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  • 1861
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‘Only that I should have thought that you would have been too guarded to have–have cared for any gentleman till–till he had shown that he cared for you.’

‘Guarded! Yes, that’s it; that’s just the word. But it’s he that should have been guarded. He should have had a fire-guard hung before him, or a love-guard, if you will. Guarded! Was I not guarded, till you all would drag me out? Did I want to go there? And when I was there, did I not make a fool of myself, sitting in a corner, and thinking how much better placed I should have been down in the servants’ hall. Lady Lufton–she dragged me out, and then cautioned me, and then, then–Why is Lady Lufton to have it all her own way? Why am I to be sacrificed for her? I did not want to know Lady Lufton, or any one belonging to her.’

‘I cannot think that you have any cause to blame Lady Lufton, nor, perhaps, to blame anybody very much.’

‘Well, no, it has been all my own fault; though, for the life of me, Fanny, going back and back, I cannot see where I took the first false step. I do not know where I went wrong. One wrong thing I did, and it is the only thing that I do not regret.’

‘What was that, Lucy?’

‘I told him a lie.’

Mrs Robarts was altogether in the dark, and feeling that she was so, she knew that she could not give counsel as a friend or sister. Lucy had begun by declaring–so Mrs Robarts thought–that nothing had passed between her and Lord Lufton but words of most trivial import, and yet she now accused herself of falsehood, and declared that that falsehood was the only thing which she did not regret!

‘I hope not,’ said Mrs Robarts. ‘If you did, you were very unlike yourself.’

‘But I did, and were he here again, speaking to me in the same way, I should repeat it. I know I should. If I did not, I should have all the world on me. You would frown on me, and be cold. My darling Fanny, how would you look if I really displeasured you?’

‘I don’t think you will do that, Lucy.’

‘But if I told him the truth, I should, should I not? Speak now. But no, Fanny, you need not speak. It was not the fear of you; no, nor even of her: though Heaven knows that her terrible glumness would be quite unendurable.’

‘I cannot understand you, Lucy. What truth or what untruth can you have told him, if, as you say, there has been nothing between you but ordinary conversation?’

Lucy then got up from the sofa, and walked twice the length of the room before she spoke. Mrs Robarts had all the ordinary curiosity–I was going to say, of a woman, but I mean to say, of humanity; and she had, moreover, all the love of a sister. She was both curious and anxious, and remained sitting where she was, silent, and her eyes fixed on her companion. ‘Did I say so?’ Lucy said at last. ‘No, Fanny, you have mistaken me–I did not say that. Ah, yes, about the cow and the dog. All that was true. I was telling you of what his soft words had been while I was becoming such a fool. Since that he has said more.’

‘What more has he said, Lucy?’

‘I yearn to tell you, if only I can trust you;’ and Lucy knelt down at the feet of Mrs Robarts, looking up into her face and smiling through the remaining drops of her tears. ‘I would fain tell you, but I do not know you yet–whether you are quite true. I could be true–true against all the world, if my friend told me. I will tell you, Fanny, if you say that you can be true. But if you doubt yourself, if you must whisper all to Mark–then let us be silent.’

There was something almost awful in this to Mrs Robarts. Hitherto, since their marriage, hardly a thought had passed through her mind which she had not shared with her husband. But now all this had come upon her so suddenly, that she was unable to think whether it would be well that she should become the depository of such a secret–not to be mentioned to Lucy’s brother, not to be mentioned to her own husband. But who ever yet was offered a secret and declined it? Who at least ever declined a love secret? What sister could do so? Mrs Robarts, therefore, gave the promise, smoothing Lucy’s hair as she did so, and kissing her forehead and looking into her eyes, which, like a rainbow, were the brighter for her tears. ‘And what has he said to you, Lucy?’

‘What? Only this, that he asked me to be his wife.’

‘Lord Lufton proposed to you?’

‘Yes; he proposed to me. It is not credible, is it? You cannot bring yourself to believe such a thing happened, can you?’ And Lucy rose again to her feet, as the idea of the scorn with which she felt others would treat her–with which she had treated herself–made the blood rise to her cheek. ‘And yet it is not a dream–I think that it is not a dream. I think that he really did.’

‘Think, Lucy!’

‘Well, I may say that I am sure.’

‘A gentleman would not make you a formal proposal and leave you in doubt as to what he meant.’

‘Oh dear, no. There was no doubt at all of that kind–none in the least. Mr Smith, in asking Miss Jones to do him the honour of becoming Mrs Smith, never spoke more plainly. I was alluding to the possibility of having dreamt it all.’

‘Lucy!’

‘Well, it was not a dream. Here, standing here, on this very spot–on that flower of the carpet–he begged me a dozen times to be his wife. I wonder whether you and Mark would let me cut it out and keep it.’

‘And what answer did you make to him?’

‘I lied to him, and told him that I did not love him.’

‘You refused him?’ ‘Yes; I refused a live lord. There is some satisfaction in having that to think of, is there not? Fanny, was I wicked to tell that falsehood?’

‘And why did you refuse him?’

‘Why? Can you ask? Think of what it would have been to go down to Framley Court, and to tell her ladyship, in the course of conversation, that I was engaged to her son. Think of Lady Lufton. But yet it was not that, Fanny. Had I thought that it was good for him, that he would not have repented, I would have braved anything–for his sake. Even for your frown, for you would have frowned. You would have thought it sacrilege for me to marry Lord Lufton! You know you would.’

Mrs Robarts hardly knew how to say what she thought, or indeed what she ought to think. It was a matter on which much meditation would be required before she could give advice, and there was Lucy expecting counsel from her at that very moment. If Lord Lufton really loved Lucy Robarts, and was loved by Lucy Robarts, why should not they two become man and wife? And yet she did feel that it would be–perhaps not sacrilege, as Lucy had said, but something almost as troublesome. What would Lady Lufton say, or think and feel? What would she say, and think, and feel as to that parsonage from which so deadly a blow would fall upon her? Would she not accuse the vicar and the vicar’s wife of the blackest ingratitude? Would life be endurable at Framley under such circumstances as those?

‘What you tell me so surprises me, that I hardly as yet know how to speak about it,’ said Mrs Robarts.

‘It was amazing, was it not? He must have been insane at the time; there can be no other excuse for him. I wonder whether there is anything of that sort in the family?’

‘What; madness?’ said Mrs Robarts, quite in earnest.

‘Well, don’t you think he must have been mad when such an idea as that came into his head? But you don’t believe it; I can see that. And yet it is as true as heaven. Standing exactly here, on this spot, he said that he would persevere till I accepted his love. I wonder what made me specially observe that both his feet were within the lines of that division.’

‘And you would not accept his love?’

‘No; I would have nothing to say to it. Look you, I stood here, and putting my hand upon my heart–for he bade me do that–I said that I could not love him.’

‘And what then?’

‘He went away–with a look as though he were heart-broken. He crept away slowly, saying that he was the most wretched soul alive. For a minute I believed him, and could almost have called him back; but no, Fanny, do not think that I am over proud, or conceited about my conquest. He had not reached the gate before he was thanking God for his escape.’

‘That I do not believe.’

‘But I do; and I thought of Lady Lufton too. How could I bear that she should scorn me, and accuse me of stealing her son’s heart? I know that it is better as it is; but tell me–is a falsehood always wrong, or can it be possible that the end should justify the means? Ought I to have told him the truth, and to have let him know that I could almost kiss the ground on which he stood?’

This was a question for the doctors which Mrs Robarts would take upon herself to answer. She would not make that falsehood a matter of accusation, but neither would she pronounce for it any absolution. In that matter Lucy must regulate her own conscience.

‘And what shall I do next?’ said Lucy, still speaking in a tone that was half tragic and half jeering.

‘Do?’ said Mrs Robarts.

‘Yes, something must be done. If I were a Mediterranean I should go to Switzerland, of course; or, as the case is a bad one, perhaps as far as Hungary. What is it that girls do? They don’t die nowadays, I believe.’

‘Lucy, I do not believe that you care for him one jot. If you were in love you would not speak of it like that.’

‘There, there. That’s my only hope. If I could laugh at myself till it had become incredible to you, I also, by degrees, should cease to believe that I had cared for him. But, Fanny, it is very hard. If I were to starve, and rise before daybreak, and pinch myself, or do some nasty work,–clean the pots and pans and the candlesticks; that I think would do the most good. I have got a piece of sack-cloth, and I mean to wear that, when I have made it up.’

‘You are joking now, Lucy, I know.’

‘No, by my word; not in the spirit of what I am saying. How shall I act upon my heart, if I do not go through the blood and flesh?’

‘Do you not pray that God will give you strength to bear these troubles?’

‘But how is one to word one’s prayer, or how even to word one’s wishes? I do not know what is the wrong that I have done. I say it boldly; in this matter I cannot see my own fault. I have simply found that I have been a fool.’

It was now quite dark in the room, or would have been so to any one entering afresh. They had remained there talking till their eyes had become accustomed to the gloom, and would still have remained, had they not suddenly been disturbed by the sound of a horse’s feet.

‘There is Mark,’ said Fanny, jumping up and running to the bell, that lights might be ready when he should enter.

‘I thought he remained in Barchester to-night.’

‘And so did I; but he said it might be doubtful. What shall we do if he has not dined?’ That, I believe, is always the first thought in the mind of a good wife when her husband returns home. Has he had his dinner? What can I give him for dinner? Will he like his dinner? Oh dear, oh dear! there is nothing in the house but cold mutton. But on this occasion the lord of the mansion had dined, and came home radiant with good humour, and owing, perhaps, a little of his radiance to the dean’s claret. ‘I have told them,’ said he, ‘that they may keep possession of the house for the next two months, and they have agreed to that arrangement.’

‘That is very pleasant,’ said Mrs Robarts.

‘And I don’t think we shall have so much trouble about the dilapidation after all.’

‘I am very glad of that,’ said Mrs Robarts. But nevertheless she was thinking more of Lucy than of the house in Barchester Close.

‘You won’t betray me,’ said Lucy, as she gave her sister-in-law a parting kiss at night.

‘No; not unless you give me permission.’

‘Ah; I shall never do that.’

