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From the beginning of the affair Tregear had found the necessity of bolstering himself up inwardly in his attempt by mottoes, proverbs, and instigations of courage addressed to himself. 'None but the brave deserve the fair.' 'De l'audace, et encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace.' He was a man naturally of good heart in such matters, who was not afraid of his brother-men, nor yet of women, his sisters. But in this affair he knew very much persistence would be required of him, and that even with such persistence he might probably fail, unless he should find that more than ordinary constancy in the girl. That the Duke could not eat him, indeed that nobody could eat him as long as he carried himself as an honest man and a gentleman, was to him an inward assurance on which he leaned much. And yet he was conscious, almost with a feeling of shame, that in Italy he had not spoken to the Duke about his daughter because he was afraid lest the Duke might eat him. In such an affair he should have been careful from the first to keep his own hands thoroughly clean. Had it not been his duty as a gentleman to communicate with the father, if not before he gained the girl's heart, at any rate as soon as he knew he had done so? He had left Italy thinking that he would certainly meet the Duchess and her daughter in London, and that then he might go to the Duke as though this love of his had arisen from the sweetness of those meetings in London. But all these ideas had been dissipated by the great misfortune of the death of Lady Mary's mother. From all this he was driven to acknowledge to himself that his silence in Italy had been wrong, that he had been weak in allowing himself to be guided by the counsel of the Duchess, and that he had already armed the Duke with one strong argument against him.
He did not doubt but that Mrs Finn would be opposed to him. Of course he could not doubt but that all the world would now be opposed to him,--except the girl herself. He would find no other friend so generous, so romantic, so unworldly as the Duchess had been. It was clear to him that Lady Mary had told the story of her engagement to Mrs Finn, and that Mrs Finn had not as yet told the Duke. From this he was justified in regarding Mrs Finn as the girl's friend. The request made was that he should at once do something which Mrs Finn was to suggest. He could hardly have been so requested, and that in terms of such warm affection, had it been Mrs Finn's intention to ask him to desist altogether from his courtship. This woman was regarded by Lady Mary as her mother's dearest friend. It was therefore incumbent on him now to induce her to believe in him as the Duchess had believed.
He knocked at the door of Mrs Finn's little house in Park Lane a few minutes before the time appointed, and found himself alone when he was shown into the drawing-room. He had heard much of this lady though he had never seen her, and had heard much also of her husband. There had been a kind of mystery about her. People did not quite understand how it was that she had been so intimate with the Duchess, nor why the late Duke had left to her an enormous legacy, which as yet had never been claimed. There was supposed, too, to have been something especially in her marriage with her present husband. It was believed also that she was very rich. The rumours of all these things together had made her a person of note, and Tregear, when he found himself alone in the drawing- room, looked round about him as though a special interest was to be attached to the belongings of such a woman. It was a pretty room, somewhat dark, because the curtains were almost closed across the windows, but furnished with a pretty taste, and now, in these early April days, filled with flowers.
'I have to apologise, Mr Tregear, for keeping you waiting,' she said as she entered the room.
'I fear I was before my time.'
'I know that I am after mine,--a few minutes,' said the lady. He told himself that though she was not a young woman, yet she was attractive. She was dark, and still wore her black hair in curls, such as now seldom seen with ladies. Perhaps the reduced light of the chamber had been regulated with some regard to her complexion and her age. The effect, however, was good, and Frank Tregear felt at once interested in her.
'You have just come up from Matching?' he said.
'Yes; only the day before yesterday. It is very good of you to come to me so soon.'
'Of course I came when you sent for me. I am afraid the Duke felt his loss severely.'
'How should he not, such a loss as it was? Few people knew how much he trusted her, and how dearly he loved her.'
'Silverbridge has told me that he is awfully cut up.'
'You have seen Lord Silverbridge then?'
'Just at present I am living with him, at Carlton Terrace.'
'In the Duke's house?' she asked, with some surprise.
