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Miss Boncassen Tells the Truth
On the twentieth of the month all the guests came rattling in at Matching one after the another. The Boncassens were the first, but Lady Mabel with Miss Cassewary followed them quickly. Then came the Finns, and with them Barrington Erle. Lord Silverbridge was the last. He arrived by a train which reached the station at 7pm, and only entered the house as his father was asking Miss Boncassen into the dining-room. He dressed himself in ten minutes, and joined the party as they had finished their fish. 'I am awfully sorry,' he said, rushing up to his father, 'but I thought that I should just hit it.'
'There is no occasion for awe,' said the Duke, 'as sufficiency of dinner is left. But how you should have hit it, as you say,--seeing that the train is not due at Bridstock till 7.05--I do not know.'
'I've often done it, sir,' said Silverbridge, taking the seat left vacant for him next to Lady Mabel. 'We've had a political caucus of the party,--all the members who could be got together in London,--at Sir Timothy's, and I was bound to attend.'
'We've all heard of that,' said Phineas Finn.
'And we pretty well know all the points of Sir Timothy's eloquence,' said Barrington Erle.
'I am not going to tell any of the secrets. I have no doubt that there were reporters present, and you will see the whole of it in the papers tomorrow.' Then Silverbridge turned to his neighbour. 'Well, Lady Mab, and how are you this long time?'
'But how are you? Think what you have gone through since we were at Killancodlem!'
'Don't talk of it.'
'I suppose it is not to be talked of.'
'Though upon the whole it has happened very luckily, I have got rid of the accursed horses, and my governor has shown what a brick he can be. I don't think there is another man in England who would have done as he did.'
'There are not many who could.'
'There are fewer who would. When they came into my bedroom that morning and told me that the horse could not run, I thought I should have broken my heart. Seventy thousand pounds gone!'
'Seventy thousand pounds!'
'And the honour and glory of winning the race! And then the feeling that one had been so awfully swindled! Of course I had to look as though I did not care a straw about it, and to go and see the race, with a jaunty air and a cigar in my mouth. That is what I call hard work.'
'But you did it!'
'I tried. I wish I could explain to you my state of mind that day. In the first place the money had got to be got. Though it was to go into the hands of swindlers, still it had to be paid. I don't know how your father and Percival get on together,--but I felt like the prodigal son.'
'It is very different with papa.'
'I suppose so. I felt very like hanging myself when I was alone that evening. And now everything is right again.'
'I am glad that everything is right,' she said, with a strong emphasis on everything.
'I have done with racing at any rate. The feeling of being in the power of a lot of low blackguards is so terrible! I did love the poor brute so dearly. And now what have you been doing?'
'Just nothing;--and have seen nobody. I went back to Grex after leaving Killancodlem, and shut myself up in misery.'
'Why misery! What a question for you to ask! Though I love Grex, I am not altogether fond of living alone, and though Grex has its charms, they are of a melancholy kind. And when I think of the state of our family affairs, that is not reassuring. You father has just paid seventy thousand pounds for you. My father has been good enough to take something of less than a quarter of that sum from me;--but still it was all that I was ever to have.'
'Girls don't want money.'
'Don't they? When I look forward it seems to me that a time will come when I shall want it very much.'
'You will marry,' he said. She turned round for a moment and looked at him, full in the face, after a fashion that he did not dare to promise her future comfort in that direction. 'Things always do come right, somehow.'
'Let us hope so. Only nothing has ever come right for me yet. What is Frank doing?'
'I haven't seen him since he left Crummie-Toddle.'
'And your sister?' she whispered.
'I know nothing about it at all.'
'And you? I have told you everything about myself.'
'As for me, I think of nothing but politics now. I have told you about my racing experiences. Just at present shooting is up. Before Christmas I shall go into Chiltern's country for a little hunting.'
'You can hunt here?'
'I shan't stay long enough to make it worth while to have my horses down. If Tregear will go with me to the Brake, I can mount him for a day or two. But I daresay you know more of his plans that I do. He went to see you at Grex.'
'And you did not.'
'I was not asked.'
'Nor was he.'
'Then all I can say is,' replied Silverbridge, speaking in a low voice, but with considerable energy, 'that he can use a freedom with Lady Mabel Grex which I cannot venture.'
'I believe you begrudge me his friendship. If you had no one else belonging to you with whom you could have sympathy, would not you find comfort in a relation who could be almost as near to you as a brother?'
'I do not grudge him to you.'
'Yes; you do. And what business have to you interfere?'
'None at all;--certainly. I will never do it again.'
'Don't say that, Lord Silverbridge. You ought to have more mercy on me. You ought to put up with anything from me,--knowing how much I suffer.'
'I will put up with anything,' said he.
'Do, do. And now I will try to talk to Mr Erle.'