CHAPTER XXVII

SOUTH AUDLEY STREET

The Duke of Omnium had notified to Mr Fothergill his wish that some arrangement should be made about the Chaldicotes mortgages, and Mr Fothergill had understood what the duke meant as well as though his instructions had been written down with all a lawyer’s verbosity. The duke’s meaning was this, that Chaldicotes was to be swept up and garnered, and made part and parcel of the Gatherum property. It had seemed to the duke that that affair between his friend and Miss Dunstable was hanging fire, and, therefore, it would be well that Chaldicotes should be swept up and garnered. And, moreover, tidings had come into the western division of the county that young Frank Gresham of Boxall Hill was in treaty with the Government for the purchase of all that Crown property called the Chace of Chaldicotes. It had been offered to the duke, but the duke had given no definite answer. Had he got his money back from Mr Sowerby he could have forestalled Mr Gresham; but now that did not seem to be probable, and his grace resolved that either the one property or the other should be garnered. Therefore Mr Fothergill went up to town, and therefore Mr Sowerby was, most unwillingly, compelled to have a business interview with Mr Fothergill. In the meantime, since last we saw him, Mr Sowerby had learned from his sister the answer which Miss Dunstable had given to his proposition, and knew that he had no further hope in that direction. There was no further hope thence of absolute deliverance, but there had been a tender of money service. To give Mr Sowerby his due, he had at once declared that it would be quite out of the question that he should now receive any assistance of that sort from Miss Dunstable; but his sister had explained to him that it would be mere business transaction; that Miss Dunstable would receive her interest; and that, if she would be content with four per cent, whereas the duke received five, and other creditors six, seven, eight, ten, and Heaven only knows how much more, it might be well for all parties. He, himself, understood, as well as Fothergill had done, what was the meaning of the duke’s message. Chaldicotes was to be gathered and garnered, as had been done with so many another fair property lying in those regions. It was to be swallowed whole, and the master was to walk out from his old family hall, to leave the old woods that he loved, to give up utterly to another the parks and paddocks and pleasant places which he had known from his earliest infancy, and owned from his earliest manhood.

There can be nothing more bitter to a man than such a surrender. What, compared to this, can be the loss of wealth to one who has himself made it, and brought it together, but has never actually seen it with his bodily eyes? Such wealth has come by one chance, and goes by another: the loss of it is part of the game which the man is playing; and if he cannot lose as well as win, he is a poor, weak, cowardly creature. Such men, as a rule, do know how to bear a mind fairly equal to adversity. But to have squandered the acres which have descended from generation to generation; to be the member of one’s family that has ruined that family; to have swallowed up in one’s own maw all that should have graced one’s children, and one’s grandchildren! It seems to me that the misfortunes of this world can hardly go beyond that! Mr Sowerby, in spite of his recklessness and that dare-devil gaiety which he knew so well how to wear and use, felt all this as keenly as any man could feel it. It had been absolutely his own fault. The acres had come to him all his own, and now, before his death, every one of them would have gone bodily into that greedy maw. The duke had bought up nearly all the debts which had been secured upon the property, and now could make a clean sweep of it. Sowerby, when he received that message from Mr Fothergill, knew well that this was intended; and he knew well also, that when once he should cease to be Mr Sowerby of Chaldicotes, he need never again hope to be returned as member for West Barsetshire. This world would for him be all over. And what must such a man feel when he reflects that this world for him is all over? On the morning in question he went to his appointment, still bearing a cheery countenance. Mr Fothergill, when in town on such business as this, always had a room at his service in the house of Messrs Gumption & Gagebee, the duke’s London law agents, and it was thither that Mr Sowerby had been summoned. The house of business of Messrs Gumption & Gagebee was in South Audley Street; and it may be said that there was no spot on the whole earth which Mr Sowerby hated as he did the gloomy, dingy back sitting-room upstairs in that house. He had been there very often, but had never been there without annoyance. It was a horrid torture-chamber, kept for such dread purposes as these, and no doubt had been furnished, and papered, and curtained with the express object of finally breaking down the spirits of such poor country gentlemen as chanced to be involved. Everything was of a brown crimson,–of a crimson that had become brown. Sunlight, real genial light of the sun, never made its way there, and no amount of candles could illuminate the gloom of that brownness. The windows were never washed; the ceiling was of a dark brown; the old Turkey carpet was thick with dust, and brown withal. The ungainly office-table, in the middle of the room, had been covered with black leather, but that was now brown. There was a bookcase full of dingy brown law books in a recess on one side of the fireplace, but no one had touched them for years, and over the chimney-piece hung some old legal pedigree table, black with soot. Such was the room which Mr Fothergill always used in the business house of Messrs Gumption & Gagebee, in South Audley Street, near to Park Lane.

I once heard this room spoken of by an old friend of mine, one Mr Gresham of Greshambury, the father of Frank Gresham, who was now about to purchase that part of the Chace of Chaldicotes which belonged to the Crown. He also had had evil days, though now happily they were past and gone; and he, too, had sat in that room, and listened to the voice of men who were powerful over his property, and intended to use that power. The idea which he left on my mind was much the same as that which I had entertained, when a boy, of a certain room in the castle of Udolpho. There was a chair in that Udolpho room in which those who sat were dragged out limb by limb, the head one way and the legs another; the fingers were dragged off from the hands, and the teeth out from the jaws, and the hair off the head, and the flesh from the bones, and the joints from their sockets, till there was nothing left but a lifeless trunk seated in the chair. Mr Gresham, as he told me, always sat in the same seat, and the tortures were suffered when so seated, the dislocations of his property which he was forced to discuss, the operations of his very self which he was forced to witness, made me regard that room as worse than the chamber of Udolpho. He, luckily–a rare instance of good fortune–had lived to see all his bones and joints put together again, and flourishing soundly; but he never could speak of the room without horror. ‘No consideration on earth,’ he once said to me, very solemnly,–‘I say none, should make me again enter that room.’ And indeed this feeling was so strong with him, that from the day when his affairs took a turn he would never even walk down South Audley Street. On the morning in question into this torture-chamber Mr Sowerby went, and there, after some two or three minutes, he was joined by Mr Fothergill.

Mr Fothergill was, in one respect, like to his friend Sowerby. He enacted two together different persons on occasions which were altogether different. Generally speaking, with the world at large, he was a jolly, rollicking, popular man, fond of eating and drinking, known to be devoted to the duke’s interests, and supposed to be somewhat unscrupulous, or at any rate hard, when they were concerned; but in other respects a good-natured fellow: and there was a report about that he had once lent somebody money, without charging him interest or taking security. On the present occasion Sowerby saw at a glance that he had come thither with all the aptitudes and appurtenances of his business about him. He walked into the room with a short, quick step; there was no smile on his face as he shook hands with his old friend; he brought with him a box laden with papers and parchments, and he had not been a minute in the room before he was seated in one of the old dingy chairs. ‘How long have you been in town, Fothergill?’ said Sowerby, still standing with his back against the chimney. He had resolved on only one thing–that nothing should induce him to touch, look at, or listen to any of those papers. He knew well enough that no good would come of that. He also had his own lawyers, to see that he was pilfered according to rule.

‘How long? Since the day before yesterday. I never was so busy in my life. The duke, as usual, wants to have everything done at once.’

‘If he wants to have all that I owe him paid at once, he is like to be out in his reckoning.’

‘Ah, well; I’m glad you are ready to come quickly to business, because it’s always best. Won’t you come and sit down here?’

‘No, thank you. I’ll stand.’

‘But we shall have to go through these figures, you know.’

‘Not a figure, Fothergill. What good would it do? None to me, and none to you either, as I take it. If there is anything wrong, Potter’s fellows will find it out. What is it the duke wants?’

‘Well; to tell the truth, he wants his money.’

‘In one sense, and that the main sense, he has got it. He gets his interest regularly, does not he?’

‘Pretty well for that, seeing how times are. But, Sowerby, that’s a nonsense. You understand the duke as well as I do, and you know very well what he wants. He has given you time, and if you had taken any steps towards getting the money, you might have saved the property.’

‘A hundred and eighty thousand pounds! What steps could I take to get that? Fly a bill, and let Tozer have it to get cash on it in the City!’

‘We hoped you were going to marry.’

‘That’s all off.’

‘Then I don’t think you can blame the duke for looking for his own. It does not suit him to have so large a sum standing out any longer. You see, he wants land, and will have it. Had you paid off what you owed him, he would have purchased the Crown property; and now, it seems young Gresham has bid against him, and is to have it. This has riled him, and I may as well tell you fairly, that he is determined to have either money or marbles.’

‘You mean that I am to be dispossessed. Then I must say the duke is treating me most uncommonly ill.’

‘Well, Sowerby, I can’t see it.’

‘I can, though. He has his money like clock-work; and he has bought up these debts from persons who would have never disturbed me as long as they got their interest.’

‘Haven’t you had the seat?’

‘The seat! and it is expected that I am to pay for that?’

‘I don’t see that any one is asking you to pay for it. You are like a great many other people that I know. You want to eat your cake and have it. You have been eating it for the last twenty years, and now you think yourself very ill-used because the duke wants to have his turn.’

‘I shall think myself very ill-used if he sells me out–worse than ill-used. I do not want to use strong language, but it will be more than ill-usage. I can hardly believe that he really means to treat me in that way.’

‘It is very hard that he should want his own money!’

‘It is not his money he wants. It is my property.’

‘And has he not paid for it? Have you not had the price of your property? Now, Sowerby, it is of no use for you to be angry; you have known for the last three years what was coming on you as well as I did. Why should the duke lend you money without an object? Of course he has his own views. But I do say this; he has not hurried you; and had you been able to do anything to save the place you might have done it. You have had time enough to look about you.’ Sowerby still stood in the place in which he had first fixed himself, and now for awhile he remained silent. His face was very stern, and there was in his countenance none of those winning looks which often told so powerfully with his young friends,–which had caught Lord Lufton and had charmed Mark Robarts. The world was going against him, and things around him were coming to an end. He was beginning to perceive that he had in truth eaten his cake and that there was now little left for him to do,–unless he chose to blow out his brains. He had said to Lord Lufton that a man’s back should be broad enough for any burden with which he himself might load it. Could he now boast that his back was broad enough and strong enough for this burden? But he had even then, at that bitter moment, a strong remembrance that it behoved him still to be a man. His final ruin was coming on him, and he would soon be swept away out of the knowledge and memory of those with whom he had lived. But, nevertheless, he would bear himself well to the last. It was true that he had made his own bed, and he understood the justice which required him to lie upon it.

During this time Fothergill occupied himself with the papers. He continued to turn over one sheet after another, as though he were deeply engaged in money considerations and calculations. But, in truth, during all that time he did not read a word. There was nothing there for him to read. The reading and writing, and the arithmetic in such matters, are done by underlings–not by such big men as Mr Fothergill. His business was to tell Sowerby that he was to go. All those records there were of little use. The duke had the power; Sowerby knew the duke had the power; and Fothergill’s business was to explain that the duke meant to exercise his power. He was used to the work, and went on turning over the papers and pretending to read them, as though his doing so were of the greatest moment. ‘I shall see the duke myself,’ Mr Sowerby said at last, and there was something almost dreadful in the sound of his voice.

