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The Lovers Meet
Lord Silverbridge found his sister alone. 'I particularly want you,' said he, 'to come and call upon Lady Mabel Grex. She wishes to know you, and I am sure you would like her.'
'But I haven't been out anywhere yet,' she said. 'I don't feel as though I wanted to go anywhere.'
Nevertheless she was very anxious to know Lady Mabel Grex, of whom she had heard much. A girl if she has had a former love passage says nothing of it to her new lover; but a man is not so reticent. Frank Tregear had perhaps not told her everything, but he had told her something. 'I was very fond of her,--very fond of her,' he had said. 'And so I am still,' he had added. 'As you are my love of loves, she is my friend of friends.' Lady Mary had been satisfied by the assurance, but had become anxious to see the friend of friends. She resisted at first her brother's entreaties. She felt that her father in delivering her over to the seclusions of The Horns had intended to preclude her from showing herself in London. She was conscious that she was being treated with cruelty, and had a certain pride in her martyrdom. She would obey her father to the letter; she would give him no right to call her conduct in question; but he and any other to whom he might entrust the care of her, should be made to know that she thought him cruel. He had his power to which she must submit. But she also had hers,--to which it was possible he might be made to submit. 'I do not know that papa would wish me to go,' she said.
'But it is just what he would wish. He thinks a good deal about Mabel.'
'Why should he think of her at all?'
'I can't exactly explain,' said Silverbridge, 'but he does.'
'If you mean to tell me that Mabel Grex is anything particular to you, and that papa approves of it, I will go round the world to see her.' But he had not meant to tell his this. The request had been made at Lady Mabel's instance. When his sister had spoken of her father's possible objection, then he had become eager in explaining the Duke's feeling, not remembering that such anxiety might betray himself. At that moment Lady Cantrip came in, and the question was referred to her. She did not see any objection to such a visit, and expressed her opinion that it would be a good thing that Mary should be taken out. 'She should begin to go somewhere,' said Lady Cantrip. And so it was decided. On the next Friday he would come down early in his hansom and drive her up to Belgrave Square. Then he would take her to Carlton Terrace, and Lady Cantrip's carriage should pick her up there and bring her home. He would arrange it all.
'What did you think of the American beauty?' asked Lady Cantrip when that was settled.
'I thought she was a beauty.'
'So I perceived. You had eyes for nobody else,' said Lady Cantrip, who had been at the garden-party.
'Somebody introduced her to me, and then I had to walk about the grounds with her. That's the kind of thing one always does in these places.'
'Just so. That is what "those places" are meant for, I suppose. But it was not apparently a great infliction.' Lord Silverbridge had to explain that it was not an infliction;--that it was a privilege, seeing that Miss Boncassen was both clever and lovely; but that it did not mean anything in particular.
When he took his leave he asked his sister to go out into the grounds with him for a moment. This she did almost unwillingly, fearing that he was about to speak to her of Tregear. But he had no such purpose on his mind. 'Of course you know,' he began, 'all that was nonsense you were saying about Mabel.'
'I did not know.'
'I was afraid you might blurt out something before her.'
'I should not be so imprudent.'
'Girls do make such fools of themselves sometimes. They are always thinking about people being in love. But it is the truth that my father said to me the other day how very much he liked what he had heard of her, and that he would like you to know her.'
On that same evening Silverbridge wrote from the Beargarden the shortest possible note to Lady Mabel, telling her what he had arranged. 'I and Mary propose to call in B. Square on Friday at two. I must be early because of the House. You will give us lunch. S.' There was no word of endearment,--none of those ordinary words which people who hate each other use to one another. But he received the next day at home a much more kindly-written note from her:
'Dear Lord Silverbridge,
'You are so good! You always do just what you think people will like best. Nothing could please me so much as seeing your sister, of whom of course I have heard very very much. There shall be nobody here but Miss Cass.
'Yours most sincerely,
'How I do wish I were a man!' his sister said to him when they were in the hansom together.
