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It was custom with Mrs Finn almost every autumn to go off to Vienna, where she possessed considerable property, and there to inspect the circumstances of her estate. Sometimes her husband would accompany her, and he did so in this year of which we are now speaking. One morning in September they were together at an hotel at Ischi, whither they had come from Vienna, when as they went through the hall into the courtyard, they came, in the very doorway, upon the Duke of Omnium and his daughter. The Duke and Lady Mary had just arrived, having passed through the mountains from the salt-mine district, and were about to take up their residence in the hotel for a few days. They had travelled very slowly, for Lady Mary had been ill, and the Duke had expressed his determination to see a doctor at Ischi.
There is no greater mistake than in supposing that only the young blush. But the blushes of middle-life are luckily not seen through the tan which has come from the sun and the gas and the work and wiles of the world. Both the Duke and Phineas blushed; and though their blushes were hidden, that peculiar glance of the eye which always accompanies a blush was visible enough from the one to the other. The elder lady kept her countenance admirably, and the younger one had no occasion for blushing. She at once ran forward and kissed her friend. The Duke stood with his hat off waiting to give his hand to the lady, and then took that of his late colleague. 'How odd that we should meet here,' he said, turning to Mrs Finn.
'Odd enough to us that your Grace should be here,' she said, 'because we had heard nothing of your intended coming.'
'It is so nice to find you,' said Lady Mary. 'We are this moment come. Don't say that you are this moment going.'
'At this moment we are only going as far as Halstadt.'
'And are coming back to dinner? Of course they will dine with us. Will they not, papa?' The Duke said that he hoped they would. To declare that you are engaged at an hotel, unless there be some real engagement is almost an impossibility. There was no escape, and before they were allowed to get into their carriage they had promised that they would dine with the Duke and his daughter.
'I don't know that it is especially a bore,' Mrs Finn said to her husband in the carriage. 'You may be quite sure that of whatever trouble there may be in it, he has much more than his share.'
'His share would be the whole,' said the husband. 'No one else has done anything wrong.'
When the Duke's apology had reached her, so that there was no longer any ground for absolute hostility, then she had told the whole story to her husband. He at first was very indignant. What right had the Duke to expect that any ordinary friend should act duenna over his daughter in accordance with his caprices? This was said and much more of this kind. But any humour towards quarrelling which Phineas Finn might have felt for a day or so was quieted by his wife's prudence. 'A man,' she said, 'can do no more than apologise. After that there is not room for reproach.'
At dinner the conversation turned at first on British politics, in which Mrs Finn was quite able to take her part. Phineas was decidedly of the opinion that Sir Timothy Beeswax and Lord Drummond could not live another session. And on this subject a good deal was said. Later in the evening the Duke found himself sitting with Mrs Finn in the broad verandah over the hotel garden, while Lady Mary was playing to Phineas within. 'How do you think she is looking?' asked the father.
'Of course I see that she has been ill. She tells me that she was far from well at Salzburg.'
'Yes;--indeed for three or four days she frightened me much. She suffered terribly from headaches.'
'So they said there. I feel quite angry with myself because I did not bring a doctor with us. The trouble and ceremony of such an accompaniment is no doubt disagreeable.'
'And I suppose seemed when you started to be unnecessary.'
'Does she complain again now?'
'She did today;--a little.'
The next morning Lady Mary could not leave her bed, and the Duke in his sorrow was obliged to apply to Mrs Finn. After what had passed on the previous day Mrs Finn of course called, and was shown at once up to her young friend's room. There she found the girl in great pain, lying with her two thin hands up to her head, and hardly able to utter more than a word. Shortly after that Mrs Finn was alone with the Duke, and then there took place a conversation between them which the lady thought to be very remarkable.
'Had I better send for a doctor from England?' he asked. In answer to this Mrs Finn expressed her opinion that such a measure was hardly necessary, that the gentleman from the town who had been called in seemed to know what he was about, and that the illness, lamentable as it was, did not seem to be in any way dangerous. 'One cannot tell what it comes from,' said the Duke dubiously.
'Young people, I fancy, are often subject to such maladies.'
'It must come from something wrong.'
'That may be said of all sickness.'
'And therefore one tries to find out the cause. She says that she is unhappy.' These last words he spoke slowly and in a low voice. To this Mrs Finn could make no reply. She did not doubt but that the girl was unhappy, and she knew well why; but the source of Lady Mary's misery was one to which she could not very well allude. 'You know all the misery about that young man.'
'That is a trouble that requires time to cure it,' she said,--not meaning to imply that time would cure it by enabling the girl to forget her lover; but because in truth she had not known what else to say.
'If time will cure it.'
'Time, they say, cures all sorrows.'
'But what should I do to help time? There is no sacrifice I would not make,--no sacrifice! Of myself I mean. I would devote myself to her,--leave everything else on one side. We purpose being back in England in October; but I would remain here if I thought it better for her comfort.'