‘You know the duke won’t see you on a matter of this kind. He never speaks to any one about money; you know that as well as I do.’

‘By –, but he shall speak to me. Never speak to any one about money! Why is he ashamed to speak of it when he loves it so dearly? He shall see me.’

‘I have nothing further to say, Sowerby. Of course I shan’t ask his grace to see you; and if you force your way in on him, you know what will happen. It won’t be my doing if he is set against you. Nothing that you say to me in that way,–nothing that anybody ever says,–goes beyond myself.’

‘I shall manage the matter through my own lawyer,’ said Sowerby; and then he took his hat, and, without uttering another word, left the room.

We know not what may be the nature of that eternal punishment to which those will be doomed who shall be judged to have been evil to the last; but methinks that no more terrible torment can be devised than the memory of self-imposed ruin. What wretchedness can exceed that of remembering from day to day that the race has been all run, and has been altogether lost; that the last chance has gone, and has gone in vain; that the end has come, and with it disgrace, contempt, and self-scorn–disgrace that never can be redeemed, contempt that never can be removed, and self-scorn that will eat into one’s vitals for ever? Mr Sowerby was now fifty; he had enjoyed the chances in life; and as he walked back, up South Audley Street, he could not but think of the uses he had made of them. He had fallen into the possession of a fine property on the attainment of manhood; he had been endowed with more than average gifts of intellect; never-failing health had been given to him, and a vision fairly clear in discerning good from evil; and now to what a pass he had brought himself! And that man Fothergill had put all this before him in so terribly clear a light! Now that the day for his final demolishment had arrived, the necessity that he should be demolished–finished away at once, out of sight and out of mind–had not been softened, or, as it were, half hidden, by any ambiguous phrase. ‘You have had your cake, and eaten it–eaten it greedily. Is not that sufficient for you? Would you eat your cake twice? Would you have a succession of cakes? No, my friend; there is no succession of these cakes for those who eat them greedily. Your proposition is not a fair one, and we who have the whip-hand of you will not listen to it. Be good enough to vanish. Permit yourself to be swept quietly into the dunghill. All that there was about you of value has departed from you; and allow me to say that you are now–rubbish.’ And then the ruthless besom comes with irresistible rush, and the rubbish is swept away into the pit, there to be hidden for ever from the light. And the pity of it is this–that a man, if he will only restrain his greed, may eat his cake and yet have it; aye, and in so doing will have twice more the flavour of the cake than he who with gourmandizing maw will devour his dainty all at once. Cakes in this world will grow by being fed on, if only the feeder be not too insatiate. On all which wisdom Mr Sowerby pondered with sad heart and very melancholy mind as he walked away from the premises of Messrs Gumption & Gagebee. His intention had been to go down to the House after leaving Mr Fothergill, but the prospect of immediate ruin had been too much for him, and he knew that he was not fit to be seen at once among the haunts of men. And he had intended also to go down to Barchester early on the following morning–only for a few hours, that he might make further arrangements respecting that bill which Robarts had accepted for him. That bill–the second one–had now become due, and Mr Tozer had been with him.

‘Now it ain’t no use in life, Mr Sowerby,’ Tozer had said. ‘I ain’t got the paper myself, nor didn’t hold it, not two hours. It went away through Tom Tozer; you knows that, Mr Sowerby, as well as I do.’ Now, whenever Tozer, Mr Sowerby’s Tozer, spoke of Tom Tozer, Mr Sowerby knew that seven devils were being evoked, each worse than the first devil. Mr Sowerby did feel something like sincere regard, or rather love, for that poor parson whom he inveigled into mischief, and would fain save him, if it were possible, from the Tozer fang. Mr Forrest, of the Barchester bank, would probably take up that last five hundred pound bill, on behalf of Mr Robarts,–only it would be needful that he, Sowerby, should run down and see that it was properly done. As to the other bill–the former and lesser one–as to that, Mr Tozer would probably be quiet for a while. Such had been Sowerby’s programme for these two days; but now–what further possibility was there now that he should care for Robarts, or any other human being; he that was to be swept away at once into the dung-heap? In this frame of mind he walked up South Audley Street, and crossed one side of Grosvenor Square, and went almost mechanically into Green Street. At the farther end of Green Street, near to Park Lane, lived Mr and Mrs Harold Smith.

CHAPTER XXVIII

DR THORNE

When Miss Dunstable met her friends the Greshams–young Frank Gresham and his wife–at Gatherum Castle, she immediately asked after one Dr Thorne, who was Mrs Gresham’s uncle. Dr Thorne was an old bachelor, in whom both as a man and a doctor Miss Dunstable was inclined to place much confidence. Not that she had ever entrusted the cure of her bodily ailments to Dr Thorne–for she kept a doctor of her own, Dr Easyman, for this purpose–and it may moreover be said that she rarely had bodily ailments requiring the care of any doctor. But she always spoke of Dr Thorne among her friends as a man of wonderful erudition and judgement; and had once or twice asked and acted on his advice in matters of much moment. Dr Thorne was not a man accustomed to the London world; he kept no house there, and seldom even visited the metropolis; but Miss Dunstable had known him at Greshamsbury, where he lived, and there had for some months past grown up a considerable intimacy between them. He was now staying at the house of his niece, Mrs Gresham; but the chief reason of his coming up had been a desire expressed by Miss Dunstable, that he should do so. She had wished for his advice; and at the instigation of his niece he had visited London and given it. The special piece of business as to which Dr Thorne had thus been summoned from the bedside of Lady Arabella Gresham, to whose son his niece was married, related to certain large money interests, as to which one might have imagined that Dr Thorne’s advice would not be peculiarly valuable. He had never been much versed in such matters on his own account, and was knowing neither in the ways of the share market, nor in the prices of land. But Miss Dunstable was a lady accustomed to have her own way, and to be indulged in her own wishes without being called on to give adequate reasons for them. ‘My dear,’ she said to young Mrs Gresham, ‘if your uncle don’t come up to London now, when I make such a point of it, I shall think that he is a bear and a savage; and I certainly will never speak to him again,–or to Frank–or to you; so you had better see to it.’ Mrs Gresham had not probably taken her friend’s threat as meaning quite all that it threatened. Miss Dunstable habitually used strong language; and those who knew her well, generally understood when she was to be taken as expressing her thoughts by figures of speech. In this instance she had not meant it at all; but, nevertheless, Mrs Gresham had used violent influence in bringing the poor doctor up to London. ‘Besides,’ said Miss Dunstable, ‘I have resolved on having the doctor at my conversazione, and if he won’t come of himself, I shall go down and fetch him. I have set my heart on trumping my dear friend Mrs Proudie’s best card; so I mean to get everybody!’

The upshot of all this was, that the doctor did come up to town, and remained the best part of a week at his niece’s house in Portman Square–to the great disgust of Lady Arabella, who conceived that she must die if neglected for three days. As to the matter of business, I have no doubt but that he was of great use. He was possessed of common sense and an honest purpose; and I am inclined to think that they are often a sufficient counterpoise to considerable amount of worldly experience also–! True! but then it is difficult to get everything. But with that special matter of business we need not have any further concern. We will presume it to have been discussed and completed, and will not dress ourselves for Miss Dunstable’s conversazione. But it must not be supposed that she was so poor in genius as to call her party openly by a name borrowed for the nonce from Mrs Proudie. It was only among her specially intimate friends, Mrs Harold Smith and some few dozen others, that she indulged in this little joke. There had been nothing in the least pretentious about the card with which she summoned her friends to her house on this occasion. She had merely signified in some ordinary way, that she would be glad to see them as soon after nine o’clock on Thursday evening, the — instant, as might be convenient. But all the world understood that all the world was to be gathered together at Miss Dunstable’s house on the night in question–that an effort was to be made to bring together people of all classes, gods and giants, saints and sinners, those rabid through the strength of their morality, such as our dear friend Lady Lufton, and those who were rabid in the opposite direction, such as Lady Hartletop, the Duke of Omnium, and Mr Sowerby. An orthodox martyr had been caught from the East, and an oily latter-day St Paul, from the other side of the water–to the horror and amazement of Archdeacon Grantly, who had come up all the way from Plumstead to be present on the occasion. Mrs Grantly also had hankered to be there; but when she heard of the presence of the latter-day St Paul, she triumphed loudly over her husband, who had made no offer to take her. That Lords Brock and De Terrier were to be at the gathering was nothing. The pleasant king of the gods and the courtly chief of the giants could shake hands with each other in any house with the greatest pleasure; but men were to meet who, in reference to each other, could shake nothing but their heads or their fists. Supplehouse was to be there, and Harold Smith, who now hated the enemy with a hatred surpassing that of women–or even of politicians. The minor gods, it was thought, would congregate together in one room, very bitter in their present state of banishment; and the minor giants in another, terribly loud in their triumph. That is the fault of the giants, who, otherwise, are not bad fellows; they are unable to endure the weight of any temporary success. When attempting Olympus–and this work of attempting is doubtless their natural condition–they scratch and scramble, diligently using both toes and fingers, with a mixture of good-humoured virulence and self-satisfied industry that is gratifying to all parties. But, whenever their efforts are unexpectedly, and for themselves unfortunately successful, they are so taken aback that they lose the power of behaving themselves with even gigantesque propriety.

Such, so great and so various, was to be the intended gathering at Miss Dunstable’s house. She herself laughed, and quizzed herself–speaking of the affair to Mrs Harold Smith as though it were an excellent joke, and to Mrs Proudie as though she were simply emulous of rivalling those world-famous assemblies of Gloucester Place; but the town at large knew that an effort was being made, and it was supposed that even Miss Dunstable was somewhat nervous. In spite of her excellent joking it was presumed that she would be unhappy if she failed. To Mrs Frank Gresham she did speak with some little seriousness. ‘But why on earth should you give yourself all this trouble?’ that lady had said, when Miss Dunstable owned that she was doubtful, and unhappy in her doubts, as to the coming of one of the great colleagues of Mr Supplehouse. ‘When such hundreds are coming, big wigs and little wigs of all shades, what can it matter whether Mr Towers be there or not?’ But Miss Dunstable had answered almost with a screech–

‘My dear, it will be nothing without him. You don’t understand; but the fact is that Tom Towers is everybody and everything at present.’ And then, by no means for the first time, Mrs Gresham began to lecture her friend as to her vanity; in answer to which lecture Miss Dunstable mysteriously hinted, that if she were only allowed her full swing on this occasion,–if all the world would now indulge her, she would–She did not quite say what she would do, but the inference drawn by Mrs Gresham was this: that if the incense now offered on the altar of Fashion were accepted, Miss Dunstable would at once abandon the pomp and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh.

