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Three days after this it was arranged that Isabel should be taken to Carlton Terrace to be accepted there into the full good graces of her future father-in-law, and to go through the pleasant ceremony of seeing the house which it was her destiny to be mistress. What can be more interesting to a girl than this first visit to her future home? And now Isabel Boncassen was to make her first visit to the house In Carlton Terrace, which the Duke had already declared his purpose of surrendering to the young couple. She was going among very grand things,--so grand that those whose affairs in life are less magnificent may think that her mind should have soared altogether above the chairs and tables, and reposed itself among diamonds, gold and silver ornaments, rich necklaces, the old masters, and alabaster statuary. But Dukes and Duchesses must sit upon chairs,--or at any rate on sofas,--as well as their poorer brethren, and probably have the same regard for their comfort. Isabel was not above her future furniture, or the rooms that were to be her rooms, or the stairs which she would have to tread, or the pillow on which her head must rest. She had never yet seen the outside of the house in which she was to live, and was now prepared to make her visit with as much enthusiasm as though her future abode was to be prepared for her in a small house in a small street beyond Islington.
But the Duke was no doubt more than the house, the father-in-law more than the tables. Isabel, in the ordinary way of society, he had known almost with intimacy. She, the while, had been well aware that if all things could possibly be made to run smoothly with her, this lordly host, who was so pleasantly courteous to her, would become her father-in-law. But she had known also that, in his courtesy, had been altogether unaware of any such intention on her part, and that she would now present herself to him in an aspect very different from that in which she had hitherto been regarded. She was well aware that the Duke had not wished to take her into the family,--would not himself have chosen her for his son's wife. She had seen enough to make her sure that he had even chosen another bride for his heir. She had been too clever not to perceive that Lady Mabel Grex had been not only selected,--but almost accepted as though the thing had been certain. She had learned nearly the whole truth from Silverbridge, who was not good at keeping a secret from one to whom his heart was open. That story had been read by her with exactness. 'I cannot lose you now,' she had said to him, leaning on his arm;--'I cannot afford to lose you now. But I fear that someone else is losing you.' To this he answered nothing, but simply pressed her closer to his side. 'Someone else,' she continued, 'who perhaps may have reason to think that you have injured her.' 'No,' he said boldly; 'no; there is no such person.' For he had never ceased to assure himself that in all that matter with Mabel Grex he had been guilty of no treachery. There had been a moment, indeed, in which she might have taken him; but she had chosen to let it pass from her. All of which, or nearly all of which,--Isabel now saw, and had seen also that the Duke had been a consenting party to that other arrangement. She had reason therefore to doubt the manner of her acceptance.
But she had been accepted. She had made such acceptance by him a stipulation in her acceptance of her son. She was sure of the ground on which she trod and was determined to carry herself, if not with pride, yet with dignity. There might be difficulties before her, but it should not be her fault if she were not as good as a Countess, and,--when time would have it so,--as good a Duchess as another.
The visit was not quite in the fashion in which Silverbridge himself had wished. His idea had been to call for Isabel in his cab and take her down to Carlton Terrace. 'Mother must go with me,' she had said. Then he looked blank,--as he could look when he was disappointed, as he had looked when she would not talk to him at the lunch, when she told him that it was not her business to entertain him. 'Don't be selfish,' she added, laughing. 'Do you think that mother will not want to have seen the house that I am to live in?'
'She shall come afterwards as often as she likes.'
'What,--paying me morning visits from New York! She must come now, if you please. Love me, love my mother.'
'I am awfully fond of her,' said Silverbridge, who felt that he really had behaved well to the old lady.
'So am I,--and therefore she shall go to see the house now. You are as good as gold,--and do everything just as I tell you. But a good time is coming, when I shall have to do everything that you tell me.' Then it was arranged that Mrs and Miss Boncassen were to be taken down to the house in their own carriage, and were to be received at the door by Lord Silverbridge.