'You'd have a great deal more trouble.'
'But I'd have a hansom of my own, and go where I pleased. How would you like to be shut up in a place like The Horn?'
'You can go out if you like.'
'Not like you. Papa thinks it's the proper place for me to live in, and so I must live there. I don't think a woman ever chooses how or where she shall live herself.'
'You are not going to take up woman's rights, I hope.'
'I think I shall if I stay at The Horns much longer. What would papa say if he heard that I was going to give a lecture at the Institute?'
'The governor has had so many things to bear that a trifle such as that would make but little difference.'
'He was dreadfully cut up about Gerald. And then he is so good! He said more to me about Gerald than he ever did about my own little misfortune at Oxford; but to Gerald himself he said almost nothing. Now he has forgiven me because he thinks I am constant at the House.'
'And are you?'
'Not so much as he thinks. I do go there,--for his sake. He has been so good about my changing sides.'
'I think you were quite right there.'
'I am beginning to think I was quite wrong. What did it matter to me?'
'I suppose it did make papa unhappy.'
'Of course it did;--and then this affair of yours.' As soon as this was said Lady Mary at once hardened her heart against her father. Whether Silverbridge was or was not entitled to his own political opinions,--seeing that the Pallisers had for ages been known as staunch Whigs and Liberals,--might be a matter for question. But that she had a right to her own lover she thought there could be no question. As they were sitting in the cab he could hardly see her face, but he was aware that she was in some fashion arming herself against opposition. 'I am sure that this makes him very unhappy,' continued Silverbridge.
'It cannot be altered,' she said.
'It will have to be altered.'
'Nothing can alter it. He might die, indeed;--or so might I.'
'Or he might see that it is no good,--and change his mind,' suggested Silverbridge.
'Of course that is possible,' said Lady Mary very curtly,--showing plainly by her manner that the subject was one which she did not choose to discuss any further.
'It is very good of you to come to me,' said Lady Mabel, kissing her new acquaintance. 'I have heard so much about you.'
'And I also of you.'
'I, you know, am one of your brother's stern Mentors. There are three or four of us determined to make him a pattern young legislator. Miss Cassewary is another. Only she is not quite so stern as I am.'
'He ought to be very much obliged.'
'But he is not;--not a bit. Are you, Lord Silverbridge?'
'Not so much as I ought to be, perhaps.'
'Of course there is an opposing force. There are the race-horses, and the drag, and Major Tifto. No doubt you have heard of Major Tifto. The Major is the Mr Worldly-Wise-man who won't let Christian go to the Straight Gate. I am afraid he hasn't read his Pilgrim's Progress. But we shall prevail, Lady Mary, and he will get to the beautiful city at last.'
'What is the beautiful city?' he asked.
'A seat in the Cabinet, I suppose;--or that general respect which a young nobleman achieves when he shows himself able to sit on a bench for six consecutive hours without appearing to go to sleep.'
Then they went to lunch, and Lady Mary found herself to be happy with her new acquaintance. Her life since her mother's death had been so sad, that this short escape from it was a relief to her. Now for awhile she found herself almost gay. There was an easy liveliness about Lady Mabel,--a grain of humour and playfulness conjoined,--which made her feel at home at once. And it seemed to her as though her brother was at home. He called the girl Lady Mab, and Queen Mab, and once plain Mabel, and the old woman he called Miss Cass. It surely, she thought, must be the case that Lady Mabel and her brother were engaged.
'Come upstairs into my own room,--it is nicer than this,' said Lady Mabel, and they went from the dining-room into a pretty little sitting-room with which Silverbridge was very well acquainted. 'Have you heard of Miss Boncassen?' Mary said she had heard something of Miss Boncassen's great beauty. 'Everybody is talking about her. Your brother met at Mrs Montacute Jones's garden-party, and was made a conquest of instantly.'
'I wasn't made a conquest of at all,' said Silverbridge.
