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The Three Attacks
During the following week the communication between Harrington and Matching were very frequent. There were no further direct messages between Tregear and Lady Mary, but she heard daily of his progress. The Duke was conscious of the special interest which existed in his house as to the condition of the young man, but, after his arrival not a word had been spoken for some days between him and his daughter on the subject. Then Gerald went back to his college, and the Duke made his preparations for going up to town and making some attempt at parliamentary activity.
It was by no concert that an attack was made upon him from three quarters at once as he was preparing to leave Matching. On the Sunday morning during church time, for on that day Lady Mary went to her devotions alone,--Mrs Finn was closeted an hour with the Duke in his study. 'I think you ought to be aware,' she said to the Duke, 'that though I trust Mary implicitly and know her to be thoroughly high principled, I cannot be responsible for her, if I remain here.'
'I do not quite follow your meaning.'
'Of course there is but one matter on which there can, probably, be any difference between us. If she should choose to write to Mr Tregear, or to send him any message, or even to go to him, I could not prevent it.'
'Go to him!' exclaimed the horrified Duke.
'I merely suggest such a thing in order to make you understand that I have absolutely no control over her.'
'What control have I?'
'Nay; I cannot define that. You are her father, and she acknowledges your authority. She regards me as a friend,--and as such treats me with the sweetest affection. Nothing can be more gratifying than her manner to me personally.'
'It ought to be so.'
'She has thoroughly won my heart. But still I know that if there were a difference between us she would not obey me. Why should she?'
'Because you hold my deputed authority.'
'Oh, Duke, that goes for very little anywhere. No one can depute authority. It comes too much from personal accidents, and too little from reason or law to be handed over to others. Besides, I fear, that on one matter concerning her you and I are not agreed.'
'I shall be sorry if it be so.'
'I feel that I am bound to tell you my opinion.'
'You think that in the end Lady Mary will allow herself to be separated from Tregear. I think that in the end they will become man and wife.'
This seemed to the Duke to be not quite so bad as it might have been. Any speculation as to results were very different from an expressed opinion as to propriety. Were he to tell the truth as to his own mind, he might perhaps have said the same thing. But one is not to relax in one's endeavours to prevent that which is wrong, because one fears that the wrong may be ultimately perpetuated. 'Let that be as it may,' he said, 'it cannot alter my duty.'
'Nor mine, Duke, if I may presume to think that I have a duty in this matter.'
'That you should encounter the burden of the duty binds me to you for ever.'
'If it be that they will certainly be married one day--'
'Who has said that? Who has admitted that?'
'If it be so; if it seems to me that it must be so,--then how can I be anxious to prolong her sufferings? She does suffer terribly.' Upon this the Duke frowned, but there was more of tenderness in his frown than in the hard smile which he had hitherto worn. 'I do not know whether you see it all.' He well remembered all that he had seen when he and Mary were travelling together. 'I see it, and I do not pass half an hour with her without sorrowing for her.' On hearing this he sighed and turned his face away. 'Girls are so different! There are many who though they be genuinely in love, though their natures are sweet and affectionate, are not strong enough to support their own feelings in resistance to the will of those who have authority over them.' Had it been so with his wife? At this moment all the former history passed through his mind. 'They yield to that which seems to be inevitable, and allow themselves to be fashioned by the purposes of others. It is well for them often that they are so plastic. Whether it would be better for her that she should be so I will not say.'
'It would be better,' said the Duke doggedly.
'But such is not her nature. She is as determined as ever.'
'I may be determined too.'
'But if at last it will be of no use,--if it be her fate either to be married to this man or to die of a broken heart,--'
'What justifies you in saying that? How can you torture me by such a threat?'
'If I think so, Duke, I am justified. Of late I have been with her daily,--almost hourly. I do not say that this will kill her now,--in her youth. It is not often, I fancy, that women die after that fashion. But a broken heart may bring the sufferer to the grave after a lapse of many years. How will it be with you if she should live like a ghost beside you for the next twenty years, and you should then see her die, faded and withered before her time,--all her life gone without a joy,--because she had loved a man whose position in life was displeasing to you? Would the ground on which the sacrifices had been made then justify itself to you? In that performing your duty to your order would you feel satisfied that you had performed that to your child?'