‘But the doctor will stay, my dear? I hope I may look on that as fixed.’ Miss Dunstable, in making this demand on the doctor’s time, showed an energy quite equal to that with which she invoked the gods that Tom Towers might not be absent. Now, to tell the truth, Dr Thorne had at first thought it very unreasonable that he should be asked to remain up in London in order that he might be present at an evening party, and had for a while pertinaciously refused; but when he learned that three or four prime ministers were expected, and that it was possible that even Tom Towers might be there in the flesh, his philosophy also had become weak, and he had written to Lady Arabella to say that his prolonged absence for two days further must be endured, and that the mild tonics, morning and evening, might be continued. But why should Miss Dunstable be so anxious that Dr Thorne should be present on this grand occasion? Why, indeed, should she be so frequently inclined to summon him away from his country practice, his compounding board, and his useful ministrations to rural ailments? The doctor was connected with her by no ties of blood. Their friendship, intimate as it was, had as yet been but of short date. She was a very rich woman, capable of purchasing all manner of advice and good counsel, whereas he was so far from being rich, that any continued disturbance to his practice might be inconvenient to him. Nevertheless, Miss Dunstable seemed to have no more compunction in making calls upon his time, than she might have felt had he been her brother. No ideas on this matter suggested themselves to the doctor himself. He was a simple-minded man, taking things as they came, and especially so taking things that came pleasantly. He liked Miss Dunstable, and was gratified by her friendship, and did not think of asking himself whether she had a right to put him to trouble and inconvenience. But such ideas did occur to Mrs Gresham, the doctor’s niece. Had Miss Dunstable any object, and if so, what object? Was it simply veneration for the doctor, or was it caprice? Was it eccentricity–or could it possibly be love? In speaking of the ages of these two friends it may be said in round terms that the lady was well past forty, and that the gentleman was well past fifty. Under such circumstances could it be love? The lady, too, was one who had had offers almost by the dozen,–offers from men of rank, from men of fashion, and from men of power; from men endowed with personal attractions, with pleasant manners, with cultivated tastes, and with eloquent tongues. Not only had she loved none such, but by none such had she been cajoled into an idea that it was possible that she could love them. That Dr Thorne’s tastes were cultivated, and his manners pleasant, might probably be admitted by three or four old friends in the country who valued him; but the world in London, that world to which Miss Dunstable was accustomed, and which was apparently becoming dearer to her day by day, would not have regarded the doctor as a man likely to become the object of a lady’s passion. But nevertheless the idea did occur to Mrs Gresham. She had been brought up at the elbow of the country practitioner; she had lived with him as though she had been his daughter; she had been for years the ministering angel of his household; and, till her heart had opened to the natural love of womanhood, all her closest sympathies had been with him. In her eyes the doctor was all but perfect; and it did not seem to her to be out of the question that Miss Dunstable should have fallen in love with her uncle.

Miss Dunstable once said to Mrs Harold Smith that it was possible that she might marry, the only condition then expressed being this, that the man elected should be one who was quite indifferent as to money. Mrs Harold Smith, who, by her friends, was presumed to know the world with tolerable accuracy, had replied that such a man Miss Dunstable would never find in this world. All this had passed in that half-comic of banter which Miss Dunstable so commonly used when conversing with such friends as Mrs Harold Smith; but she had spoken words of the same import more than once to Mrs Gresham; and Mrs Gresham, putting two and two together as women do, had made four of the little sum; and as the final result of the calculation, determined that Miss Dunstable would marry Dr Thorne if Dr Thorne would ask her. And then Mrs Gresham began to rethink herself of two other questions. Would it be well that her uncle should marry Miss Dunstable? and if so, would it be possible to induce him to make such a proposition? After the consideration of many pros and cons, and the balancing of very various arguments, Mrs Gresham thought that the arrangement on the whole might not be a bad one. For Miss Dunstable she herself had a sincere affection, which was shared by her husband. She had often grieved at the sacrifices Miss Dunstable made to the world, thinking that her friend was falling into vanity, indifference, and an ill mode of life; but such a marriage as this would probably cure all that. And then as to Dr Thorne himself, to whose benefit were of course applied to Mrs Gresham’s most earnest thoughts in this matter, she could not but think that he would be happier married than he was single. In point of temper, no woman could stand higher than Miss Dunstable; no one had ever heard of her being in an ill-humour; and then though Mrs Gresham was gifted with a mind which was far removed from being mercenary, it was impossible not to feel that some benefit must accrue from the bride’s wealth. Mary Thorne, the present Mrs Frank Gresham, had herself been a great heiress. Circumstances had weighed her hand with enormous possessions, and hitherto she had not realized the truth of that lesson which would teach us to believe that happiness and riches are incompatible. Therefore she resolved that it might be well if the doctor and Miss Dunstable were brought together. But could the doctor be induced to make such an offer? Mrs Gresham acknowledged a terrible difficulty in looking at the matter from that point of view. Her uncle was fond of Miss Dunstable; but she was sure that an idea of such a marriage had never entered his head; that it would be very difficult–almost impossible–to create such an idea; and that if the idea were there, the doctor could hardly be instigated to make the proposition. Looking at the matter as a whole, she feared that the match was not practicable.

On the day of Miss Dunstable’s party, Mrs Gresham and her uncle dined together alone in Portman Square. Mr Gresham was not yet in Parliament, but an almost immediate vacancy was expected in his division of the county, and it was known that no one could stand against him with any chance of success. This threw him much among the politicians of his party–those giants, namely, who it would be his business to support–and on this account he was a good deal away from his own house at the present moment. ‘Politics make a terrible demand on a man’s time,’ he said to his wife; and then went down to dine at his club in Pall Mall, with sundry other young philogeants. On men of that class politics do make a great demand–at the hour of dinner and thereabouts.

‘What do you think of Miss Dunstable?’ said Mrs Gresham to her uncle, as they sat together over their coffee. She added nothing to the question, but asked it in all its baldness.

‘Think about her!’ said the doctor; ‘well, Mary, what do you think about her? I dare say we think the same.’

‘But that’s not the question. What do you think about her? Do you feel she’s honest?’

‘Honest? Oh, yes, certainly–very honest, I should say.’

‘And good-tempered?’

‘Uncommonly good-tempered.’

‘And affectionate?’

‘Well, yes; and affectionate. I should certainly say that she is affectionate.’

‘I’m sure she’s clever.’

‘Yes, I think she’s clever.’

‘And, and–and womanly in her feelings.’ Mrs Gresham felt that she could not quite say lady-like, though she would fain have done so if she dared.

‘Oh, certainly,’ said the doctor. ‘But, Mary, why are you dissecting Miss Dunstable’s character with so much ingenuity?’

‘Well, uncle, I will tell you why; because–‘ and Mrs Gresham, while she was speaking, got up from her chair, and going round the table to her uncle’s side, put her arm round his neck till her face was close to his, and then continued speaking as she stood behind him out of his sight–‘because–I think that Miss Dunstable is–is very fond of you; and that it would make her happy if you would–ask her to be your wife.’

‘Mary!’ said the doctor, turning round with an endeavour to look his niece in the face.

‘I am quite in earnest, uncle–quite in earnest. From little things that she has said, and little things that I have seen, I do believe what I now tell you.’

‘And you want me to–‘

‘Dear uncle; my own one darling uncle, I want you only to do that which will make you–make you happy. What is Miss Dunstable to me compared to you?’ And then she stooped down and kissed him. The doctor was apparently too much astounded by the intimation given him to make any further immediate reply. His niece, seeing this, left him that she might go and dress; and when they met again in the drawing-room Frank Gresham was with them.

CHAPTER XXIX

MISS DUNSTABLE AT HOME

Miss Dunstable did not look like a love-lorn maiden, as she stood in a small ante-chamber at the top of her drawing-room stairs, receiving her guests. Her house was one of those abnormal mansions, which are to be seen here and there in London, built in compliance rather with the rules of rural architecture, than with those which usually govern the erection of city streets and town terraces. It stood back from its brethren, and alone, so that its owner could walk around it. It was approached by a short carriage-way; the chief door was in the back of the building; and the front of the house looked on to one of the parks. Miss Dunstable in procuring it had had her usual luck. It had been built by an eccentric millionaire at an enormous cost; and the eccentric millionaire, after living in it for twelve months, had declared that it did not possess a single comfort, and that it was deficient in most of those details which, in point of house accommodation, are necessary to the very existence of man. Consequently the mansion was sold, and Miss Dunstable was the purchaser. Cranbourn House it had been named, and its present owner had made no change in that respect; but the world at large very generally called it Ointment Hall, and Miss Dunstable herself as frequently used that name for it as any other. It was impossible to quiz Miss Dunstable with any success, because she always joined in the joke herself. Not a word further had passed between Mrs Gresham and Dr Thorne on the subject of their last conversation; but the doctor, as he entered the lady’s portals amongst a tribe of servants and in a glare of light, and saw the crowd before him and the crowd behind him, felt that it was quite impossible that he should ever be at home there. It might be all right that a Miss Dunstable should live in this way, but it could not be right that the wife of Dr Thorne should so live. But all this was a matter of the merest speculation, for he was well aware–as he said to himself a dozen times–that his niece had blundered strangely in her reading of Miss Dunstable’s character.

When the Gresham party entered the ante-room into which the staircase opened, they found Miss Dunstable standing there surrounded by a few of her most intimate allies. Mrs Harold Smith was sitting quite close to her; Dr Easyman was reclining on a sofa against the wall, and the lady who habitually lived with Miss Dunstable was by his side. One or two others were there also, so that a little running conversation was kept up in order to relieve Miss Dunstable of the tedium which might otherwise be engendered by the work she had in hand. As Mrs Gresham, leaning on her husband’s arm, entered the room, she saw the back of Mrs Proudie, as that lady made her way through the opposite door, leaning on the arm of the bishop. Mrs Harold Smith had apparently recovered from the annoyance which she must no doubt have felt when Miss Dunstable so utterly rejected her suit on behalf of her brother. If any feeling had existed, even for a day, calculated to put a stop to the intimacy between the two ladies, that feeling had altogether died away, for Mrs Harold Smith was conversing with her friend, quite in the old way. She made some remark on each of the guests as they passed by, and apparently did so in a manner satisfactory to the owner of the house, for Miss Dunstable answered with her kindest smiles, and in that genial, happy tone of voice which gave its peculiar character to her good humour: ‘She is quite convinced that you are a mere plagiarist in what you are doing,’ said Mrs Harold Smith, speaking of Mrs Proudie.