'Yes, in the Duke's house. Silverbridge and I have been very intimate. Of course the Duke knows that I am there. Is there any chance of him coming to town?'
'Not yet, I fear. He is determined to be alone. I wish it were otherwise, as I am sure he would better bear his sorrow, if he would go about with other men.'
'No doubt he would suffer less,' said Tregear. Then there was a pause. Each wished that the other would introduce the matter which both knew was to be the subject of their conversation. But Tregear would not begin. 'When I left them all at Florence,' he said, 'I little thought that I would ever see her again.'
'You had been intimate with them, Mr Tregear?'
'Yes; I think I may say that I have been intimate with them. I had been at Eton and Christ Church with Silverbridge, and we have always been much together.'
'I have understood that. Have you and the Duke been good friends?'
'We have never been enemies.'
'I suppose not that.'
'The Duke, I think, does not much care about young people. I hardly know what he used to do with himself. When I dined with them, I saw him, but I did not often do that. I think he used to read a good deal, and walk about alone. We were always riding.'
'Lady Mary used to ride?'
'Oh, yes; and Silverbridge and Lord Gerald. And the Duchess used to drive. One of us would always be with her.'
'And so you became intimate with the whole family?'
'So I became intimate with the whole family.'
'And especially so with Lady Mary?' This she said in her sweetest possible tone, and with a most gracious smile.
'Especially so with Lady Mary,' he replied.
'It will be very good of you, Mr Tregear, if you endure and forgive all this cross-questioning from me, who am a perfect stranger to you.'
'But you are not a perfect stranger to her.'
'That is it, of course. Now, if you will allow me, I will explain to you exactly what my footing with her is. When the Duchess returned, and when I found her to be so ill, as she passed through London, I went down with her into the country,--quite as a matter of course.'
'So I understand.'
'And there she died,--in my arms. I will not try to harass you by telling you what those few days were; how absolutely he was struck to the ground, how terrible was the grief of the daughter, how the boys were astonished by the feeling of their loss. After a few days they went away. It was, I think, their father's wish that they should go. And I too was going away,--and had felt, indeed, directly her spirit had parted from her, that I was only in the way in his house. But I stayed at his request, because he did not wish his daughter to be alone.'
'I can easily understand that, Mrs Finn.'
'I wanted her to go to Lady Cantrip who had invited her, but she would not. In that way we were thrown together in the closest intercourse. For two or three weeks. Then she told me the story of your engagement.'
'That was natural, I suppose.'
'Surely so. Think of her position, left without a mother! It was incumbent on her to tell someone. There was, however, one other person in whom it would have been much better that she should have confided.'
'I rather fancy that it is I who ought to tell him.'
'As far as I understand things, Mr Tregear,--which, indeed, is very imperfectly,--I think it is natural that a girl should at once tell her mother when a gentleman has made her understand that he loves her.'
'She did so, Mrs Finn.'
'And I suppose that generally the mother would tell the father.'
'She did not.'
'No; and therefore the position of the young lady is now one of great embarrassment. The Duchess has gone from us, and we must now make up our minds as to what had better be done. It is out of the question that Lady Mary should be allowed to consider herself to be engaged, and that her father should be kept in ignorance of her position.' She paused for his reply, but as he said nothing, she continued: 'Either you must tell the Duke, or she must do so, or I must do so.'
'I suppose she told you in confidence.'
'No doubt. She told me presuming that I would not betray her; but I shall,--if that be a betrayal. The Duke must know it. It will be infinitely better that he should know it through you, or through her, than through me. But he must be told.'
'I can't quite see why,' said Tregear.
'For her sake,--whom I suppose you love.'
'Certainly I love her.'
'In order that she may not suffer. I wonder you do not see it, Mr Tregear. Perhaps you have a sister.'
'I have no sister as it happens.'
'But you can imagine what your feelings would be. Should you like to think of a sister as being engaged to a man without the knowledge of any of her family?'