She had come there determined to say it all,--to liberate her own soul as it were,--but had much doubted the spirit in which the Duke would listen to her. That he would listen to her she was sure,--and then if he chose to cast her out, she would endure his wrath. It would not be to her now as it had been when he accused her of treachery. But, nevertheless, bold as she was and independent, he had imbued her, as he did all those around him, with so strong a sense of his personal dignity, that when she had finished she almost trembled as she looked in his face. Since he had asked how she could justify to herself the threats which she was using he had sat still with his eyes fixed upon her. Now, when she had done, he was in no hurry to speak. He rose slowly and walking towards the fireplace stood with his back towards her, looking down upon the fire. She was the first to speak again. 'Shall I leave you now?' she said in a low voice.
'Perhaps it will be better,' he answered. His voice, too was very low. In truth he was so moved that he hardly knew how to speak at all. Then she rose and was already on her way on to the door when he followed her. 'One moment if you please,' he said almost sternly. 'I am under a debt of gratitude to you of which I cannot express my sense in words. How far I may agree with you, and where I may disagree I will not attempt to point out to you now.'
'But all that you have troubled yourself to think and to feel in this matter, and all that true friendship has compelled you to say to me, shall be written down in the tablets of my memory.'
'My child has at any rate been fortunate in securing the friendship of such a friend.' Then he turned back to the fireplace, and she was constrained to leave the room without another word.
She had determined to make the best plea in her power for Mary; and while she was making the plea had been almost surprised by her own vehemence; but the greater had been her vehemence, the stronger, she thought, would have been the Duke's anger. And as she had watched the workings of his face she had felt for the moment, that the vials of his wrath were about to be poured upon her. Even when she left the room she almost believed that had he not taken those moments for consideration at the fireplace his parting words would have been different. But, as it was, there could be no question now of her departure. No power was left to her of separating herself from Lady Mary. Though the Duke had not as yet acknowledged himself to be conquered, there was no doubt to her now but that he would be conquered. And she, either here or in London, must be the girl's nearest friend up to the day when she should be given over to Mr Tregear. That was one of the three attacks which were made upon the Duke before he went up to his parliamentary duties.
The second was as follows. Among the letters on the following morning one was brought to him from Tregear. It is hoped that the reader will remember the lover's former letter and the very unsatisfactory answer which had been sent to it. Nothing could have been colder, less propitious, or more inveterately hostile than the reply. As he lay in bed with his broken bones at Harrington he had ample time for thinking over all this. He knew every word of the Duke's distressing note by heart, and had often lashed himself to rage as he had repeated it. But he could effect nothing by showing his anger. He must go on and still do something. Since the writing of that letter he had done something. He had got his seat in Parliament. And he had secured the interest of his friend Silverbridge. This had been partially done at Polwenning, but the accident in the Brake country had completed the work. The brother had at last declared himself in his friend's favour. 'Of course I should be glad to see it,' he had said while sitting by Tregear's bedside. 'The worst is that everything does seem to go against the poor governor.'
Then Tregear made up his mind that he would write another letter. Personally he was not in the best condition for doing this as he was lying in bed with his left arm tied up, and with straps and bandages all round his body. But he could sit up in bed, and his right hand and arm were free. So he declared to Lady Chiltern his purpose of writing a letter. She tried to dissuade him gently and offered to be his secretary. But when he assured her that no secretary could write his letter for him she understood pretty well what would be the subject of the letter. With considerable difficulty Tregear wrote his letter.
'My Lord Duke,'--
On this occasion he left out the epithet which he had before used--
'Your Grace's reply to my last letter was not encouraging, but in spite of your prohibition I venture to write to you again. If I had the slightest reason for thinking that your daughter was estranged from me, I would not persecute either you or her. But if it be true that she is as devoted to me as I am to her, can I be wrong in pleading my case? Is it not evident to you that she is made of such stuff that she will not be controlled in her choice,-- even by your will?
'I have had an accident in the hunting-field and an now writing from Lord Chiltern's house, where I am confined to bed. But I think you will understand me when I say that even in this helpless condition I feel myself constrained to do something. Of course I ask for nothing from you on my own behalf,--but on her behalf may I not add my prayers to hers?