'Then he ought to have been made a conquest of. I should be if I were a man. I think she is the loveliest person to look at and the nicest person to listen to that I ever came across. We all feel that, as far as this season is concerned, we are cut out. But we don't mind it so much because she is a foreigner.' Then just as she said this the door was opened and Frank Tregear was announced.
Everybody present there knew as well as does the reader, what was the connection between Tregear and Lady Mary Palliser. And each knew that the other knew it. It was therefore impossible for them not to feel themselves guilty among themselves. The two lovers had not seen each other since they had been together in Italy. Now they were brought face to face in this unexpected manner! And nobody except Tregear was at first quite sure whether somebody had done something to arrange the meeting. Mary might naturally suspect that Lady Mabel had done this in the interest of her friend Tregear, and Silverbridge could not but suspect that it was so. Lady Mabel, who had never before met the other girl, could hardly refrain from thinking that there had been some underhand communication,--and Miss Cassewary was clearly of the opinion that there had been some understanding.
Silverbridge was the first to speak. 'Halloo, Tregear, I didn't know that we were to see you.'
'Nor I, that I should see you,' said he. Then of course there was a shaking of hands all round, in the course of which ceremony he came to Mary the last. She gave him her hand, but had not a word to say to him. 'If I had known that you were here,' he said, 'I should not have come; but I need hardly say how glad I am to see you,--even in this way.' Then the two girls were convinced that the meeting was accidental; but Miss Cass still had her doubts.
Conversation became at once very difficult. Tregear seated himself near, but not very near, to Lady Mary, and made some attempt to talk to both the girls at once. Lady Mabel plainly showed that she was not at her ease;--whereas Mary seemed to be stricken dumb by the presence of her lover. Silverbridge was so much annoyed by a feeling that this interview was a treason to his father, that he sat cudgelling his brain to think how he should bring it to an end. Miss Cassewary was dumb-founded by the occasion. She was the one elder in the company who ought to see that no wrong was committed. She was not directly responsible to the Duke of Omnium, but she was thoroughly permeated by a feeling that it was her duty to take care that there should be no clandestine love meetings in Lord Grex's house. At last Silverbridge jumped up from his chair. 'Upon my word, Tregear, I think you had better go,' said he.
'So do I,' said Miss Cassewary. 'If it is an accident--'
'Of course it is an accident,' said Tregear angrily,--looking round at Mary, who blushed up to her eyes.
'I did not mean to doubt it,' said the old lady. 'But as it has occurred, Mabel, don't you think that he had better go?'
'He won't bite anybody, Miss Cass.'
'Certainly not,' said Mary, speaking for the first time. 'But now he is here--' Then she stopped herself, rose from the sofa, sat down, and then rising again, stepped up to her lover,--who rose at the same moment,--and threw herself into his arms and put up her lips to be kissed.
'This won't do at all,' said Silverbridge. Miss Cassewary clasped her hands together and looked up to heaven. She probably had never seen such a thing done before. Lady Mabel's eyes were filled with tears, and though in all this there was much to cause her anguish, still in her heart of hearts, she admired the brave girl who could thus show her truth to her lover.
'Now go,' said Mary, through her sobs.
'Now own one,' ejaculated Tregear.
'Yes, yes, yes; always your own. Go,--go, go.' She was weeping and sobbing as she said this, and hiding her face with her handkerchief. He stood for a moment irresolute, and then left the room without a word of adieu to anyone.
'You have behaved very badly,' said the brother.
'She has behaved like an angel,' said Mabel, throwing her arms round Mary, as she spoke, 'like an angel. If there had been a girl whom you loved and who loved you, would you have not wished it? Would you not have worshipped her for showing that she was not ashamed of her love?'
'I am not a bit ashamed,' said Mary.
'And I say you have no cause. No one knows him like I do. How good he is, and how worthy!' Immediately after that Silverbridge took his sister away, and Lady Mabel, escaping from Miss Cass was alone. 'She loves him almost as I have loved him,' she said to herself. 'I wonder whether he can love her as he did me?'
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