‘And so I am. I don’t suppose there can be anything very original nowadays about an evening party.’

‘She thinks you are copying her.’

‘And why not? I copy everybody that I see, more or less. You did not at first begin to wear petticoats out of your own head? If Mrs Proudie has any such pride as that, pray don’t rob her of it. Here’s the doctor and the Greshams. Mary, my darling, how are you?’ and in spite of all her grandeur of apparel, Miss Dunstable took hold of Mrs Gresham and kissed her–to the disgust of the dozen and half of the distinguished fashionable world who were passing up the stairs behind. The doctor was somewhat repressed in his mode of address by the communication which had so lately been made to him. Miss Dunstable was now standing on the very top of the pinnacle of wealth, and seemed to him to be not only so much above his reach, but also so far removed from his track of life, that he could not in any way put himself on a level with her. He could neither aspire so high nor descend so low; and thinking of this he spoke to Miss Dunstable as though there were some great distance between them,–as though there had been no hours of intimate friendship down at Greshambury. There been such hours, during which Miss Dunstable and Dr Thorne had lived as though they belonged to the same world: and this at any rate may be said of Miss Dunstable, that she had no idea of forgetting them.

Dr Thorne merely gave her his hand, and then prepared to pass on.

‘Don’t go, doctor,’ she said; ‘for heaven’s sake, don’t go yet. I don’t know when I may catch you if you get in there. I shan’t be able to follow you for the next two hours. Lady Meredith, I am so much obliged to you for coming–your mother will be here, I hope. Oh, I am so glad! From her you know that is quite a favour. You, Sir George, are half a sinner yourself, so I don’t think so much about it.’

‘Oh, quite so,’ said Sir George; ‘perhaps rather the largest half.’

‘The men divide the world into gods and giants,’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘We women have our divisions also. We are saints or sinners according to our party. The worst of it is, that we rat almost as often as you do.’ Whereupon Sir George laughed, and passed on.

‘I know, doctor, you don’t like this kind of thing,’ she continued, ‘but there is no reason why you should indulge yourself altogether in your way, more than another, is there, Frank?’

‘I am not so sure but he does like it,’ said Mr Gresham. ‘There are some of your reputed friends whom he owns that he is anxious to see.’

‘Are there? Then there is some hope of his ratting too. But he’ll never make a good staunch sinner; will he, Mary? You’re too old to learn new tricks; eh, doctor?’

‘I am afraid I am,’ said the doctor with a faint laugh.

‘Does Dr Thorne rank himself among the army of saints?’ asked Mrs Harold Smith.

‘Decidedly,’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘But you must always remember that there are saints of different orders; are there not, Mary? and nobody supposes that the Franciscans and the Dominicans agree very well together. Dr Thorne does not belong to the school of St Proudie, of Barchester; he would prefer the priestess whom I see coming round the corner of the staircase, with a very famous young novice at her elbow.’

‘From all that I can hear, you will have to reckon with Miss Grantly among the sinners,’ said Mrs Harold Smith–seeing that Lady Lufton with her young friend was approaching–‘unless indeed, you can make a saint of Lady Hartletop.’ And then Lady Lufton entered the room, and Miss Dunstable came forward to meet her with more quiet respect in her manner than she had as yet shown to many of her guests. ‘I am much obliged to you for coming, Lady Lufton,’ she said, ‘and the more so, for bringing Miss Grantly with you.’ Lady Lufton uttered some pretty little speech, during which Dr Thorne came up and shook hands with her; as did also Frank Gresham and his wife. There was a county acquaintance between the Framley people and the Greshambury people, and therefore there was a little general conversation before Lady Lufton passed out of the small room into what Mrs Proudie would have called the noble suite of apartments. ‘Papa will be here,’ said Miss Grantly; ‘at least so I understand. I have not seen him yet myself.’

‘Oh yes, he has promised me,’ said Miss Dunstable; ‘and the archdeacon, I know, will keep his word. I should by no means have the proper ecclesiastical balance without him.’

‘Papa always does keep his word,’ said Miss Grantly, in a tone that was almost severe. She had not at all understood poor Miss Dunstable’s little joke, or at any rate, she was too dignified to respond to it.

‘I understand that old Sir John is to accept the Chiltern Hundreds at once,’ said Lady Lufton, in a half whisper to Frank Gresham.

Lady Lufton had always taken a keen interest in the politics of East Barsetshire, and was now desirous of expressing her satisfaction that a Gresham should again sit for the county. The Greshams had been old county members for Barsetshire, time out of mind.

‘Oh yes; I believe so,’ said Frank, blushing. He was still young enough to feel most ashamed of putting himself forward for such honours.

‘There will be no contest, of course,’ said Lady Lufton, confidently. ‘There seldom is in East Barsetshire, I am happy to say. But if there were, every tenant at Framley would vote on the right side; I can assure you of that. Lord Lufton was saying to me only this morning.’ Frank Gresham made a pretty little speech in reply, such as young sucking politicians are expected to make; and this, with sundry other small courteous murmurings, detained the Lufton party for a minute or two in the ante-chamber. In the meantime the world was pressing on and passing to the four or five large reception-rooms–the noble suite which was already piercing poor Mrs Proudie’s heart with envy to the very core. ‘These are the sort of rooms,’ she said to herself unconsciously, ‘which ought to be provided by the country for the use of the bishops.’

‘But the people are not brought enough together,’ she said to her lord.

‘No, no; I don’t think they are,’ said the bishop.

‘And that is so essential for a conversazione,’ continued Mrs Proudie. ‘Now in Gloucester Place–‘ But we will not record all her adverse criticisms, as Lady Lufton is waiting for us in the ante-room. And now another arrival of moment had taken place;–and arrival indeed of very great moment. To tell the truth, Miss Dunstable’s heart had been set upon having two special persons; and though no stone had been left unturned,–no stone which could be turned with discretion,–she was still left in doubt as to both these two wondrous potentates. At the very moment of which we are now speaking, light and airy as she appeared to be–for it was her character to be light and airy–her mind was torn with doubts. If the wished-for two would come, her evening would be thoroughly successful; but if not, all her trouble would have been thrown away, and the thing would have been a failure; and there were circumstances connected with the present assembly which made Miss Dunstable very anxious that she should not fail. That the two great ones of the earth were Tom Towers of the Jupiter, and the Duke of Omnium, need hardly be expressed in words. And now, at this very moment, as Lady Lufton was making her civil speeches to young Gresham, apparently in no hurry to move on, and while Miss Dunstable was endeavouring to whisper something into the doctor’s ear, which would make him feel himself at home in this new world, a sound was heard which made that lady know that half her wish had at any rate been granted to her. A sound was heard–but only by her own and one other attentive pair of ears. Mrs Harold Smith had also caught the name, and knew that the duke was approaching. There was great glory and triumph in this; but why had his grace come at so unchancy a moment? Miss Dunstable had been fully aware of the impropriety of bringing Lady Lufton and the Duke of Omnium into the same house at the same time; but when she had asked Lady Lufton, she had been led to believe that there was no hope of obtaining the duke; and then, when that hope had dawned upon her, she had comforted herself with the reflection that the two suns, though they might for some few minutes be in the same hemisphere, could hardly be expected to clash, or come across each other’s orbits. Her rooms were large and would be crowded; the duke would probably do little more than walk through them once, and Lady Lufton would certainly be surrounded by persons of her own class. Thus Miss Dunstable had comforted herself. But now all things were going wrong, and Lady Lufton would find herself in close contiguity to the nearest representative of the Satanic agency, which, according to her ideas, was allowed to walk this nether English world of ours. Would she scream? or indignantly retreat out of the house?–or would she proudly raise her head, and with outstretched hand and audible voice, boldly defy the devil and all his works? In thinking of these things as the duke approached Miss Dunstable almost lost her presence of mind. But Mrs Harold Smith did not lose hers. ‘So here at last is the duke,’ she said, in a tone intended to catch the express attention of Lady Lufton.

Mrs Smith had calculated that there might still be time for her ladyship to pass on and avoid the interview. But Lady Lufton, if she heard the words, did not completely understand them. At any rate they did not convey to her mind at the moment the meaning they were intended to convey. She paused to whisper a last little speech to Frank Gresham, and then looking round, found that the gentleman who was pressing against her dress was–the Duke of Omnium! On this great occasion, when the misfortune could no longer be avoided, Miss Dunstable was by no means beneath herself or her character. She deplored the calamity, but she now saw that it was only left to her to make the best of it. The duke had honoured her by coming to her house, and she was bound to welcome him, though in doing so she should bring Lady Lufton to her last gasp. ‘Duke,’ she said, ‘I am greatly honoured by this kindness on the part of your grace. I hardly expected that you would be so good to me.’

‘The goodness is all on the other side,’ said the duke, bowing over her hand. And then in the usual course of things this would have been all. The duke would have walked on and shown himself, would have said a word or two to Lady Hartletop, to the bishop, to Mr Gresham, and such like, and would have left the rooms by another way, and quietly escaped. This was the duty expected from him, and this he would have done, and the value of the party would have been increased by thirty per cent. by such doing; but now, as it was, the newsmongers of the West End were likely to get much more out of it.

Circumstances had so turned out, that he had absolutely been pressed close against Lady Lufton, and she, when she heard the voice, and was made positively acquainted with the fact of the great man’s presence by Miss Dunstable’s words, turned round quickly, but still with much feminine dignity, removing her dress from the contact. In doing this she was brought absolutely face to face with the duke, so that each could not but look full at the other. ‘I beg your pardon,’ said the duke. They were the only words that had ever passed between them, nor have they spoken to each other since; but simple as they were, accompanied by the little by-play of the speakers, they gave rise to a considerable amount of ferment in the fashionable world. Lady Lufton, as she retreated back on to Dr Easyman, curtsied low; she curtsied low and slowly, and with a haughty arrangement of her drapery that was all her own; but the curtsy, though it was eloquent, did not say half so much,–did not reprobate the habitual iniquities of the duke with a voice nearly so potent, as that which was expressed in the gradual fall of her eye, and the gradual pressure of her lips. When she commenced her curtsy she was looking full in her foe’s face. By the time that she had completed it her eyes were turned upon the ground, but there was an ineffable amount of scorn expressed in the lines of her mouth. She spoke no word and retreated, as modest virtue and feminine weakness must ever retreat, before barefaced vice and virile power; but nevertheless she was held by all the world to have had the best of the encounter. The duke, as he begged her pardon, wore in his countenance that expression of modified sorrow which is common to any gentleman who is supposed by himself to have incommoded a lady. But over and above this,–or rather under it,–there was a slight smile of derision, as though it were impossible for him to look upon the bearing of Lady Lufton without some amount of ridicule. All this was legible to eyes so keen as those of Miss Dunstable and Mrs Harold Smith, and the duke was known to be a master of this silent inward sarcasm; but even by them,–by Miss Dunstable and Mrs Harold Smith,–it was admitted that Lady Lufton had conquered. When her ladyship again looked up, the duke had passed on; she then resumed the care of Miss Grantly’s hand, and followed in among the company.