'I cannot tell, Duke.'
'Neither can I. But you are a woman and might know better than I do. It is so hard that a man should be left with the charge of which from its very nature he cannot understand the duties.' Then he paused, but she could find no words which would suit the moment. It was almost incredible to her that after what had passed he should speak to her at all as to the condition of his daughter. 'I cannot, you know,' he said very seriously, 'encourage a hope that she should be allowed to marry that man.'
'I do not know.'
'You yourself, Mrs Finn, felt that when she told about it at Matching.'
'I felt that you would disapprove of it.'
'Disapprove of it! How could it be otherwise? Of course you felt that. There are ranks in life in which the first comer that suits a maiden's eye may be accepted as a flirting lover. I will not say but that they who are born to such a life may be the happier. They are, I am sure, free from troubles to which they are incident whom fate has called to a different sphere. But duty is duty;--and whatever pang it may cost, duty should be performed.'
'Certainly;--certainly; certainly,' he said, re-echoing her word.
'But then, Duke, one has to be so sure what duty requires. In many matters this is easy enough, and the only difficulty comes from temptation. There are cases in which it is hard to know.'
'Is this one of them?'
'I think so.'
'Then the maiden should--in any class of life--be allowed to take the man that just suits her eye?' As he said this his mind was intent on his Glencora and on Burgo Fitzgerald.
'I have not said so. A man may be bad, vicious, a spendthrift,-- eaten up by bad habits.' Then he frowned, thinking that she also had her mind intent on his Glencora and on that Burgo Fitzgerald, and being most unwilling to have the difference between Burgo and Frank Tregear pointed out to him. 'Nor have I said,' she continued, 'that even were none of these faults apparent in the character of a suitor, the lady should in all cases be advised to accept a young man because he has made himself agreeable to her. There may be discrepancies.'
'There are,' said he, still with a low voice, but with infinite energy,--'insurmountable discrepancies.'
'I only said that this was a case in which it might be difficult for you to see your duty plainly.'
'Why should it be?'
'You would not have her--break her heart?' Then he was silent for awhile, turning over in his mind the proposition which now seemed to have been made to him. If the question came to that,--should she be allowed to break her heart and die, or should he save her from that fate by sanctioning her marriage with Tregear? If the choice could be put to him plainly by some supernal power, what then would he choose? If duty required him to prevent this marriage, his duty could not be altered by the fact that his girl would avenge herself upon him by dying! If such a marriage were in itself wrong, that wrong could not be made right by the fear of such a catastrophe. Was it not often the case that duty required that someone should die? And yet as he thought of it,--though that the someone whom his mind had suggested was the one female creature now left belonging to him,--he put his hand up to his brow and trembled with agony. If he knew, if in truth he believed that such would be the result of firmness on his part,--then he would be infirm, then must he yield. Sooner than that, he must welcome this Tregear to his house. But why should he think that she would die? This woman had now asked him whether he would be willing to break his girl's heart. It was a frightful question; but he could see that it had come naturally in the sequence of the conversation which he had forced upon her. Did girls break their hearts in such emergencies? Was it not all romance? 'Men have died and worms have eaten them,--but not for love.' He remembered it all and carried on the argument in his mind, though the pause was but for a minute. There might be suffering no doubt. The higher the duties the keener the pangs! But would it become him to be deterred from doing right because she for a time might find that she had made the world bitter for herself? And were there not feminine wiles,--tricks by which women learn how to have their way in opposition to the judgement of their lords and masters? He did not think that his Mary was wilfully guilty of any scheme. The suffering he knew was true suffering. But not the less did it become him to be on his guard against any attacks of this nature.
'No,' he said at last. 'I would not have her break her heart,--if I understand what such words mean. They are generally, I think, used fantastically.'
'You would not wish to see her overwhelmed by sorrow.'
'Wish it! What a question to ask a father!'
'I must be more plain in my language, Duke. Though such a marriage be distasteful to you, it might perhaps be preferable to see her sorrowing always.'
'Why should it? I have to sorrow always. We are told that man is born to sorrow as surely as the sparks fly upwards.'
'Then I can say nothing further.'
'You think I am cruel.'
'If I am to say what I really think I shall offend you.'
'No;--not unless you mean offence.'
'I shall never do that to you, Duke. When you talk as you do now you hardly know yourself. You think you could see her suffering and not be moved by it. But were it to be continued long you would give way. Though we know that there is an infinity of grief in this life, still we struggle to save those we love from grieving. If she be steadfast enough to cling to her affection for this man, then at last you will have to yield.' He looked at her frowning, but did not say a word. 'Then it will perhaps be a comfort for you to know that the man himself is trustworthy and honest.'