'I have the honour to be,
'Your Grace's faithful Servant,
This coming alone would perhaps have had no effect. The Duke had desired the young man not to address him again; and the young man had disobeyed him. No mere courtesy would now have constrained him to send any reply further to this letter. But coming as it did while his heart was still throbbing with the effects of Mrs Finn's words, it was allowed to have a certain force. The argument was a true argument. His girl was devoted to the man who sought her hand. Mrs Finn had told him that sooner or later he must yield,-- unless he was prepared to see his child wither and fade at his side. He had once thought that he would be prepared even for that. He had endeavoured to strengthen his own will by arguing with himself that when he saw a duty plainly before him, he should cleave to that let the results be what they might. But that picture of her face withered and wan after twenty years of sorrowing had had its effect upon his heart. He even made excuses within his own breast in the young man's favour. He was in Parliament now, and what may not be done for a young man in Parliament? Altogether the young man appeared to him in a different light from that through which he had viewed the presumptuous, arrogant young suitor who had come to him, now nearly a year since, in Carlton Terrace.
He went to breakfast with Tregear's letter in his pocket, and was then gracious to Mrs Finn, and tender to his daughter. 'When do you go, papa?' Mary asked.
'I shall take the 11.45 train. I have ordered the carriage at a quarter before eleven.'
'May I go to the train, papa?'
'Certainly; I shall be delighted.'
'Papa!' Mary said as soon as she found herself seated beside her father in the carriage.
'Oh, papa!' and she threw herself on to his breast. He put his arm round her and kissed her,--as he would have had so much delight in doing, as he would have done so often before, had there not been this ground of discord. She was very sweet to him. It had never seemed to him that she had disgraced herself by loving Tregear--but that a great misfortune had fallen upon her. Silverbridge when he had gone into a racing partnership with Tifto, and Gerald when he had played for money which he did not possess, had--degraded themselves in his estimation. He would not have used such a word; but it was his feeling. They were less noble, less pure than they might have been, had they kept themselves free from such stain. But this girl,--whether she should live and fade by his side, or whether she should give her hand to some fitting noble suitor,--or even though she might at last become the wife of this man who loved her, would always have been pure. It was sweet to him to have something to caress. Now in the solitude of his life, as years were coming on him, he felt how necessary it was that he should have someone who would love him. Since his wife had left him he had been debarred from these caresses, by the necessity of showing his antagonism to her dearest wishes. It had been his duty to be stern. In all his words to his daughter he had been governed by a conviction that he never ought to allow the duty of separating her from her lover to be absent from his mind. He was not prepared to acknowledge that that duty had ceased;--but yet there had crept over him a feeling that as he was half conquered, why should he not seek some recompense in his daughter's love. 'Papa,' she said, 'you do not hate me?'
'Hate you, my darling!'
'Because I am disobedient. Oh, papa, I cannot help it. He should not have come. He should not have been let to come.' He had not a word to say to her. He could not as yet bring himself to tell her,--that it should be as she desired. Much less could he now argue with her as to the impossibility of such a marriage as he had done on former occasions when the matter had been discussed. He could only press his arm tightly round her waist, and be silent. 'It cannot be altered now, papa. Look at me. Tell me that you love me.'
'Have you doubted my love?'
'No, papa,--but I would do anything to make you happy; anything that I could do. Papa, you do not want me to marry Lord Popplecourt?'
'I would not have you marry any man without loving him.'
'I never can love anybody else. That is what I wanted you to know, papa.'
To this he made no reply, nor was there anything else said upon the subject before the carriage drove up to the railway station. 'Do not get out, dear,' he said, seeing that her eyes had been filled with tears. 'It is not worth while. God bless you my child! You will be up in London I hope in a fortnight, and we must try to make the house a little less dull for you.'
And so he encountered the third attack.
Lady Mary, as she was driven home, recovered her spirits wonderfully. Not a word had fallen from her father which she could use hereafter as a refuge from her embarrassments. He had made her no promise. He had assented to nothing. But there had been something in his manner, in his gait, in his eye, in the pressure of his arm, which made her feel that her troubles would soon be at an end.
'I do love you so much,' she said to Mrs Finn late on that afternoon.
'I am glad of that, dear.'
'I shall always love you,--because you have been on my side all through.'
'No, Mary;--that is not so.'
'I know it is so. Of course you have to be wise because you are older. And papa would not have you here with me if you were not wise. But I know you are on my side,--and papa knows it too. And someone else shall know it some day.'
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