Another arrangement had also been made. Isabel was to be taken to the Duke immediately upon her arrival, and to be left for a while with him, so that he might express himself as might find fit to do to this newly-adopted child. It was a matter to him of such importance that nothing remaining to him in his life could equal it. It was not simply that she was to be the wife of his son,-- though that in itself was a consideration very sacred. Had it been Gerald who was bringing to him a bride, the occasion would have had less of awe. But this girl, this American girl, was to be the mother and grandmother of future Dukes of Omnium,--the ancestress, it was to be hoped, of all future Dukes of Omnium! By what she might be, by what she might have in her of mental fibre, of high or low quality, of true or untrue womanliness, were to be fashioned those who in days to come might be amongst the strongest and most faithful bulwarks of the constitution. An England without a Duke of Omnium,--or at any rate without any Duke,--what would it be? And yet he knew that with bad Dukes his country would be in worse stress than though she had none at all. An aristocracy;--yes; but an aristocracy that shall be of the very best! He believed himself thoroughly in this order; but if this order or many of his order, should become as was now Lord Grex, then, he thought, that his order not only must go to the wall, but that, in the cause of humanity, it had better do so. With all this daily, hourly, always in his mind, this matter in the choice of a wife for his heir was to him of solemn importance.
When they arrived Silverbridge was there and led them first of all into the dining-room. 'My!' said Mrs Boncassen, as she looked around her. 'I thought that our Fifth Avenue parlous whipped up everything in the way of city houses.'
'What a nice little room for Darby and Joan to sit down to eat a mutton-chop in,' said Isabel.
'It's a beastly great barrack,' said Silverbridge;--'but the best of it is that we never use it. We'll have a cosy little place for Darby and Joan;--you'll see. Now come to the governor. I've got to leave you with him.'
'Oh me! I am in such a fright.'
'He can't eat you,' said Mrs Boncassen.
'And he won't even bite,' said Silverbridge.
'I should not mind that because I could bite again. But if he looks as though he thought I shouldn't do, I shall drop.'
'My belief is that he's almost as much in love with you as I am,' said Silverbridge, as he took her to the door of the Duke's room. 'Here we are, sir.'
'My dear,' said the Duke, rising up and coming to her, 'I am very glad to see you. It is good of you to come to me.' Then he took her in both his hands and kissed her forehead and her lips. She, as she put her face up to him, stood quite still in his embrace, but her eyes were bright with pleasure.
'Shall I leave her?' said Silverbridge.
'For a few minutes.'
'Don't keep her too long, for I want to take her all over the house.'
'A few minutes,--and then I will bring her up to the drawing-room.' Upon this the door was closed, and Isabel was alone with her new father. 'And so, my dear, you are to be my child.'
'If you will have me.'
'Come here and sit down by me. Your father has already told you that;--has he not?
'He has told me that you had consented.'
'And Silverbridge has said as much?'
'I would sooner hear it from you than from either of them.'
'Then hear it from me. You shall be my child. And if you will love me you shall be very dear to me. You shall be my own child,--as dear to me as my own. I must either love his wife very dearly, or else I must be an unhappy man. And she most love me dearly, or I must be unhappy.'
'I will love you,' she said, pressing his hand.
'And now let me say some few words to you, only let there be no bitterness in them to your young heart. When I say that I take you to my own heart, you may be sure that I do so thoroughly. You shall be as dear to me and as near as though you had been all English.'
'There shall be no difference made. My boy's wife shall be my daughter in very deed. But I had not wished it to be so.'
'I knew that,--but could I have given up?'
'He at any rate could not give up. There were little prejudices;-- you can understand that.'
'We who wear black coats could not bring ourselves readily to put on scarlet garments; nor should we sit comfortably with our legs crossed like Turks.'
'I am your scarlet coat and our cross-legged Turk,' she said, with feigned self-reproach in her voice, but with a sparkle of mirth in her eye.
'But when I have once got into my scarlet coat I can be very proud of it, and when I am once seated in my divan I shall find it of all postures the easiest. Do you understand me?'
'I think so.'
'Not a shade of any prejudice shall be left to darken my mind. There shall be no feeling but that you are in truth his chosen wife. After all neither can country, nor race, nor rank, nor wealth, make a good woman. Education can do much. But nature must have done much also.'
'Do not expect too much of me.'
'I will so expect that all shall be taken for the best. You know, I think, that I have liked you since I first saw you.'
'I know that you have always been good to me.'
'I have liked you from the first. That you are lovely perhaps is no merit, though, to speak the truth, I am well pleased that Silverbridge should have found so much beauty.'
'That is all a matter of taste, I suppose,' she said, laughing.
'But there is much a young woman may do for herself, which I think you have done. A silly girl, though she be a second Helen, would hardly have satisfied me.'
'Or perhaps him,' said Isabel.
'Or him; and it is in that feeling that I find my chief satisfaction,--that he should have the sense to have liked such a one as you better than others. Now I have said it. As not being one of us I did at first object to his choice. As being what you are yourself, I am altogether reconciled to it. Do not keep him long waiting.'
