'I would if I were she. Where will you find any young man equal to Frank Tregear?'
'Perhaps you mean to cut poor Mary out.'
'That isn't a nice thing for you to say, Lord Silverbridge. Frank is my cousin,--as indeed you are also; but it so happens that I have seen a great deal of him all my life. And, though I don't want to cut your sister out, as you so prettily say, I love him well enough to understand that any girl whom he loves ought to be true to him.' So far what she said was very well, but she afterwards added a word which might have been wisely omitted. 'Frank and I are almost beggars.'
'What an accursed thing money is,' he exclaimed, jumping up from his chair.
'I don't agree with you at all. It is a very comfortable thing.'
'How is anybody who has got it to know if anybody cares for him?'
'You must find that out. There is such a thing I suppose as a real sympathy.'
'You tell me to my face that you and Tregear would have been lovers only that you are both poor.'
'I never said anything of the kind.'
'And that he is to be passed on to my sister because it is supposed that she will have some money.'
'You are putting words into my mouth which I never spoke, and ideas into my mind which I never thought.'
'And of course I feel the same about myself. How can a fellow help it? I wish you had a lot of money, I know.'
'It is very kind of you;--but why?'
'Well;--I can't quite explain myself,' he said, blushing as was his wont. 'I daresay it wouldn't make any difference.'
'It would make a great difference to me. As it is, having none, and knowing as I do that papa and Percival are getting things into a worse mess every day, I am obliged to hope that I may some day marry a man who has got an income.'
'I suppose so,' said he, blushing, but frowning at the same time.
'You see I can be very frank with a real friend. But I am sure of myself in this--that I shall never marry a man I do not love. A girl needn't love a man unless she likes it, I suppose. She doesn't tumble into love as she does into the fire. It would not suit me to marry a poor man, and so I don't mean to fall in love with a poor man.'
'But you do mean to fall in love with a rich one?'
'That remains to be seen, Lord Silverbridge. The rich man will at any rate have to fall in love with me first. If you know of any one you need not tell him to be too sure because he has a good income.'
'There's Popplecourt. He's his own master, and fool as he is, he knows how to keep his money.'
'I don't want a fool. You must do better for me than Lord Popplecourt.'
'What do you say to Dolly Longstaff?'
'He would be just the man, only he never would take the trouble to come out and be married.'
'I'm afraid he's cross, and wouldn't let me have my own way.'
'I can only think of one other;--but you would not take him.'
'Then you had better not mention him. It is no good crowding the list with impossibles.'
'I was thinking of--myself.'
'You are certainly one of the impossibles.'
'Why, Lady Mab?'
'For twenty reasons. You are too young, and you are bound to oblige your father, and you are to be wedded to Parliament,--at any rate for the next ten years. And altogether it wouldn't do,--for a great many reasons.'
'I suppose you don't like me well enough?'
'What a question to ask! No, my Lord I do not. There, that's what you may call an answer. Don't you pretend to look offended, because if you do, I shall laugh at you. If you may have your joke surely I may have mine.'
'I don't see any joke in it.'
'But I do. Suppose I were to say the other thing. Oh, Lord Silverbridge, you do me so much honour! And now I come to think about it, there is no one in the world I am so fond of as you. Would that suit you?'
'But it wouldn't suit me. There's papa. Don't run away.'
'It's ever so much past five,' said the legislator, 'and I had intended to be in the House more than an hour ago. Good-bye. Give my love to Miss Cassewary.'
'Certainly. Miss Cassewary is your most devoted friend. Won't you bring your sister to see me some day?'
'When she is in town I will.'
'I should like to know her. Good-bye.'
As he hurried down to the House in a hansom, he thought over it all, and told himself that he feared it would not do. She might perhaps accept him, but if so, she would do it simply in order that she might become Duchess of Omnium. She might, he thought, have accepted him then, had she chosen. He had spoken plainly enough. But she had laughed at him. He felt that if she loved him, there ought to have been something of that feminine tremor, of that doubting, hesitating half-avowal of which he had perhaps read in novels, and which his own instincts taught him to desire. But there had been no tremor nor hesitating. 'No; my Lord, I do not,' she had said when he asked her to her face whether she liked him well enough to be his wife. 'No; my Lord I do not.' It was not the refusal conveyed in these words which annoyed him. He did believe that if he were to press his suit with the usual forms she would accept him. But it was that there should be such a total absence of trepidation in her words and manner. Before her he blushed and hesitated and felt that he did not know how to express himself. If she would only have done the same, then there would have been an equality. Then he could have seized her in his arms and sworn that never, never, never would he care for any one but her.
In truth he saw everything as it was only too truly. Though she might choose to marry him if he pressed his request, she would never subject herself to him as he would have the girl do whom he loved. She was his superior, and in every word uttered between them showed that it was so. But yet how beautiful she was;--how much more beautiful than any other thing he had ever seen!
He sat on one of the high seats behind Sir Timothy Beeswax and Sir Orlando Drought, listening, or pretending to listen, to the speeches of three or four gentlemen respecting sugar, thinking of all this till half-past seven;--and then he went to dine with the proud consciousness of having done his duty. The forms and methods of the House were, he flattered himself, soaking into him gradually,--as his father had desired. The theory of legislation was sinking into his mind. The welfare of the nation depended chiefly on sugar. But he thought that, after all, his own welfare must depend on the possession of Mab Grex.
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