Miss Boncassen was sitting on the other side of the table, between Mr Monk and Phineas Finn, and throughout the dinner talked mock politics with the greatest liveliness. Silverbridge when he entered the room had gone round the table and shaken hands with everyone. But there had no other greeting between him and Isabel, nor had any sign passed from one to the other. No such greeting or sign had been possible. Nothing had been left undone which she had expected, or hoped. But, though she was lively, nevertheless she kept her eye upon her lover and Lady Mabel. Lady Mary had said that she thought her brother was in love with Lady Mabel. Could it be possible? In her own land she had heard absurd stories, stories which had seemed to her to be absurd,--of the treachery of Lords and Countesses, of the baseness of aristocrats, of the iniquities of high life in London. But her father had told her to go where she might, she would find people in the main to be very like each other. It had seemed that nothing could be more ingenuous than this young man had been in his declaration of his love. No simplest republican could have spoken more plainly. But now, at this moment, she could doubt but that her lover was very intimate with this other girl. Of course he was free. When she had refused to say a word to him of her own love or want of love, she had necessarily left him at liberty. When she had put him off for three months, of course he was to be his own master. But what must she think of him if it were so? And how could he have the courage to face her in her father's house if he intended to treat her in such a fashion? But of all this she showed nothing, nor was there a tone in her voice which betrayed her. She said her last word to Mr Monk with so sweet a smile that that old bachelor wished he were younger for her sake.
In the evening after dinner there was music. It was discovered that Miss Boncassen sung divinely, and both Lady Mabel and Lady Mary accompanied her. Mr Erle, and Mr Warburton, and Mr Monk, all of whom were unmarried, stood by enraptured. But Lord Silverbridge kept himself apart, and interested himself in a description which Mrs Boncassen gave him of their young men and their young ladies in the States. He had hardly spoken to Miss Boncassen,--till he offered her sherry or soda-water before she retired for the night. She refused his courtesy with her usual smile, but showed no more emotion than though they two had now met for the first time in their lives.
He had quite made up his mind as to what he would do. When the opportunity should come his way he would simply remind her that the three months were passed. But he was shy of talking to her in the presence of Lady Mabel and his father. He was quite determined that the thing should be done at once, but he certainly wished that Lady Mabel had not been there. In what she had said to him at the dinner-table she had made him quite understand that she would be a trouble to him. He remembered her look when he had told her that she would marry. It was as though she had declared to him that it was he who ought to be her husband. It referred back to that proffer of love which he had once made to her. Of course all this was disagreeable. Of course it made things difficult for him. But not the less was it a thing quite assured that he would press his suit to Miss Boncassen. When he was talking to Mrs Boncassen he was thinking of nothing else. When he was offering Isabel the glass of sherry he was telling himself that he would find his opportunity on the morrow,--though, now, at this moment, it was impossible that he should make a sign. She, as she went to bed, asked herself whether it was possible that there should be such treachery;--whether it were possible that he should pass it all by as though he had never said a word to her!
During the whole of the next day, which was Sunday, he was equally silent. Immediately after breakfast, on the Monday, shooting commenced, and he could not find a moment in which to speak. It seemed to him that she purposely kept out of his way. With Mabel he did find himself for a few moments alone, and was then interrupted by his sister and Isabel. 'I hope you have killed a lot of things,' said Miss Boncassen.
'Pretty well, among us all.'
'What an odd amusement it seems, going out to commit wholesale slaughter. However it is the proper thing no doubt.'
'Quite the proper thing,' said Lord Silverbridge, and that was all.
On the next morning he dressed himself for shooting,--and then sent out the party without him. He had heard, he said, of a young horse for sale in the neighbourhood, and had sent to desire that it might be brought to him. And now he found his occasion.
'Come and play a game of billiards,' he said to Isabel, as the three girls with the other ladies were together in the drawing- room. She got up very slowly from her seat, and very slowly crept away to the door. Then she looked round as though expecting the others to follow her. None of them did follow her. Mary felt that she ought to do so; but, knowing all that she knew, did not dare. And what good could she have done by one such interruption? Lady Mabel would fain have gone too;--but neither did she quite dare. Had there been no special reason why she should or should not have gone with them, the thing would have been easy enough. When two people go to play billiards, a third may surely accompany them. But now, Lady Mabel found that she could not stir. Mrs Finn, Mrs Boncassen, and Miss Cassewary were all in the room, but none of them moved. Silverbridge led the way quickly across the hall, and Isabel Boncassen followed him very slowly. When she entered the room she found him standing with a cue in his hand. He at once shut the door, and walking up to her dropped the butt of the cue on the floor and spoke one word. 'Well!' he said.
'What does "Well" mean?'
'The three months are over.'
'Certainly the are "over".' 'And I have been a model of patience.'
'Perhaps your patience is more remarkable than your constancy. Is not Lady Mabel Grex in the ascendant just now?'
'What do you mean by that? Why do you ask that? You told me to wait for three months. I have waited, and here I am.'
'How very--very--downright you are.'
'Is it not the proper thing?'
'I thought I was downright,--but you beat me hollow. Yes, the three months are over. And now what have you got to say?' He put down his cue, stretched out his arms as though he were going to take her and hold her to his heart. 'No;--no, not that,' she said laughing. 'But if you will speak, I will hear you.'
'You know what I said before. Will you love me, Isabel?'
'And you know what I said before. Do they know you love me? Does your father know it, and your sister? Why did they ask me to come here?'