'I do not think he likes being kept waiting for anything.'
'I dare say not. I dare say not. And how there is one thing else.' Then the Duke unlocked a little drawer that was close to his hand, and taking out a ring put it on her finger. It was a bar of diamonds, perhaps a dozen or them, fixed in a little circlet of gold. 'This must never leave you,' he said.
'It never shall,--having come from you.'
'It was the first present that I gave to my wife, and it is the first that I shall give to you. You may imagine how sacred it is to me. On no other hand could it be worn without something which to me would be akin to sacrilege. Now I must not keep you longer or Silverbridge will be storming about the house. He of course will tell me when it is to be; but do not you keep him long waiting.' Then he kissed her and led her up into the drawing- room. When he had spoken a word of greeting to Mrs Boncassen, he left them to their own devices.
After that they spent the best part of an hour in going over the house; but even that was done in a manner unsatisfactory to Silverbridge. Wherever Isabel went, there Mrs Boncassen went also. There might have been some fun in showing even the back kitchens to his bride-elect by herself;--but there was one in wandering about those vast underground regions with a stout old lady who was really interested with the cooking apparatus and the washhouses. The bedrooms one after another became tedious to him when Mrs Boncassen would make communications respecting each of them to her daughter. 'That is Gerald's room,' said Silverbridge. 'You have never seen Gerald. He is such a brick.' Mrs Boncassen was charmed with the whips and sticks and boxing-gloves in Gerald's room, and expressed an opinion that young men in the States mostly carried their knickknacks about with them to the Universities. When she was told that he had another collection of 'knickknacks' at Matching, and another at Oxford, she thought that he was a very extravagant young man. Isabel who had heard all about the gambling in Scotland, looked round her lover and smiled.
'Well, my dear,' said Mrs Boncassen, as they took their leave, 'it is a very grand house, and I hope with all my heart you may have your health there and be happy. But I don't know that you'll be any happier because it's so big.'
'Wait till you see Gatherum,' said Silverbridge. 'That, I own, does make me unhappy. It has been calculated that three months at Gatherum Castle would drive a philosopher mad.'
In all this there had been a certain amount of disappointment for Silverbridge; but on that evening, before dinner in Brook Street, he received compensation. As the day was one somewhat peculiar in its nature he decided that it should be kept together as a holiday, and he did not therefore go down to the House. And not going to the House of course he spent the time with the Boncassens. 'You know you ought to go,' Isabel said to him when the found themselves alone together in the back drawing-room.
'Of course I ought.'
'Then go. Do you think I would keep a Briton from his duties?'
'Not though the constitution should fall in ruins. Do you suppose that a man wants no rest after inspecting all the pots and pans in that establishment? A woman, I believe, could go on doing that kind of thing all day long.'
'You should remember at least that the--woman was interesting herself about your pots and pans.'
'And now, Bella, tell me what the governor said to you.' Then she showed him the ring. 'Did he give you that?' She nodded her head in assent. 'I did not think he would ever part with that.'
'It was your mother's.'
'She wore it always. I almost think that I never saw her hand without it. He would not have given you that unless he had meant to be very good to you.'
'He was very good to me, Silverbridge, I have a great deal to do, to learn to be your wife.'
'I'll teach you.'
'Yes; you will teach me. But will you teach me right? There is something almost awful in your father's serious dignity and solemn appreciation of the responsibilities of his position. Will you ever come to that?'
'I shall never be a great man as he is.'
'It seem to me that life to him is a load;--which he does not object to carry, but which he knows must be carried with a great struggle.'
'I suppose it ought to be so with everyone.'
'Yes,' she said, 'but the higher you put your foot on the ladder the more constant should be your thought that your stepping requires care. I fear that I am climbing too high.'
'You can't come down now, young woman.'
'I have to go on now,--and do the best I can. I will try to do my best. I will try to do my best. I told him so, and now I tell you so. I will try to do my best.'
'Perhaps after all I am only a "pert poppet",' she said half an hour afterwards, for Silverbridge had told her of the terrible mistake made by poor Dolly Longstaff.
'Brute!' he exclaimed.
'Not at all. And when we are settled down in the real Darby-and- Joan way I shall hope to see Mr Longstaff very often. I daresay he won't call me a pert poppet, and I shall not remind him of the word. But I shall always think of it; and remembering the way in which my character struck an educated Englishman,--who was not altogether ill-disposed towards me,--I may hope to improve myself.'
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