‘That is what I call unfortunate,’ said Miss Dunstable, as soon as both belligerents had departed from the field of battle. ‘The Fates sometimes will be against me.’

‘But they have not been all against you here,’ said Mrs Harold Smith. ‘If you could arrive at her ladyship’s private thoughts to-morrow morning, you would find her to be quite happy in having met the duke. It will be years before she has done boasting of her triumph, and it will be talked of by the young ladies of Framley for the next three generations.’

The Gresham party, including Dr Thorne, had remained in the ante-chamber during the battle. The whole combat did not occupy above two minutes, and the three of them were hemmed off from escape by Lady Lufton’s retreat into Dr Easyman’s lap; but now they, too, essayed to pass on.

‘What, will you desert me,’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘Very well; but I shall find you out by and by. Frank, there is to be some dancing in one of the rooms,–just to distinguish the affair from Mrs Proudie’s conversazione. It would be stupid, you know, if all conversazione’s were alike; wouldn’t it? So I hope you will go and dance.’

‘There will, I presume, be another variation at feeding time,’ said Mrs Harold Smith.

‘Oh, yes, certainly; I am the most vulgar of all wretches in that respect. I do love to set people eating and drinking.–Mr Supplehouse, I am delighted to see you; but do tell me–‘ and then she whispered with great energy into the ear of Mr Supplehouse, and Mr Supplehouse again whispered into her ear. ‘You think he will, then?’ said Miss Dunstable. Mr Supplehouse assented; he did think so; but he had no warrant for stating the circumstance as a fact. And then he passed on, hardly looking at Mrs Harold Smith as he passed.

‘What a hang-dog countenance he has,’ said that lady.

‘Ah, you’re prejudiced, my dear, and no wonder; as for myself, I always liked Supplehouse. He means mischief; but then mischief is his trade, and he does not conceal it. If I were a politician, I should as soon think of being angry with Mr Supplehouse for turning against me as I am now with a pin pricking me. It’s my own awkwardness, and I ought to have known how to use the pin more craftily.’

‘But you must detest a man who professes to stand by his party, and then does his best to ruin it.’

‘So many have done that, my dear; and with much more success than Mr Supplehouse! All is fair in love and war,–and why not add politics to the list? If we could only agree to do that, it would save us from such a deal of heartburning, and would make none of us a bit the worse.’

Miss Dunstable’s rooms, large as they were–‘a noble suite of rooms certainly, though perhaps a little too–too–too scattered, we will say, eh, bishop?’ were now nearly full, and would have been inconveniently crowded, were it not that many who came only remained for half an hour or so. Space, however, had been kept for the dancers–much to Mrs Proudie’s consternation. Not that she disapproved of dancing in London, as a rule; but she was indignant that the laws of a conversazione as re-established by herself in the fashionable world, should be so violently infringed.

‘Conversaziones will come to mean nothing,’ she said to the bishop, putting great stress on the latter word, ‘nothing at all, if they are to be treated in this way.’

‘No, they won’t; nothing in the least,’ said the bishop.

‘Dancing may be very well in its place,’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘I have never objected to it myself; that is, for the laity,’ said the bishop.

‘But when people profess to assemble for higher objects,’ said Mrs Proudie, ‘they ought to act up to the professions.’

‘Otherwise they are no better than hypocrites,’ said the bishop.

‘A spade should be called a spade,’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘Decidedly,’ said the bishop, assenting.

‘And when I undertook the trouble and expense of introducing conversaziones,’ continued Mrs Proudie, with an evident feeling that she had been ill-used, ‘I had no idea of seeing the word so–so–so misinterpreted;’ and then observing certain desirable acquaintances at the side of the room, she went across, leaving the bishop to fend for himself.

Lady Lufton, having achieved her success, passed on to the dancing, whither it was not probable that her enemy would follow her, and she had not been there very long before she was joined by her son. Her heart at the present moment was not quite satisfied at the state of affairs with reference to Griselda. She had gone so far as to tell her young friend what were her own wishes; she had declared her desire that Griselda should become her daughter-in-law; but in answer to this Griselda herself had declared nothing. It was, to be sure, no more than natural that a young lady so well brought up as Miss Grantly should show no signs of passion till she was warranted in showing them by the proceedings of the gentleman; but notwithstanding this, fully aware as she was of the propriety of such reticence–Lady Lufton did think that to her Griselda might have spoken some word evincing that the alliance would be satisfactory to her. Griselda, however, had spoken no such word, nor had she uttered a syllable to show that she would accept Lord Lufton if he did offer. Then again she had uttered no syllable to show that she would not accept him; but, nevertheless, although she knew that the world had been talking about her and Lord Dumbello, she stood up to dance with the future marquess on every possible occasion. All this did give annoyance to Lady Lufton, who began to bethink herself that if she could not quickly bring her little plan to a favourable issue, it might be well for her to wash her hands of it. She was still anxious for the match on her son’s account. Griselda would, she did not doubt, make a good wife; but Lady Lufton was not so sure as she once had been that she herself would be able to keep up so strong a feeling for her daughter-in-law as she had hitherto hoped to do. ‘Ludovic, have you been here long?’ she said, smiling as she always did smile when her eyes fell upon her son’s face.

‘This instant arrived; and I hurried on after you, as Miss Dunstable told me you were here. What a crowd she had? Did you see Lord Brock?’

‘I did not observe him.’

‘Or Lord De Terrier? I saw them both in the centre room.’

‘Lord De Terrier did me the honour of shaking hands with me as I passed through.’

‘I never saw such a mixture of people. There is Mrs Proudie going out of her mind because you are all going to dance.’

‘The Miss Proudies dance,’ said Griselda Grantly.

‘But not at the conversaziones. You don’t see the difference. And I saw Spermoil there, looking as pleased as Punch. He had quite a circle of his own round him, and was chattering away as though he were quite accustomed to the wickedness of the world.’

‘There certainly are people here whom one would not have wished to meet, had one thought of it,’ said Lady Lufton, mindful of her late engagement.

‘But it must be all right, for I walked up the stairs with the archdeacon. That is an absolute proof, is it not, Miss Grantly?’

‘I have no fears. When I am with your mother I know I must be safe.’

‘I am not so sure of that,’ said Lord Lufton, laughing. ‘Mother, you hardly know the worst of it yet. Who is here, do you think?’

‘I know whom you mean; I have seen him,’ said Lady Lufton, very quietly.

‘We came across him just at the top of the stairs,’ said Griselda, with more animation in her face than ever Lord Lufton had seen there before.

‘What; the duke?’

‘Yes, the duke,’ said Lady Lufton. ‘I certainly should not have come had I expected to be brought in contact with that man. But it was an accident, and on such an occasion as this it could not be helped.’ Lord Lufton at once perceived, by the tone of his mother’s voice and by the shades of her countenance, that she had absolutely endured some personal encounter with the duke, and also that she was by no means so indignant at the occurrence as might have been expected. There she was, still in Miss Dunstable’s house, and expressing no anger as to Miss Dunstable’s conduct. Lord Lufton could hardly have been more surprised had he seen the duke handing his mother down to supper; he said, however, nothing further on the subject.

‘Are you going to dance, Ludovic?’ said Lady Lufton.

‘Well, I am not sure that I do not agree with Mrs Proudie in thinking that dancing would contaminate a conversazione. What are your ideas, Miss Grantly?’ Griselda was never very good at a joke, and imagined that Lord Lufton wanted to escape the trouble of dancing with her. This angered her. For the only species of love-making, or flirtation, or sociability between herself as a young lady, and any other self as a young gentleman, which recommended itself to her taste, was to be found in the amusement of dancing. She was altogether at variance with Mrs Proudie on this matter, and gave Miss Dunstable great credit for her innovation. In society Griselda’s toes were more serviceable to her than her tongue, and she was to be won by a rapid twirl much more probably than by a soft word. The offer of which she would approve would be conveyed by two all but breathless words, during a spasmodic pause in a waltz; and then as she lifted up her arm to receive the accustomed support at her back, she might just find power enough to say, ‘you–must ask–papa.’ After that she would not care to have the affair mentioned till everything was properly settled.

‘I have not thought about it,’ said Griselda, turning her face away from Lord Lufton.

It must not, however, be supposed that Miss Grantly had not thought about Lord Lufton, or that she had not considered how great might be the advantage of having Lady Lufton on her side is she made up her mind that she did wish to become Lord Lufton’s wife. She knew well that now was her time for a triumph, now in this very first season of her acknowledged beauty; and she knew also that young, good-looking bachelor lords do not grow in hedges like blackberries. Had Lord Lufton offered to her, she would have accepted him at once without any remorse as to the greater glories which might appertain to a future Marchioness of Hartletop. In that direction she was not without sufficient wisdom. But then Lord Lufton had not offered to her, nor given any signs that he intended to do so; and to give Griselda Grantly her due, she was not a girl to make the first overture. Neither had Lord Dumbello offered; but he had given signs,–dumb signs, such as birds give to each other, quite as intelligible as verbal signs to a girl who preferred the use of her toes to that of her tongue. ‘I have not thought about it,’ said Griselda, very coldly, and at that moment a gentleman stood before her and asked her hand for the next dance. It was Lord Dumbello; and Griselda, making no reply except by a slight bow, got up and put her hand within her partner’s arm.

‘Shall I find you here, Lady Lufton, when we have done?’ she said; and then started off among the dancers. When the work before one is dancing the proper thing for a gentleman to do is, at any rate, to ask a lady; this proper thing Lord Lufton had omitted, and now the prize was taken away from under his very nose.