'Nobody knows it. But say that you love me, and everyone shall know it at once. Yes, one person knows it. Why did you mention Lady Mabel's name? She knows it.'
'Did you tell her?'
'Yes, I went again to Killancodlem after you were gone, and then I told her.'
'But why her? Come, Lord Silverbridge. You are straightforward with me, and I will be the same with you. You have told Lady Mabel. I have told Lady Mary.'
'Yes;--your sister. And I am sure she disapproves it. She did not say so; but I am sure it is so. and then she told me something.'
'What did she tell you?'
'Has there ever been reason to think that you intended to offer your hand to Lady Mabel Grex?'
'Did she tell you so?'
'You should answer my question, Lord Silverbridge. It is surely one which I have a right to ask.' Then she stood waiting for his reply, keeping herself at some little distance from him as though she were afraid that he would fly upon her. And indeed there seemed to be cause for such fear from frequent gestures of his hands. 'Why do you not answer me? Has there been some reason for such expectations?'
'I thought of it,--not knowing myself before I had seen you. You shall know it all if you will only say that you love me.'
'I should like to know it first.'
'You do know it all;--almost. I have told you that she knows what I said to you at Killancodlem. Is not that enough?'
'And she approves!'
'What has it to do with her? Lady Mabel is my friend, but not my guardian.'
'Has she a right to expect that she should be your wife?'
'No;--certainly not. Why should you ask all this? Do you love me? Come, Isabel; say that you love me. Will you call me vain if I say that I almost think you do. You cannot doubt my love;--not now.'
'You needn't. Why won't you be as honest to me? If you hate me, say so;--but if you love me-!'
'I do not hate you, Lord Silverbridge.'
'And is that all?'
'You asked me the question.'
'But you do love me? By George, I thought you would be more honest and straightforward.'
Then she dropped her badinage and answered him seriously. 'I thought I had been more honest and straightforward. When I found that you were in earnest at Killancodlem--'
'Why did you ever doubt me?'
'When I felt that you were in earnest, then I had to be in earnest too. And I thought so much about it that I lay awake nearly all that night. Shall I tell you what I thought?'
'Tell me something I would like to hear.'
'I will tell you the truth. "Is it possible," I said to myself, "that such a man as that can want me to be his wife; he an Englishman, of the highest rank and the greatest wealth, and one that any girl in the world would love?"'
'Psha!' he exclaimed.
'That is what I said to myself.' Then she paused, and looking into his face he saw that there was a glimmer of a tear in each eye. 'One that any girl must love when asked for her love;--because he is so sweet, so good, and so pleasant.'
'I know that you are chaffing.'
'Then I went on asking myself questions. And is it possible that I, who by all his friends will be regarded as a nobody, who am an American,--with merely human work-a-day blood in her veins,--that such a one as I should become his wife? Then I told myself that it was not possible. It was not in accordance with the fitness of things. All the dukes in England would rise up against it, and especially that duke whose good will would be imperative.'
'Why should he rise up against it?'
'You know he will. But I will go on with my story of myself. When I had settled that in my mind, I just cried myself to sleep. It had been a dream. I had come across one who in his own self seemed to combine all that I had ever thought of as being lovable in a man--'
'And in his outward circumstances soared as much above my thoughts as the heaven is above the earth. And he had whispered to me soft loving, heavenly words. No;--no, you shall not touch me. But you shall listen to me. In my sleep I could be happy again and not see the barriers. But when I woke I made up my mind. "If he comes to me again," I said-"if it should be that he should come to me again, I will tell him that he shall be my heaven on earth,--if,-- if--if the ill will of his friends would not make that heaven a hell to both of us." I did not tell you quite all that.'
'You told me nothing but that I was to come back again in three months.'
'I said more than that. I bade you ask your father. Now you have come again. You cannot understand a girl's fears and doubts. How should you? I thought perhaps you would not come. When I saw you whispering to that highly-born well-bred beauty, and remembered what I was myself, I thought that--you would not come.'
'Then you must love me.'
'Love you! Oh, my darling!-No, no, no,' she said, as she retreated from him round the corner of the billiard-table, and stood guarding herself from him with her little hands. 'You ask if I love you. You are entitled to know the truth. From the sole of your foot to the crown of you head I love you as I think a man would wish to be loved by the girl he loves. You have come across my life, and have swallowed me up, and made me all your own. But I will not marry you to be rejected by your people. No; nor shall there be a kiss between us till I know that it will not be so.'
'May I speak to your father?'
'For what good? I have not spoken to father or mother because I have known that it must depend upon your father. Lord Silverbridge, if he will tell me that I shall be his daughter, I will become your wife,--oh with such perfect joy, with such perfect truth! If it can never be so, then let us be torn apart,--with whatever struggle, still at once. In that case I will get myself back to my own country as best I may, and will pray to God that all this may be forgotten.' Then she made her way round to the door, leaving him fixed on the spot in which she had been standing. But as she went she made a little prayer to him. 'Do not delay my fate. It is all in all to me.' And so he was left alone in the billiard-room.
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