'It was not so. The Duchess knew it. The present condition of things is altogether an accident.'
'It is an accident that must be brought to an end.'
'Of course it must be brought to an end. I am not such a fool as to suppose that I can make her my wife without telling her father.'
'I mean at once, Mr Tregear.'
'It seems to me that you are rather dictating to me, Mrs Finn.'
'I owe you an apology of course, for meddling in your affairs at all. But as it will be more conducive to your success that the Duke should hear this from you than from me, and as I feel I am bound by my duty to him and to Lady Mary to see that he be not left in ignorance, I think that I am doing you a service.'
'I do not like to have a constraint put upon me.'
'That, Mr Tregear, is what a gentleman, I fancy, very often feels in regard to ladies. But the constraint of which you speak is necessary for their protection. Are you unwilling to see the Duke?'
He was very unwilling, but he would not confess so much. He gave various reasons for delay, urging repeatedly the question of his marriage was one which he could not press upon the Duke so soon after the death of the Duchess. And when she assured him that this was a matter of importance so great, that even the death of the man's wife should not be held by him to justify delay, he became angry, and for awhile insisted that must be allowed to follow his own judgement. But he gave her a promise that he would see the Duke before a week was over. Nevertheless he left the house in dudgeon, having told Mrs Finn more than once that she was taking advantage of Lady Mary's confidence. They hardly parted as friends, and her feeling was, on the whole, hostile to him and to his love. It could not, she thought, be for the happiness of such a one as Lady Mary that she should give herself to one who seemed to have so little to recommend him.
He, when he had left her, was angry with his own weakness. He had not only promised that he would make his application to the Duke, but that he would do so within the period of a week. Who was she that she should exact terms from him after this fashion, and prescribe days and hours? And now, because this strange woman had spoken to him, he was compelled to make a journey down to the Duke's country house, and seek an interview in which he would be surely snubbed?
This occurred on a Wednesday, and he resolved that he would go down to Matching on the next Monday. He said nothing of his plan to anyone, and not a word passed between him and Lord Silverbridge about Lady Mary during the first two or three days. But on Saturday Silverbridge appeared at breakfast with a letter in his hand. 'The governor is coming up to town,' he said.
'In the course of next week. He says that he thinks he shall be here on Wednesday.'
It immediately struck Tregear that this sudden journey must have some reference to Lady Mary and her engagement. 'Do you know why he is coming?'
'Because of these vacancies in Parliament.'
'Why should that bring him up?'
'I suppose he hopes to be able to talk me into obedience. He wants me to stand for the county--as a Liberal, of course. I intend to stand for the borough as a Conservative, and I have told them so down at Silverbridge. I am very sorry to annoy him, and all that kind of thing. But what the deuce is a fellow to do? If a man has got political convictions of his own, of course he must stick to them.' This the young Lord said with a good deal of self- assurance, as though he, by the light of his own reason, had ascertained on which side the truth lay in the political contests of the day.
'There is a good deal to be said on both sides of the question, my boy.' At this particular moment Tregear felt that the Duke ought to be propitiated.
'You wouldn't have me give up my convictions!'
'A seat in Parliament is a great thing.'
'I can probably secure that, whichever side I take. I thought you were so devilish hot against the Radicals.'
'So I am. But then you are, as it were, bound by family allegiance.'
'I'll be shot if I am. One never knows how to understand you nowadays. It used to be a great doctrine with you that nothing should induce a man to vote against his political opinion.'
'So it is,--if he has really got any. However, as your father is coming to London, I need not go down to Matching.'
'You don't mean that you were going to Matching?'
'I had intended to beard the lion in his country den; but now the lion will find me in his own town den, and I must beard him here.'
Then Tregear wrote a most chilling note to Mrs Finn, informing her with great precision, that, as the Duke of Omnium intended to be in town one day next week, he would postpone the performance of his promise for a day or two beyond the allotted time.
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