There was clearly an air of triumph about Lord Dumbello as he walked away with the beauty. The world had been saying that Lord Lufton was to marry her, and the world had also been saying that Lord Dumbello admired her. Now this had angered Lord Dumbello, and make him feel as though he walked about, a mark of scorn, as a disappointed suitor. Had it not been for Lord Lufton, perhaps he would not have cared so much for Griselda Grantly; but circumstances had so turned out that he did care for her, and felt it to be incumbent upon him, as the heir to a marquisate, to obtain what he wanted, let who would have a hankering after the same article. It is in this way that pictures are so well sold at auctions; and Lord Dumbello regarded Miss Grantly as being now subject to the auctioneer’s hammer, and conceived that Lord Lufton was bidding against him. There was, therefore, an air of triumph about him as he put his arm round Griselda’s waist, and whirled her up and down the room in obedience to the music. Lady Lufton and her son were left together looking at each other. Of course, he had intended to ask Griselda to dance, but it cannot be said that he very much regretted his disappointment. Of course also Lady Lufton had expected that her son and Griselda would stand up together, and she was a little inclined to be angry with her protegee. ‘I think she might have waited a minute,’ said Lady Lufton.

‘But why, mother? There are certain things for which no one ever waits: to give a friend, for instance, the first passage through a gate out hunting and such like. Miss Grantly was quite right to take the first that offered.’ Lady Lufton had determined to learn what was to be the end of this scheme of hers. She could not have Griselda always with her, and if anything were to be arranged it must be arranged now, while both of them were in London. At the close of the season Griselda would return to Plumstead, and Lord Lufton would go–nobody as yet knew where. It would be useless to look forward to further opportunities. If they did not contrive to love each other now, they would never do so. Lady Lufton was beginning to fear that her plan would not work, but she made up her mind that she would learn the truth then and there–at least as far as her son was concerned.

‘Oh, yes; quite so;–if it is equal to her with which she dances,’ said Lady Lufton.

‘Quite equal, I should think–unless it be that Dumbello is longer-winded than I am.’

‘I am sorry to hear you speak of her in that way, Ludovic.’

‘Why sorry, mother?’

‘Because I had hoped–that you and she would have liked each other.’ This she said in a serious tone of voice, tender and sad, looking up into his face with a plaintive gaze, as though she knew that she were asking of him some great favour.

‘Yes, mother; I have known that you have wished that.’

‘You have known it, Ludovic!’

‘Oh, dear, yes; you are not at all sharp at keeping your secrets from me. And, mother, at one time, for a day or so, I thought that I could oblige you. You have been so good to me, that I would almost do anything for you.’

‘Oh, no, no, no,’ she said, deprecating his praise, and the sacrifice which he seemed to offer of his own hopes and aspirations. ‘I would not for worlds have you do so for my sake. No mother ever had a better son, and my only ambition is for your happiness.’

‘But, mother, she would not make me happy. I was mad enough for a moment to think that she could do so–for a moment I did think so. There was one occasion on which I would have asked her to take me, but–‘

‘But what, Ludovic?’

‘Never mind, it passed away; and now I shall never ask her. Indeed I do not think she would have me. She is ambitious, and flying at higher game than I am. And I must say this for her, that she knows well what she is doing, and plays her cards as though she had been born with them in her hand.’

‘You will never ask her?’

‘No, mother; had I done so, it would have been for the love of you–only for the love of you.’

‘I would not for worlds that you should do that.’

‘Let her have Dumbello; she will make an excellent wife for him, just the wife that he will want. And you, you will have been so good to her in assisting her to such a matter.’

‘But, Ludovic, I am so anxious to see you settled.’

‘All in good time, mother.’

‘Ah, but the good time is passing away. Years run so very quickly. I hope you think of marrying, Ludovic.’

‘But, mother, what if I brought you a wife that you do not approve?’

‘I will approve of any one that you love; that is–‘

‘That is, if you love her also; eh, mother?’

‘But I rely with such confidence on your taste. I know that you can like no one that is not ladylike and good.’

‘Ladylike and good; will that suffice?’ said he, thinking of Lucy Robarts.

‘Yes; it will suffice if you love her. I don’t want you to care for money. Griselda will have a fortune that would have been convenient; but I do not wish you to care for that.’ And thus, as they stood together in Miss Dunstable’s crowded room, the mother and son settled between themselves that the Lufton-Grantly alliance treaty was not to be ratified. ‘I suppose I must let Mrs Grantly know,’ said Lady Lufton to herself, as Griselda returned to her side. There had not been above a dozen words spoken between Lord Dumbello and his partner, but that young lady also had now fully made up her mind that the treaty above mentioned should never be brought into operation.

We must go back to our hostess, whom we should not have left for so long a time, seeing that this chapter is written to show how well she could conduct herself in great emergencies. She had declared that after awhile she would be able to leave her position near the entrance door, and find out her own peculiar friends among the crowd; but the opportunity for doing so did not come till very late in the evening. There was a continuation of arrivals; she was wearied to death with making little speeches, and had more than once declared that she must depute Mrs Harold Smith to take her place. That lady stuck to her through all her labours with admirable constancy, and made the work bearable. Without some such constancy on a friend’s part, it would have been unbearable; and it must be acknowledged that this was much to the credit of Mrs Harold Smith. Her own hopes with reference to the great heiress had all been shattered, and her answer had been given to her in very plain language. But, nevertheless, she was true to her friendship, and was almost as willing to endure the fatigue on this occasion as though she had a sister-in-law’s right in the house. At about one o’clock her brother came. He had not yet seen Miss Dunstable since the offer had been made, and had now with great difficulty been persuaded by his sister to show himself.

‘What can be the use?’ said he. ‘The game is up with me now;’–meaning, poor ruined ne’er-do-well, not only that that game with Miss Dunstable was up, but that the great game of his whole life was being brought to an uncomfortable termination.

‘Nonsense,’ said his sister; ‘do you mean to despair because a man like the Duke of Omnium wants his money? What has been good security for him will be good security for another;’ and then Mrs Harold Smith made herself more agreeable then ever to Miss Dunstable.

When Miss Dunstable was nearly worn out, but was still endeavouring to buoy herself up by a hope of the still-expected great arrival–for she knew that the hero would show himself only at a very late hour if it were to be her good fortune that he showed himself at all–Mr Sowerby walked up the stairs. He had schooled himself to go through with this ordeal with all the cool effrontery which was at his command; but it was clearly to be seen that all his effrontery did not stand him in sufficient stead, and that the interview would have been embarrassing had it not been for the genuine good-humour of the lady. ‘Here is my brother,’ said Mrs Harold Smith, showing by the tremulousness of the whisper that she looked forward to the meeting with some amount of apprehension.

‘How do you do, Mr Sowerby?’ said Miss Dunstable, walking almost into the doorway to welcome him. ‘Better late than never.’

‘I have only just got away from the House,’ said he, as he gave her his hand.

‘Oh, I know well that you are sans reproche among senators–as Mr Harold Smith is sans peur;–eh, my dear?’

‘I must confess that you have contrived to be uncommonly severe upon them both,’ said Mrs Harold, laughing; ‘and as regards poor Harold, most undeservedly so; Nathaniel is here, and may defend himself.’

‘And no one is better able to do so on all occasions. But, my dear Mr Sowerby, I am dying of despair. Do you think he’ll come?’

‘He? who?’

‘You stupid man–as if there were more than one he! There were two, but the other has been.’

‘Upon my word, I don’t understand,’ said Mr Sowerby, now again at his ease. ‘But can I do anything? Shall I go and fetch anyone? Oh, Tom Towers; I fear I can’t help you. But here he is at the foot of the stairs!’ And then Mr Sowerby stood back with his sister to make way for the great representative man of the age.

‘Angels and ministers of grace assist me!’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘How on earth am I to behave myself? Mr Sowerby, do you think that I ought to kneel down? My dear, will he have a reporter at his back in the royal livery?’ And then Miss Dunstable advanced two or three steps–not into the doorway, as she had done for Mr Sowerby–put out her hand, and smiled her sweetest on Mr Towers of the Jupiter.

‘The honour done is all conferred on me,’ and he bowed and curtsied with very stately grace. Each thoroughly understood the badinage of the other; and then, in a few moments, they were engaged in very easy conversation.

‘By the by, Sowerby, what do you think of this threatened dissolution?’ said Tom Towers.

‘We are all in the hands of Providence,’ said Mr Sowerby, striving to take the matter without any outward show of emotion. But the question was one of terrible import to him, and up to this time he had heard of no such threat. Nor had Mrs Harold Smith, nor Miss Dunstable, nor had a hundred others who now either listened to the vaticinations of Mr Towers, or to the immediate report made of them. But it is given to some men to originate such tidings, and the performance of the prophecy is often brought about by the authority of the prophet. On the following morning the rumour that there would be a dissolution was current in all high circles. ‘They have no conscience in such matters; no conscience whatever,’ said a small god, speaking of the giants–a small god, whose constituency was expensive. Mr Towers stood there chatting for about twenty minutes, and then took his departure without making his way into the room. He had answered the purpose for which he had been invited, and left Miss Dunstable in a happy frame of mind.

‘I am very glad he came,’ said Mrs Harold Smith, with an air of triumph.

‘Yes, I am glad,’ said Miss Dunstable, ‘though I am thoroughly ashamed that I should be so. After all, what good has he done to me or to anyone?’ And having uttered this moral reflection, she made her way into the rooms, and soon discovered Dr Thorne standing by himself against the wall.

‘Well, doctor,’ said Miss Dunstable, ‘where are Mary and Frank? You do not look at all comfortable, standing here by yourself.’

‘I am quite as comfortable as I expected, thank you,’ said he. ‘They are in the room somewhere, and, as I believe, equally happy.’

‘That’s spiteful of you, doctor, to speak in that way. What would you say if you were called on to endure all that I have gone through this evening?’

‘There is no accounting for tastes, but I presume you like it?’

‘I am not so sure of that. Give me your arm and let me get some supper. One always likes the idea of having done hard work, and one always likes to have been successful.’

‘We all know that virtue is its own reward,’ said the doctor.

‘Well, that is something hard upon me,’ said Miss Dunstable, as she sat down to table. ‘And you really think that no good of any sort can come from my giving such a party as this?’

‘Oh, yes; some people, no doubt, have been amused.’

‘It is all vanity in your estimation,’ said Miss Dunstable; ‘vanity and vexation of spirit. Well; there is a good deal of the latter, certainly. Sherry, if you please. I would give anything for a glass of beer, but that is out of the question. Vanity and vexation of spirit! And yet I meant to do good.’

‘Pray, do not suppose I am condemning you, Miss Dunstable.’

‘Ah, but I do suppose it. Not only you, but another also, whose judgement I care for, perhaps, more than yours; and that, let me tell you, is saying a great deal. You do condemn me, Dr Thorne, and I also condemn myself. It is not that I have done wrong, but the game is not worth the candle.’