There was a terrible rebuke in this; but still, as he had called it down upon himself, he would not resent it, even in his heart. 'Thank you,' he said, rising from his chair. 'Perhaps you will see her again this afternoon.' Of course she assented, and as the interview had taken place in his rooms she took her leave.
This which Mrs Finn had said to him was all to the same effect as that which had come from Lady Cantrip; only it was said with a higher spirit. Both the women saw the matter in the same light. There must be a fight between him and his girl; but she, if she could hold out for a certain time, would be the conqueror. He might take her away and try what absence would do, or he might have recourse to that specific which had answered so well in reference to his own wife; but if she continued to sorrow during absence, and if she would have nothing to do with the other lever,--then he must at last give way! He had declared that he was willing to sacrifice himself,--meaning thereby that if a lengthened visit to the cities of China, or a prolonged sojourn in the Western States of America would wean her from her love, he would go to China or to the Western States. At present his self- banishment had been carried no farther than Vienna. During their travels hitherto Tregear's name had not once been mentioned. The Duke had come away from home resolved not to mention it,--and she was minded to keep it in reserve till some seeming catastrophe should justify a declaration of her purpose. But from first to last she had been sad, and latterly she had been ill. When asked as to her complaint she would simply say that she was not happy. To go on with this through the Chinese cities could hardly be good for either of them. She could not wake herself to any enthusiasm in regard to scenery, costume, pictures, or even discomforts. Wherever she was taken it was barren to her.
As their plans stood at present they were to return to England so as to enable her to be at Custins by the middle of October. Had he taught himself to hope that any good could be done by prolonged travelling he would readily have thrown over Custins and Lord Popplecourt. He could not bring himself to trust much to the Popplecourt scheme. But the same contrivance had answered on that former occasion. When he spoke to her about their plans, she expressed herself quite ready to go back to England. When he suggested those Chinese cities, her face became very long and she was immediately attacked by paroxysms of headaches.
'I think I should take her to some place on the seashores of England,' said Mrs Finn.
'Custins is close to the sea,' he replied. 'It is Lord Cantrip's place in Dorsetshire. It was partly settled that she was to go there.'
'I suppose she likes Lady Cantrip.'
'Why should she not?'
'She has not said a word to me to the contrary. I only fear that she would feel that she was being sent there,--as to a convent.'
'What ought I to do then?'
'How can I venture to answer that? What she would like best, I think, would be to return to Matching with you, and settle down in a quiet way for the winter.' The Duke shook his head. That would be worse than travelling. She would still have headaches and still tell him that she was unhappy. 'Of course I do not know what your plans are, and pray believe me that I should not obtrude my advice if you did not ask me.'
'I know it,' he said. 'I know how good you are and how reasonable. I know how much you have to forgive.'
'And if I have not said so as I should have done it has not been from want of feeling. I do believe you did what you thought best when Mary told you that story at Matching.'
'Why should your Grace go back to that?'
'Only that I may acknowledge my indebtedness to you, and say to you somewhat fuller than I could do in my letter that I am sorry for the pain which I gave you.'
'All that is over now;--and shall be forgiven.'
Then he spoke of his immediate plans. He would at once go back to England by slow stages,--by very slow stages,--staying a day or two at Salzburg, at Ratisbon, at Nuremberg, at Frankfurt, and so on. In this way he would reach England about the tenth of October, and Mary would then be ready to go to Custins by the time appointed.
In a day or two Lady Mary was better. 'It is terrible while it lasts,' she said, speaking to Mrs Finn of her headache, 'but when it has gone then I am quite well. Only'--she added after a pause,-- 'only I can never be happy again while papa thinks as he does now.' Then there was a party made up before they separated for an excursion to the Hintersee and the Obersee. On this occasion Lady Mary seemed to enjoy herself, as she liked the companionship of Mrs Finn. Against Lady Cantrip she never said a word. But Lady Cantrip was always a duenna to her, whereas Mrs Finn was a friend. While the Duke and Phineas were discussing politics together, thoroughly enjoying the weakness of Lord Drummond and the iniquity of Sir Timothy, which they did with augmented vehemence from their ponies' backs, the two women in lower voices talked over their own affairs. 'I dare say you will be happy at Custins,' said Mrs Finn.
'No; I shall not. There will be people there whom I don't know, and I don't want to know. Have you heard anything about him, Mrs Finn?'
Mrs Finn turned round and looked at her,--for a moment almost angrily. Then her heart relented, 'Do you mean--Mr Tregear?'
'Yes, Mr Tregear.'
'I think I heard that he was shooting with Lord Silverbridge.'
'I am glad of that,' said Mary.
'It will be pleasant for both of them.'
'I am very glad they should be together. While I know that, I feel that we are not altogether separated. I will never give it up, Mrs Finn,--never, never. It is not use taking me to China.' In that Mrs Finn quite agreed with her.
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