‘Ah; that is the question.’

‘The game is not worth the candle. And yet it was a triumph to have both the duke and Tom Towers. You must confess that I have not managed badly.’ Soon after that the Greshams went away, and in an hour’s time or so, Miss Dunstable was allowed to drag herself to her own bed.

That is the great question to be asked on all such occasions, ‘Is the game worth the candle?’

CHAPTER XXX

THE GRANTLY TRIUMPH

It has been mentioned cursorily–the reader, no doubt, will have forgotten it–that Mrs Grantly was not specially invited by her husband to go up to town with a view of being present at Miss Dunstable’s party. Mrs Grantly said nothing on the subject, but she was somewhat chagrined; not on account of the loss she sustained with reference to that celebrated assembly, but because she felt that her daughter’s affairs required the supervision of a mother’s eye. She also doubted the final ratification of that Lufton-Grantly treaty, and, doubting it, she did not feel quite satisfied that her daughter should be left in Lady Lufton’s hands. She had said a word or two to the archdeacon before he went up, but only a word or two, for she hesitated to trust him in so delicate a matter. She was, therefore, not a little surprised at receiving a letter from him desiring her immediate presence in London. She was surprised; but her heart was filled rather with hope than dismay, for she had full confidence in her daughter’s discretion. On the morning after the party, Lady Lufton and Griselda had breakfasted together as usual, but each felt that the manner of the other was altered. Lady Lufton thought that her young friend was somewhat less attentive, and perhaps less meek in her demeanour than usual; and Griselda felt that Lady Lufton was less affectionate. Very little, however, was said between them, and Lady Lufton expressed no surprise when Griselda begged to be left alone at home, instead of accompanying her ladyship when the carriage came to the door. Nobody called in Bruton Street that afternoon–no one, at least, was let in–except the archdeacon. He came there late in the day, and remained with his daughter till Lady Lufton returned. Then he took his leave, with more abruptness than was usual with him, and without saying anything special to account for the duration of his visit. Neither did Griselda say anything special; and so the evening wore away, each feeling in some unconscious manner that she was on less intimate terms with the other than had previously been the case.

On the next day Griselda would not go out, but at four o’clock a servant brought a letter to her from Mount Street. Her mother had arrived in London and wished to see her at once. Mrs Grantly sent her love to Lady Lufton, and would call at half-past five, or at any later hour at which it might be convenient for Lady Lufton to see her. Griselda was to stay and dine in Mount Street; so said the letter. Lady Lufton declared that she would be very happy to see Mrs Grantly at the hour named; and then, armed with this message, Griselda started for her mother’s lodgings. ‘I’ll send the carriage for you,’ said Lady Lufton. ‘I suppose about ten will do.’

‘Thank you,’ said Griselda, ‘that will do very nicely;’ and then she went. Exactly at half-past five Mrs Grantly was shown into Lady Lufton’s drawing-room. Her daughter did not come with her, and Lady Lufton could see by the expression of her friend’s face that business was to be discussed. Indeed, it was necessary that she herself should discuss business, for Mrs Grantly must now be told that the family treaty could not be ratified. The gentleman declined the alliance, and poor Lady Lufton was uneasy in her mind at the nature of the task before her.

‘Your coming up has been rather unexpected,’ said Lady Lufton, as soon as her friend was seated on the sofa.

‘Yes, indeed; I got a letter from the archdeacon only this morning, which made it absolutely necessary that I should come.’

‘No bad news, I hope?’ said Lady Lufton.

‘No; I can’t call it bad news. But, dear Lady Lufton, things won’t always turn out exactly as one would have them.’

‘No, indeed,’ said her ladyship, remembering that it was incumbent on her to explain to Mrs Grantly now at this present interview the tidings with which her mind was fraught. She would, however, let Mrs Grantly first tell her own story, feeling, perhaps, that the one might possibly bear upon the other.

‘Poor dear Griselda!’ said Mrs Grantly, almost with a sigh. ‘I need not tell you, Lady Lufton, what my hopes were regarding her.’

‘Has she told you anything–anything that–‘

‘She would have spoken to you at once–and it was due to you that she should have done so–but she was timid; and not unnaturally so. And then it was right that she should see her father and me before she quite made up her mind. But I may say that it is settled now.’

‘What is settled?’ asked Lady Lufton.

‘Of course it is impossible for anyone to tell beforehand how these things will turn out,’ continued Mrs Grantly, beating about the bush rather more than was necessary. ‘The dearest wish of my heart was to see her married to Lord Lufton. I should so much have wished to have her in the same county with me, and such a match as that would have fully satisfied my ambition.’

Well, I should think it might!’ Lady Lufton did not say this out loud, but she thought it. Mrs Grantly was absolutely speaking of a match between her daughter and Lord Lufton as though she would have displayed some Christian moderation in putting up with it! Griselda Grantly might be a very nice girl; but even she–so thought Lady Lufton at the moment–might possibly be priced too highly.

‘Dear Mrs Grantly,’ she said, ‘I have foreseen for the last few days that our mutual hopes in this respect would not be gratified. Lord Lufton, I think;–but perhaps it is not necessary to explain–Had you not come up to town, I should have written to you,–probably today. Whatever may be dear Griselda’s fate in life, I sincerely hope that she may be happy.’

‘I think she will,’ said Mrs Grantly, in a tone that expressed much satisfaction.

‘Has–anything–‘

‘Lord Dumbello proposed to Griselda the other night, at Miss Dunstable’s party,’ said Mrs Grantly, with her eyes fixed upon the floor, and assuming on the sudden much meekness in her manner; ‘and his lordship was with the archdeacon yesterday, and again this morning. I fancy he is in Mount Street at the present moment.’

‘Oh, indeed!’ said Lady Lufton. She would have given worlds to have possessed at the moment sufficient self-command to have enabled her to express in her tone and manner unqualified satisfaction of the tidings. But she had not such self-command, and was painfully aware of her own deficiency.

‘Yes,’ said Mrs Grantly. ‘And as it is all so far settled, and as I know you are so kindly anxious about dear Griselda, I thought it right to let you know at once. Nothing can be more upright, honourable, and generous, than Lord Dumbello’s conduct; and, on the whole, the match is one with which I and the archdeacon cannot but be contented.’

‘It is certainly a great match,’ said Lady Lufton. ‘Have you seen Lady Hartletop yet?’

Now Lady Hartletop could not be regarded as an agreeable connexion, but this was the only word which escaped from Lady Lufton that could be considered in any way disparaging, and, on the whole, I think she behaved well.

‘Lord Dumbello is so completely his own master that that has not been necessary,’ said Mrs Grantly. ‘The marquess has been told, and the archdeacon will see him either to-morrow or the day after.’ There was nothing left for Lady Lufton but to congratulate her friend, and this she did in words perhaps not very sincere, but which, on the whole, were not badly chosen.

‘I am sure I hope she will be very happy,’ said Lady Lufton, ‘and I trust that the alliance’–the word was very agreeable to Mrs Grantly’s ear–‘will give unalloyed gratification to you and her father. The position which she is called to fill is a very splendid one, but I do not think that it is above her merits.’ This was very generous, and so Mrs Grantly felt it. She had expected that her news would be received with the coldest shade of civility, and she was quite prepared to do battle if there was occasion. But she had no wish for war, and was almost grateful to Lady Lufton for her cordiality.

‘Dear Lady Lufton,’ she said, ‘it is so kind of you to say so. I have told no one else, and of course would tell no one till you knew it. No one has known her and understood her so well as you have done. And I can assure you of this, that there is no one to whose friendship she looks forward in her new sphere of life with half so much pleasure as she does yours.’ Lady Lufton did not say much further. She could not declare that she expected much gratification from an intimacy with the future Marchioness of Hartletop. The Hartletops and Luftons must, at any rate for her generation, live in a world apart, and she had not said all that her old friendship with Mrs Grantly required. Mrs Grantly understood all this quite as well as did Lady Lufton; but then Mrs Grantly was much the better woman of the world. It was arranged that Griselda should come back to Bruton Street for the night, and that her visit should then be brought to a close.

‘The archdeacon thinks that for the present I had better remain in town,’ said Mrs Grantly, ‘and under the very peculiar circumstances Griselda will be–perhaps more comfortable with me.’ To this Lady Lufton entirely agreed; and so they parted, excellent friends, embracing each other in a most affectionate manner. That evening Griselda did return to Bruton Street, and Lady Lufton had to go through the further task of congratulating her. This was the more disagreeable of the two, especially so as it had to be thought over beforehand. But the young lady’s excellent good sense and sterling qualities make the task comparatively an easy one. She neither cried, nor was impassioned, nor went into hysterics, nor showed any emotion. She did not even talk of her noble Dumbello,–her generous Dumbello. She took Lady Lufton’s kisses almost in silence, thanked her gently for her kindness, and made no allusion to her own future grandeur.

‘I think I should like to go to bed early,’ she said, ‘as I must see to my packing up.’

‘Richards will do all that for you, my dear.’

‘Oh, yes, thank you, nothing can be kinder than Richards. But I’ll just see to my own dresses.’ And so she went to bed early.

Lady Lufton did not see her son for the next two days, but when she did, of course she said a word or two about Griselda. ‘You have heard the news, Ludovic?’ she asked.

‘Oh, yes; it’s at all the clubs. I have been overwhelmed with presents of willow branches.’

‘You, at any rate, have nothing to regret,’ she said.

‘Nor you either, mother. I am sure you do not think you have. Say that you do not regret it. Dearest mother, say so for my sake. Do you not know in your heart of hearts that she was not suited to be happy as my wife–or to make me happy.’

‘Perhaps not,’ said Lady Lufton, sighing. And then she kissed her son, and declared to herself that no girl in England could be good enough for him.

CHAPTER XXXI

SALMON FISHING IN NORWAY

Lord Dumbello’s engagement with Griselda Grantly was the talk of the town for the next ten days. It formed, at least, one of two subjects which monopolized attention, the other being that dreadful rumour, first put in motion by Tom Towers at Miss Dunstable’s party, as to a threatened dissolution of Parliament. ‘Perhaps after all, it will be the best thing for us,’ said Mr Green Walker, who felt himself to be tolerably safe at Crewe Junction.

‘I regard it as a most wicked attempt,’ said Harold Smith, who was not equally secure in his own borough, and to whom the expense of an election was disagreeable. ‘It is done in order that they may get the time to tide over the autumn. They won’t gain ten votes by a dissolution, and less than forty would hardly give them a majority. But they have no sense of public duty–none whatever.